MANILA, Philippines – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong officially took over the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday, November 14, as the 31st ASEAN Summit drew to a close.
Lee said that Singapore will focus on ‘resilience and innovation’ in its year-long chairmanship of the ASEAN. (WATCH: PH hands over ASEAN chairmanship to Singapore)
This is to “promote and uphold a rules-based regional order so that we can better deal with emerging security challenges such as cyber security, transnational crime and terrorism,” as Lee said in his speech at the closing ceremony of the summit on Tuesday evening.
In an interview with Singaporean press, he said that ASEAN is the “lifeboat” for all 10 member countries.
"It means for Singapore a stabler world to live in, a safer Southeast Asia in which we can operate, a more prosperous region in which we can grow our economy, expand our markets and seize opportunities which will be there,” he said.
South China Sea
Lee also told Singaporean media that the talks to work on the Code of Conduct (COC) of Parties in the South China Sea will begin early next year.
A framework was completed during Philippines’ chairmanship year this 2017, which he also highlighted in his speech.
The Philippines prefers the COC to be non-legally binding, only a “gentleman’s agreement” according to Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
Lee echoed the tone of ASEAN and China when it said that “while the situation is calmer now, we cannot take the current progress for granted.”
Singapore is the country-coordinator for the ASEAN-China dialogue.
“By managing the South China Sea issue well, we can keep ASEAN-China relations on the current positive trajectory,” Lee said in a report by Channel News Asia.
While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is choosing to set aside for now the country's Hague victory over China, he and US President Donald Trump hit the militarization in the South China Sea during their bilateral meeting.
Lee said Singapore will promote regional economic integration and connectivity to keep Southeast Asia prosperous.
“We can find new ways to manage and harness digital technologies, and equip our citizens with skills and capabilities and keep ASEAN a vibrant and dynamic place for our peoples to live, work and play,” he said.
He said that ASEAN will hold special summits in Australia and India in 2018 in a bid to continue building relations with ASEAN’s dialogue partners.
“We live in a rapidly changing world, to keep ASEAN a central and dynamic driving force that can deal with the challenges and opportunities, Singapore’s chairmanship focuses on the themes of resilience and innovation,” he said.
The Philippines' theme during its chairmanship was "Partnering for Change, Engaging the World." – Rappler.com