Singapore’s prime minister wants more integrated ASEAN


Singapore : Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned Tuesday the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) must integrate in order to survive the new Asian dynamics created by the rise of China and India.

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“Companies and investors around the world are focussing their energies on the two emerging giants and see ASEAN as ten isolated, scattered national economies,” Lee said in conjunction with the grouping’s 40th anniversary Wednesday.

During a lecture in Singapore, Lee called for greater efforts by the group to pool resources and deepen regional integration.

The rise of China and India has transformed the strategic landscape, Lee said.

If ASEAN’s integration stagnates while the rest of Asia forges ahead, the organisation will be “left behind and become irrelevant”, said Lee.

He urged the more developed members to take the lead in setting the pace of integration.

Despite the diversity of the region, Lee said ASEAN countries should look for creative and flexible approaches to accelerate integration.

Those that are ready were encouraged to move ahead first, bilaterally or as a smaller sub-group, Lee said. The others can join in later.

Integration is key to creating a “united and coherent” ASEAN organisation that is favourably positioned as the basis of the new regional architecture, Lee said.

“If ASEAN is disunited or ineffective,” it will lose the privileged position of being courted by various players, he said.

The grouping needs to show that it is able to look beyond narrow short-term interests in the pursuit of broader strategic goals, he added.

Singapore took over the ASEAN chairmanship last Thursday at the closing of the ministerial meeting in Manila.

Lee said Singapore would pursue global issues to ensure that ASEAN remains relevant and constructive within the wider international discourse.

Strengthening ASEAN internally and deepening community-building efforts are also priories.

ASEAN includes Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.