SYDNEY: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia can enhance their strategic partnership by strengthening their collective resilience on security issues, developing smart cities together and redoubling their resolve to pursue trade liberalisation and regional economic integration, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Mar 18).
He noted this at the Leaders’ Plenary at the International Convention Centre Sydney, where he is attending the ASEAN Australia Special Summit.
Speaking on behalf of Singapore at the plenary, he said the summit’s focus on security and prosperity ties in well with the challenges ASEAN and Australia face today, as well as ASEAN’s priorities to strengthen its resilience and innovative capacity.
One way to strengthen ASEAN’s partnership with Australia is to strengthen the collective resilience on security issues – particularly on cybersecurity, which Mr Lee called a “transboundary problem”.
“It can have a drastic impact on our populations, for example in terms of critical infrastructure; and it can be insidious – undermining the trust which holds our societies together, for example through fake news," he said.
"It is essential for us to develop new rules and norms and there is potential for our region to play a role in the international discourse."
Mr Lee added Cyber-security has been a key focus of Australia, which has launched a number of cybersecurity initiatives over the last two years such as the Cyber Security Strategy in 2016 and the Cyber Engagement Strategy last year.
Mr Lee said the proposed ASEAN-Australia Cyber Policy Dialogue can therefore be a platform for greater policy exchange and capacity-building.
Another way for ASEAN and Australia to strengthen its partnership is to cooperate on developing smart cities to improve the lives of its people.
“The ASEAN-Australia Smart Cities Initiative complements the ASEAN Smart Cities Network initiative and ASEAN’s Masterplan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. We look forward to working with Australia and its businesses to promote urban development and innovation throughout the region,” he said.
ASEAN and Australia should also redouble efforts to pursue trade liberalisation and regional economic integration, said Mr Lee, as the global mood is shifting against international trade and globalisation.
“The US has imposed tariffs on solar panels, aluminium and steel, and are contemplating further, more dramatic measures," said Mr Lee.
"These steps could easily lead to tit-for-tat responses and a trade war. This will be very harmful to ASEAN economies, as well as Australia’s, because we are all highly dependent on international trade."
It is important for ASEAN and Australia to work towards enhancing globalisation and free trade, and strengthen existing trade mechanisms. He cited the ongoing general review of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, which came into force in 2010.
Mr Lee also noted how trade pacts like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacfiic Partnership (CPTPP) signed in Chile last week can help build new pathways towards greater interdependence and trade.
He said the next step is to work on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which both sides are currently negotiating.
“We should intensify our efforts to conclude a forward-looking and mutually beneficial agreement.
"One which includes all the major players in the Asian region and which will match and support our goal of an open and inclusive regional architecture. We hope to conclude such an RCEP by this year.”
In his opening address for the Leaders’ Plenary earlier, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reaffirmed the country’s commitment to supporting ASEAN.
He noted how over the past 50 years the bloc has “used its influence to diffuse tension, build peace and encourage economic cooperation and support to maintain the rule of law.”