SINGAPORE: As ASEAN Chair, Singapore has achieved far more than anticipated, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Speaking to the media ahead of the 33rd ASEAN Summit, Dr Balakrishnan attributed this success to the hard work of all government agencies and the full support and participation of all ASEAN member states.
“To be honest with you, I think we actually achieved far more than I dare to anticipate,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
“Full credit goes to all the staff, all the ministries who have worked so hard. This is a whole of Government project. Equally important, the full support and participation of all of ASEAN member states.”
The upcoming 33rd ASEAN Summit, which will take place from Nov 11 to Nov 15 at the Suntec Singapore Convention Centre, marks a final milestone for Singapore's chairmanship of the regional bloc.
“When we began the year, the context we were facing was that ASEAN was facing a world in which there was pushback against free trade, fraying of a multilateral rules based world order as we’ve grown accustomed to,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
He added that the region was also facing an ongoing digital revolution and ASEAN had to find ways to “transform prospects for jobs and the economy for the future”.
“And so we decided that we would focus on the themes of innovation and resilience, which I think you all will agree in hindsight were absolutely spot on,” he said.
Despite this, Dr Balakrishnan noted that Singapore was able to more than deliver on its objectives, in line with the ASEAN theme this year - to be resilient and innovative.
"The fact that we’ve been able to do so much together with our ASEAN partners shows that as long as we continue to build up strategic trust, mutual confidence, open coherent and consistent communications, we can do a lot together,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
“The unanticipated harvest of so many projects and initiatives launched and harvested shows the value of that."
Under Singapore's chairmanship, ASEAN members and China arrived at a single draft negotiating text of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in August.
It has also advanced negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trade pact that is set to form the world's largest trading bloc.
ASEAN defence chiefs also inked the world’s first multilateral air guidelines at their meeting in October, in a move aimed at managing unexpected encounters between military aircraft.
These achievements reflect ASEAN’s centrality, added Dr Balakrishnan. They also set the stage for when world leaders descend on Singapore shores.
"I hope they all, like me, will be pleasantly surprised that we’ve managed to get so much done, that will also give more confidence to do more together,” he said.
“Even as we deal with the ongoing challenges ,the digital revolution, both man-made and natural disasters and challenges, that they’ll have confidence and will double down on the concept of integration. I hope they will see all this as a platform worth enhancing and elevating even further."
At the Summit, Singapore will hand over the chairmanship to Thailand and Dr Balakrishnan said the Republic will give its fullest support.
He added that Singapore will also continue to facilitate its flagship project, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network.
“We will still continue to act as a shepherd for this concept, and continue to act as a secretariat and facilitator for efforts in smart city development across Southeast Asia,” Dr Balakrishnan said.