“Singapore is the Chair of ASEAN in the kickoff of its next 50 years. Singapore’s priority is to keep ASEAN relevant and credible, premised on continued ASEAN unity and solidarity”. This was the key message of Her Excellency Kok Li Peng, Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the Philippines, during the Mabini Dialogue on “Singapore’s Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2018: Prospects and Priorities” held on 13 March 2018 at the Benedicto Room, Carlos P. Romulo Library, Department of Foreign Affairs.
Amb. Kok noted that since the last time Singapore held the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN in 2007, the world has undergone significant transformation. One major trend is the dramatic explosion of digital technology and social media, including the opportunities created by the digital economy as well as challenges in the form of cybercrimes and proliferation of fake news. In addition, transboundary threats such as terrorism and climate change continue to affect ASEAN and its people.
To effectively cope with these developments, Amb. Kok explained that Singapore’s chairmanship of ASEAN will center on two themes: resilience and innovation. Singapore seeks to introduce projects that will strengthen the individual and collective resilience of ASEAN Member States against common threats, and lead ASEAN in embracing technology through innovation.
One of the initiatives of Singapore is the creation of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCM) to serve as a platform for sharing best practices, common solutions, and new technologies among cities in ASEAN. Singapore also aims to lead ASEAN in utilizing new technologies towards greater interoperability on e-payment systems, development of single trade windows, facilitation of travel and trade, and deepening of connectivity. Amb. Kok stressed that embracing technology will be crucial as the digital economy in ASEAN is projected to grow to USD 200 billion by 2025, with USD 88 billion coming from e-commerce.
Amb. Kok also emphasized Singapore’s strong belief in free trade and the need to counter protectionist rhetoric. Rather than retreating from global competition, countries should instead accelerate the restructuring of their respective economies, upgrade the skills of their people, support innovation, and pursue business opportunities globally. The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) affirms the region’s resolve against protectionism. The AEC has enhanced intra-ASEAN trade by opening access to dynamic markets, attracting investments, and providing a conducive environment for start-up companies and innovative practices to flourish. While significant progress has been attained on economic integration, there is still much that needs to be done for the AEC to succeed in improving the well-being of the people of ASEAN.
During the open forum, Amb. Kok addressed questions on issues such as disaster risk reduction and management, addressing the digital divide in ASEAN, responding to terrorist threats, and expectations on ASEAN-China relations, including the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Given the multitude of regional issues facing ASEAN, Amb. Kok underscored that Singapore will be an honest broker for the duration of its chairmanship. Singapore will represent the different interests of all parties transparently to promote the chances of good consensus.
In conclusion, Amb. Kok stressed that every ASEAN Chair seeks to build on the work and success of its predecessors. For 2018, Singapore is committed to deepening the sense of ASEAN identity, as well as building regional resilience and embracing innovation for the betterment of all peoples.
The Mabini Dialogue was attended by officials and staff of the DFA and other government agencies, and university students.