SINGAPORE: Even as "considerable strides" have been taken towards a more united, resilient and innovative ASEAN, it is just the beginning of a new and exciting chapter for the 10-member regional grouping, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Nov 15).
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the 33rd ASEAN Summit, Mr Lee stressed the importance of continuing to uphold the ASEAN-centric frameworks, and engaging its partners to keep the region open and inclusive.
"We must stay on the course of economic integration and pool our talents and resources to improve our peoples' lives," he said. "And despite our individual national interests, we must continue to think regionally and invest political capital in the ASEAN project."
Mr Lee officially handed over the chairmanship of ASEAN to Thailand at the ceremony.
In his speech, Mr Lee also thanked ASEAN members and external partners for their "strong support" in making the vision of a resilient and innovative ASEAN possible. Mr Lee said he was happy that a number of concrete deliverables were launched in the course of Singapore’s chairmanship of the grouping that will better prepare it for the future.
For example, to address security threats and forge a peaceful and rules-based regional order, ASEAN established a framework to enhance counter terrorism cooperation, and adopted the world’s first multilateral air guidelines to manage unintentional encounters between military aircraft.
ASEAN has also redoubled its economic integration efforts, and demonstrated clearly its commitment to uphold a free, open and rules-based multilateral order, said Mr Lee. For example, member states signed the ASEAN Agreement on E-Commerce and introduced the ASEAN-wide Self Certification scheme to facilitate cross-border online transactions.
Mr Lee added that he is pleased that there has been "substantial progress" made on negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), pointing out that parties are now in the final stage of negotiations.
"It is important to take full advantage of positive momentum generated this year to conclude the RCEP negotiations in 2019," he said.
The ASEAN Smart Cities Network, which is a key initiative of Singapore’s ASEAN chairmanship, was also launched.
"We have developed action plans for the 26 pilot cities to create innovative urban solutions that will bring tangible improvements to our peoples' lives," he said, adding that he is happy that ASEAN's external partners are equally committed to the cause and have worked with ASEAN's cities on several "mutually beneficial" projects.
Mr Lee said he’s confident that Thailand, as the incoming ASEAN chair, "will continue to take ASEAN forward".
CHALLENGES FACING ASEAN
In his speech accepting the chairmanship of ASEAN, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha acknowledged the challenges facing the grouping including trade and political competition, disruptive technologies, transnational crime, inequities, and transformation in the region’s social structure.
"For these reasons, all 10 countries must collaborate even more closely on the foundation of ASEAN unity and the principle of mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual benefit to realise concrete deliverables and sustainability for ASEAN in all dimensions," he said.
The Thai Prime Minister announced "Advancing Partnership for Sustainability" as the theme of his country's chairmanship.