VIENTIANE, Laos: Australia "understands" the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its developmental needs, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Sep 7).
Speaking at the 2nd ASEAN‐Australia Summit in Laos, which was part of the regional bloc's biannual meetings, Mr Lee highlighted the important contributions made by Australia to ASEAN’s development and regional stability.
Pointing to the "considerable" success of projects under the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Program, Mr Lee said Australia’s continued developmental efforts in the region are integral to ASEAN’s efforts to narrow the developmental gap.
He noted that ASEAN-Australia ties also extended to a "wide range of political‐security issues", with Australia participating actively in fora such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting.
ON COUNTER-TERRORISM, ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Mr Lee also welcomed Australia’s proposal to update the 2004 Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism. The proposal comes at a time when the region has to deal with a challenging and evolving security landscape - with the growing phenomena of self‐radicalised individuals, presence of terror groups in the region and more Southeast Asians joining ISIS in Syria, according to Mr Lee.
He also described ASEAN-Australia economic relations as "robust" and still growing. Said Mr Lee: "The ASEAN‐Australia‐New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) has borne fruit for both sides. It's important for us to always ensure that it remains current and meets the needs of our businesses. As such, we look forward to the General Review of the AANZFTA.”
“In the meantime, we should continue working towards a high-quality RCEP agreement, because that is the broader agreement which will link together all the economies on the Western side of the Pacific," he added.
Mr Lee was referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed FTA between the 10 ASEAN member states and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Earlier in the day, he had remarked that RCEP "negotiations have not progressed as quickly as we had hoped".
He said: "I appreciate Australia’s commitment to trade liberalisation and an ambitious agreement," he said.
"I look forward to Australia hosting the ASEAN leaders to a Special Summit in 2018, which will reinforce ASEAN’s role in the region and showcase the depth of our partnership," concluded Mr Lee.