Transcript of Opening Remarks by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Opening Ceremony of the 33rd ASEAN Summit and Related Summits

Source: PMO

Your Majesty, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Singapore.

First of all, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to ASEAN colleagues and partners for your strong support for Singapore’s Chairmanship. It has been a busy and fruitful year. We have held many meetings and implemented significant specific steps to take ASEAN forward.

When Singapore took over the Chairmanship, we knew we were accepting an important responsibility. Having just turned 50 last year, ASEAN is opening a new chapter and charting fresh directions forward. How can ASEAN stay united, effective and relevant for our peoples and our partners?

This question is especially pertinent given the rapidly changing external environment. The international order is at a turning point. The existing free, open and rules-based multilateral system which has underpinned ASEAN’s growth and stability, has come under stress. Countries, including major powers, are resorting to unilateral actions and bilateral deals, and even explicitly repudiating multilateral approaches and institutions. It is unclear if the world will settle into new rules and norms of international engagement, or whether the international order will break up into rival blocs.

These strategic trends of big power competition and shifts against multilateralism are pulling ASEAN member states in different directions. Each member state has its own strategic outlook, political calculations and national interests. Despite this, ASEAN has shown that it is still able to work together and find common ground.

This is because of the conviction of ASEAN members that ASEAN is greater than the sum of its parts. By coming together in one collective voice, instead of going our separate ways as ten disparate countries, ASEAN members have strengthened our standing in the world. Through ASEAN, we have been able to engage and cooperate with major countries and international organisations, using various ASEAN-centric platforms such as the ASEAN+3 and the East Asia Summit. We will be meeting in these forums over the next few days. By integrating our economies, we have enabled our peoples to gain from a regional division of labour, and we have enhanced ASEAN’s value proposition to investors. Today, ASEAN is one of the most vibrant economic groupings in the world. With a growing middle class and a young workforce, ASEAN is slated to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.

ASEAN’s future is bright. At the same time, ASEAN has to address new challenges. Apart from the new strategic landscape, another major shift has been digital technology. Digital technology has disrupted our economies and dramatically changed how we live, work and interact with one another. It has also made us more susceptible to cyberattacks. Meanwhile, non-traditional and transnational threats including terrorism and climate change are looming on the horizon. Terrorism is not just an issue of physical security, but also a grave threat to the delicate multi-ethnic and multi-religious social fabric of many ASEAN countries. Climate change is rendering ASEAN countries vulnerable to rising sea levels because of our long coastlines and low-lying areas. Higher temperatures and extreme weather are affecting our crop yields, spreading tropical diseases, and threatening the lives and livelihoods of our people.

All these mean that multilateral cooperation is now more urgent than ever. These common challenges are complex and unprecedented. No single solution applies to all of us, or all of these problems, yet no country can deal with them alone. We need to pool our ideas and resources to tackle these issues together.

This is why Singapore chose “resilience” and “innovation” as the themes for our ASEAN Chairmanship. We wanted to build up our collective defences against these challenges, and to use technology to better prepare ASEAN for the future.

Glad that during our term as Chairman, member countries have redoubled our integration efforts and come up with concrete measures that lay the groundwork for a united, effective and relevant ASEAN. For example, ASEAN has reaffirmed our commitment to multilateral trade, and made substantial progress towards completing negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The ASEAN Smart Cities Network will be a platform for cities in ASEAN countries to connect, share experiences and work together to enhance our peoples’ quality of life. We have strengthened the basis for a rules-based regional environment with the conclusion of the Model ASEAN Extradition Treaty. We have improved our collective resilience against transboundary threats including cyberattacks and climate change.

These deliverables underscore ASEAN’s strong belief that multilateralism remains an important basis for international cooperation and for the region’s growth and stability. In an interdependent and interconnected world, ASEAN will work with our external partners to tackle these challenges. We are determined to maintain an open and inclusive ASEAN-centric regional architecture.

Chairing ASEAN at its 51st year has been an honour for Singapore. These summit meetings will be the final stretch of our Chairmanship. But there is much more for ASEAN to do in this new chapter of its history. Singapore hopes to continue working with our ASEAN colleagues to build an “innovative and resilient ASEAN” for ourselves and future generations. And I look forward to fruitful discussions over the next couple of days on ways to strengthen ASEAN as well as our partnerships.

Thank you very much.

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