Image credits: Twitter Feed of ASEAN (@ASEAN)

Image credits: Twitter Feed of ASEAN (@ASEAN)

Singapore to enhance ASEAN development by boosting regional economic integration and tech

According to a recent report, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore will enhance its support for an initiative aimed at narrowing the development gap among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Officials from ASEAN countries and their key counterparts from the region are in Singapore this week for the annual AMM and related meetings, which started on Monday. Singapore is the ASEAN chair this year. 

The aim is to boost economic integration and technology adoption in the region.Three Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) centres in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos will be upgraded to Singapore Cooperation Centres. These centres will have an expanded range of technical assistance and new modalities for capacity building.

In a speech at the opening ceremony of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (AMM) and related meetings, Mr Lee said that Singapore hopes to share its experiences while simultaneously learning from their neighbours and partners. 

Mr Lee stressed the need to continue strengthening regional architecture even as various ASEAN-led structures, such as the ASEAN Economic Community, have served the region well.This comes amid growing geopolitical uncertainties and how each ASEAN member state is subject to pressures from bigger states.Mr Lee noted that the only way to remain relevant and be of value was to stay united, while also maintaining ASEAN’s cohesion and effectiveness.

Economic Integration And Technology

Mr Lee highlighted two areas where the region can do more: economic integration and technology adoption. With regards to the former, he said that it is imperative that ASEAN continues its support for the rules-based multilateral trading system.This must be done despite the fact that the system has come under pressure of late due to the escalating trade tensions between US and major economies like China and the European Union (EU). 

At the moment, ASEAN countries continue to work towards the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by the end of the year.In addition, it is working with the EU on a Comprehensive Air Transport Arrangement (CATA). The latter will be the first substantive aviation arrangement between the two regional groupings. 

Mr Lee was adamant that when established, the RCEP and ASEAN-EU CATA will send a clear signal of ASEAN’s commitment to trade liberalisation and economic integration.However, he does not expect negotiations to be easy given the growing mood of nationalism and protectionism. 

Technology and innovation will also have to be embraced to build up ASEAN’s digital connectivity and make itself ready for the future. As a start, the 26 participating cities of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network held the inaugural meeting last month. Singapore hopes that these cities will come together to establish a common framework for smart city development and to develop city-specific action plans and innovative projects that will improve the lives of their peoples.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who will chair the AMM, said that ASEAN is at an "inflexion point" given changes in the security and economic landscape.He said that the global population is transiting into a multipolar world; most are acutely aware of the storm clouds of the trade war and can also see and feel the disruption that the digital revolution is causing. Hence, it is vital for the regional grouping to remain anchored on its principles of unity and centrality, maintain an open rules-based regional architecture while remaining a testament to benefits of free trade and economic integration. ASEAN will also have to keep collaborating with external partners, Dr Balakrishnan added.

On the agenda over the next few days of meetings, the East Asia Summit will negotiate a range of statements on topics, such as cybersecurity, smart cities, and counter-terrorism.

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