ASEAN: Pulling together in good faith to overcome challenges

Update: 10:20 | 08/08/2020
TGVN. Despite our diversity, ASEAN has allowed us to maintain peace and stability, and work together to develop our economies.
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ASEAN: Pulling together in good faith to overcome challenges
Ambassador of Singapore to Vietnam Catherine Wong.

ASEAN is a key pillar of Singapore’s foreign policy. The region has come a long way since ASEAN was established in 1967. Peace within our region was not a given then, and we were much less connected than we are today. ASEAN now encapsulates some 650 million people who speak a thousand different languages and dialects; spread across 10 countries with unique social, economic, and political structures. Despite our diversity, ASEAN has allowed us to maintain peace and stability, and work together to develop our economies. Today, we are witnessing the existing free, open and rules-based multilateral system which has underpinned ASEAN’s growth come under increasing stress. The international order is at an inflection point; and major power competition is intensifying. Maintaining ASEAN unity, centrality and relevance have become ever more pertinent.

In these uncertain times, Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme of “Cohesive and Responsive” is most fitting. With all ten ASEAN member states hit by COVID-19, battling the pandemic and its consequences has become a key priority. This gives ASEAN impetus to come together to not only weather the storm, but to emerge stronger. Indeed, Vietnam’s decisive leadership as ASEAN Chair is critical as we confront this momentous challenge.

This crisis has been a resounding reminder of the importance of pulling together in good faith to overcome our shared challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic will fundamentally change globalisation. Yet whatever the shape of the post-pandemic world, ASEAN must resist the temptation to turn inwards and away from each other. Instead, ASEAN must continuously adapt and evolve to keep pace with the post-pandemic world, both economically and politically. We should take a bolder, broader and longer view of our common interests; and give each other greater reason to stay united.

One of the most crucial tasks for ASEAN is to take decisive steps to deepen economic integration. This is a priority for Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship, which Singapore fully supports. In doing so, ASEAN will enhance our collective value proposition to our strategic partners. The RCEP is a key piece of this puzzle and will pave the way for us to strengthen economic linkages, and consequently, ASEAN unity and centrality. Singapore hopes to see the RCEP signed this year. Instead of allowing ourselves to be pulled in different directions by external forces, ASEAN as a credible economic force can take the driver’s seat.

Critically, deeper economic integration will bring the region together in tangible ways. Only an ASEAN that stands together will truly be viewed as more than just the sum of our parts. Looking ahead, we must also continue to work together in defence of the critical principles of international law and multilateralism. I am confident that under Vietnam’s ASEAN Chairmanship, we will make important strides toward the betterment of ASEAN, and the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.

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Catherine Wong

Ambassador of Singapore to Vietnam