ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
PM Lee: Work harder to deepen regional integration
Delivering the ASEAN lecture in Singapore on Tuesday in conjunction with the grouping's 40th anniversary on August 8, he offered two reasons why member countries must work hard for closer ASEAN integration.
Firstly, Mr Lee said ASEAN has no choice but to integrate to survive.
He explained that the rise of China and India has transformed the strategic landscape and created new dynamics within Asia.
Companies and investors around the world are focusing their energies on the two emerging giants and see ASEAN as ten isolated, scattered national economies, too small to pay attention to.
Mr Lee warned that if ASEAN's integration stagnates while the rest of Asia forges ahead, the grouping will be left behind and become irrelevant.
To keep efforts on track, the more developed members should take the lead in setting the pace of integration.
And despite the diversity of the region, Mr Lee said ASEAN countries should look for creative and flexible approaches to accelerate integration.
One way is for those which are ready to move ahead first, bilaterally or as a smaller sub-group. Others can join in when they are ready.
Mr Lee said this would give regional integration a much needed boost.
The second reason for integration is to create a united and coherent ASEAN organisation so that it is favourably positioned as the basis of the new regional architecture.
Mr Lee warned that if ASEAN is disunited or ineffective, it will lose the privileged position of being courted by various players.
The grouping needs to show that it is able to look beyond narrow short-term interests in the pursuit of broader strategic goals.
Turning to Singapore's Chairmanship of ASEAN, Mr Lee explained that it will focus on strengthening the grouping internally.
Next, it hopes to deepen community building efforts so that ASEAN is embraced by its people.
Singapore will also be pursuing global issues and ensure that the grouping remains relevant and constructive within the wider international discourse.
The Summit in Singapore will be addressing the inter-related issues of energy, environment, climate change and sustainable development. CNA