COS 2021: Strengthening ASEAN

Ms Sylvia Lim: Despite the devastation from COVID-19 last year, ASEAN was able to adapt. For instance, at the ASEAN held on 15 November, the landmark Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP was signed. The signing of the RCEP serves to broaden and deepen ASEAN’s engagement with Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.

At the same time, there are also fault lines which could unravel and undo all the progress ASEAN has achieved to date.

These fault lines play on the differences between ASEAN member states. A recent survey entitled State of Southeast Asia 2021, was conducted by the Yusof Ishak Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, among more than 1,000 academics, policy-makers, business people, civil society leaders, media and other organisations, from the 10 ASEAN member states. The survey results showed that overall, six in 10 respondents in ASEAN would choose the US over China, if forced. 

When broken down by country, survey respondents from three countries should greater support for China, than the US, namely Myanmar, Brunei and Laos, while the respondents from the other seven countries showed stronger support for the US than China. Sir, the territorial disputes in South China Sea, still remain thorny issues. Recent happenings in Myanmar are highly regressive from a human rights perspective. ASEAN’s operating principle of working through consensus, may be seen as a stumbling block at such times. 

Given the above, I would like to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs on how Singapore will seek to strengthen ASEAN’s centrality and coordination? How will we work further through the ASEAN economic community and the ASEAN political security community? What about the potential of NGOs and the people to strengthen ASEAN?

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 March 2021

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