Lee Hsien Loong
ASEAN must continue working hard to remain an effective and central player in the region, said Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday.
Delivering the keynote lecture at research institute ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute's 50th anniversary event, Lee noted that the 1960s, which was when ASEAN and ISEAS were formed, was a "very different world" from the 21st century.
The Cold War is long over, he said, and Southeast Asia today is largely peaceful and stable, reports Channel News Asia. But he added that there will always be hotspots and difficult issues to deal with from time to time. There is also a need to adjust to a strategic balance which is shifting both globally, and in the region.
Highlighting the growing strength and influence of new powers like China and India, Lee also stressed the need for individual ASEAN countries to adapt to the "new and changing strategic landscape".
"Countries have to take into account the policies and interests of new powers, while maintaining their traditional political and economic ties," he said, adding that there will be new opportunities like China's Belt and Road Initiative. "Individual countries stand to benefit, and so potentially will ASEAN as a whole."
But at the same time, he added that the ASEAN grouping has to get used to new internal dynamics, as each member feels the influence of the different powers to different degrees. "We must accept the reality of these tidal pulls, without allowing them to lead to fault lines forming within the ASEAN group," said Lee.
In his speech, Lee also stressed the importance of ASEAN working actively to maintain its centrality and relevance in a "shifting environment". All ASEAN countries, he said, want to maintain and develop their ties with the US, even as it intensively reviews its trade and foreign policies.
"The US is still the region's security anchor and the world's largest economy. We recognize that the political mood in the US has changed," he said. "The Trump Administration is rethinking America's international role, and how the US should advance its interests and influence in the world."
"However, the US has clearly affirmed its determination to stay engaged in Asia, and countries hope that it will continue to play an active role, particularly in Southeast Asia."
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