SINGAPORE: Singapore will focus on strengthening the collective resilience of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as promoting innovation among member economies, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he launched the country's chairmanship of the regional bloc with songs, dance and food.
“The last time we chaired ASEAN was in 2007 and we are very happy to be chairing it again,” Mr Lee said on Friday (Jan 12) at the Experience ASEAN launch event held at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.
Visitors can look forward to food, craft stalls and performances from the region at the event held from Friday to Sunday.
On Friday evening, veteran entertainer Dick Lee entertained the crowd with Rise, a song for ASEAN that he composed "10 years ago", he said.
A special orchid hybrid to commemorate Singapore's chairmanship, named Renanthera ASEAN 2018, was also unveiled at the event. The flower symbolises the "unity, strength and resilience" of ASEAN states, host Diana Ser said.
The launch event celebrates ASEAN’s achievements and its vibrancy "the ASEAN way", said Mr Lee.
“The performances and stalls today are just a sliver of ASEAN’s rich cultural diversity,” he added.
Mr Lee, who is MP of Ang Mo Kio GRC, also reminded those gathered at the event of ASEAN’s achievements since its formation in 1967 by five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore.
Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia joined later.
“Looking back, if the leaders of the five founding ASEAN members had not taken a leap of faith and established ASEAN in 1967, the region could still be troubled by conflicts,” he said. "Singapore, a small and vulnerable country, newly independent, might not have survived in such a difficult neighbourhood, let alone won a place in the world."
The bloc has also increased the influence of the region internationally, by giving member states a collective voice on the world stage, he said.
The ASEAN economic community has also provided opportunities for workers and businesses.
“With the ASEAN Free Trade Area, Singapore companies can reach ASEAN’s market of 630 million people - 100 times Singapore’s own population, and more," Mr Lee said.
Singaporeans also benefit from the free flow of goods and services, he said, citing the abundance of Thai rice, Vietnamese coffee and Malaysian Musang King durians in supermarkets here at “very affordable prices”.
Going forward, Singapore will “do its best to take the group forward”, focusing on two themes – resilience and innovation.
“We hope during Singapore’s term as chair, we will start some ASEAN projects that will strengthen our collective resilience against common threats such as terrorism, cybercrime, and climate change,” Mr Lee said.
“We also hope to promote schemes that capitalise on innovation, to help ASEAN economies to innovate and to use technology, to make us a more dynamic and connected community.”