S'pore foreign minister: Winds of change will continue to shape Asean

SINGAPORE: Asean has witnessed and been shaped by many changes in its 50-year history and it must continuously adapt to any change that the future brings, says Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

With Singapore taking over the Asean chair from the Philippines in 2018, Dr Balakrishnan said that it was important for the bloc to "get the balance right".

"We must get the balance right between protecting our own national interests versus advancing regional interests and making ourselves collectively have a louder voice, greater weight and more relevance to the rest of the world," he told 15 visiting journalists from the Asean region at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Singapore last month.

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore would focus on two themes as Asean chair – resilience and innovation.

"Resilience because we have to deal with both short-term and urgent problems like terrorism, extremism, security threats, and even natural disasters.

"So Asean – both individual member states and collectively – need to be resilient and be able to cope with all these crises. And we hope that by working closer together … we can mount credible and collective responses to deal with crises," said Dr Balakrishnan.

He also said the need for innovation was imperative in light of the digital revolution.

"There is an urgent need to restructure economies to upgrade and up-skill our people, and to find new engines of growth.

We hope that by addressing these challenges collectively, by interconnecting and sharing ideas, and creating a network of enterprises, entrepreneurs, smart cities, we will be able to harvest these new digital opportunities more effectively because we do so as one Asean," he explained.

Dr Balakrishnan also said that growth prospects for the region have to a large extent been affected by external forces in the past and this will be no different looking forward.

S'pore foreign minister: Winds of change will continue to shape Asean

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He said that Asean was at an inflection point, with a few external factors that would impact the bloc moving forward.

Amongst these, he said, was a change in the geo-strategic balance of power, citing in particular the rise of China as an economic superpower.

Another key external factor, he said was that the previous global consensus in favour of trade liberalisation and economic integration – which Asean member states have relied on to jumpstart their economies – is increasingly becoming very shaky.

Citing the withdrawal of the United States from trade deals as an example, he noted that these are "early warning signs that the assumptions that we used for our economic growth in the last fifty years are now under pressure".

Another major change, he said was the advent of technological advances and the digital revolution.

"It's transforming the way we live, work and play. Old jobs are disappearing, middle class wages are under pressure, and there are new jobs being created, but there is a skills mismatch.

"Governments need to restructure economies, upgrade the workforces and infrastructure in order to create new jobs, expand capabilities and skills in our people and to match people with new skills and new jobs," he said.

On multi-lateral trade pacts such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Dr Balakrishnan said it was not a matter of ranking which had more importance over the other.

He said that Asean, as a whole, already had free trade agreements with six other parties namely China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and India.

"In a sense, the RCEP is actually just one more step beyond the existing agreements that Asean already have with these six.

"It's a very ambitious agreement because if you actually put RCEP together, it's something like 40% of the world's GDP, nearly 30% of global trade, it's a very, very big bloc," he said, adding that Singapore believed in and supported this initiative.

But Dr Balakrishnan outlined an even larger vision.

"We don't just believe in having a RCEP, our larger vision is to achieve a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), and we believe that the RCEP is one of the avenues from which we can achieve the FTAAP," he said.

Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore strongly believes that the TPP was a good idea, and does not see the RCEP and TPP as being mutually exclusive or competitive.

"It's still part of our larger vision of the FTAAP; there are many roads that can lead us to the larger destination.

"It is still in Asean's interest to pursue multilateral trade liberalisation wherever those opportunities arise. But don't forget to begin at home and that's why our agenda for Asean integration remains salient and relevant," said Dr Balakrishnan.

 Source : https://www.msn.com/en-sg/news/national/spore-foreign-minister-winds-of-change-will-continue-to-shape-asean/ar-BBGo8Md