Asean does not see the world in black and white and does business with all the major powers in the world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, when asked by Australian media whether China was dividing Asean.
Stating that he did not accept the way the question was framed, he pointed out the balancing act as each Asean member responds to the reality of the way the world is.
PM Lee noted that as China's influence and interest in the region grow with its economy, there is an accompanying shift in the global strategic balance.
The shift, in turn, has sparked a range of different perspectives and responses from the Asean countries.
This is not surprising because each Asean country has its own interests and sees the world differently, PM Lee said.
"If you are a landlocked state on China's borders, you see the world differently from an archipelagic state which is further away and does business not only with one major partner, but with many different partners."
ASEAN CENTRAL TO REGION
You have made some sweeping generalisations there. I just want to say that we approach Asean with the greatest of respect, we respect the centrality of Asean in our region, we respect the consensus model upon which it is based. We will be discussing issues of every description, economic, strategic, human rights, issues relating to the Rakhine state in Myanmar. I will be discussing those with the State Counsellor (Ms Aung San Suu Kyi) when I meet her shortly.
AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL, responding to the Australian media when asked how he will address human rights issues as he hosts "leaders whose regimes have jailed political opponents and journalists, threatened to beat protesters on the streets of Sydney, encouraged state-sanctioned killings without trial and driven Rohingya from their homes".
'NO' TO PROTECTIONISM
You don't grow stronger by closing the door to other markets. Protectionism is a dead end. It is not a ladder to get you out of the low-growth trap. It is a shovel to dig it much deeper.
POINTS OF OVERLAP IN PERSPECTIVES
One way we are responding to the challenges, because we are good friends, is that we are having systematic dialogue and engagement. We have similar perspectives, not identical ones. Australia is a treaty ally of the United States, Singapore is not. We are a good friend of the US. We are also good friends with China, as is Australia. So, our perspectives have many points of overlap and where they do overlap, we exchange notes on how we can work together and promote further substantive cooperation
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on Singapore-Australia ties and deepening cooperation on free trade in the face of rising protectionism around the world.
This is the reality of the way the world is, particularly in an association of sovereign countries, he said.
"It is normal, and therefore, I would not accept your framing of the question. I think these are issues Asean has to deal with and we will have to do our best to manage all these tensions and these pressures," he added.
Similarly, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Australia respects the "consensus model" upon which Asean is based, when he was asked whether and how he will raise human rights issues with Asean leaders this weekend, like the military crackdown against the Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
"The engagement that we have in our region is a frank engagement with all of the countries in the region. I just want to say that we approach Asean with the greatest of respect, we respect the centrality of Asean in our region, we respect the consensus model upon which it is based," he said.
Leaders at the Asean-Australia Special Summit will discuss "issues of every description", including human rights and the crisis in Rakhine state, he added.
Both leaders also highlighted how ties between Singapore and Australia have deepened and broadened over the years, and they are looking for more ways to boost cooperation.
Singapore is particularly keen to update its Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement with Australia to catalyse trade and investment flows between both sides, PM Lee said.
Singapore would also like to conclude an Open Skies Agreement, which will enable airlines of both countries to serve travellers better, increasing interactions and opportunities to work together.
"We hope to discuss these issues with our Australian counterparts and make progress on them," PM Lee said.
The Singapore Prime Minister also noted that the two countries are making progress in the joint development of military training areas in Queensland, a venture that will benefit their defence forces as well as the local economy in Australia.
"We look forward to this arrangement being finalised into a treaty this year," he said.