MANILA • Asean must stay united and credible on issues of regional and international concern such as North Korea and the South China Sea, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Addressing fellow leaders of South-east Asian nations at the start of the 31st Asean Summit, PM Lee urged them to continue to call on North Korea to abide by its international obligations and commitments.
"On the South China Sea issue, we welcome the calmer atmospherics and collective efforts by all parties to build mutual trust and confidence," he said.
He noted that the grouping had made good progress in its efforts to build a community under the chairmanship of the Philippines, and congratulated President Rodrigo Duterte "on his able and steady stewardship of Asean".
Asean has come a long way since its founding 50 years ago, PM Lee noted, adding that as members celebrate this anniversary, "we must strive to keep Asean relevant, competitive and prosperous".
He also spoke on Singapore's vision for Asean and outlined what Singapore will focus on when it takes over the rotating chairmanship of the 10-member grouping next year.
It will build on the good work by current chair the Philippines and previous chairs to strengthen the Asean community, he said.
Singapore intends to step up cooperation to build resilience against threats like terrorism as well as non-traditional and emerging dangers. And as chair, it also wants to make use of new technologies and the digital revolution to transform Asean's economies and bring them more closely together.
It will also focus on building an Asean community that is relevant and centres around its citizens, and continue to keep key partners engaged in the region.
Against the current climate of anti-globalisation and protectionism, Asean needs to push on with its efforts at economic integration to stay competitive and prosperous, said PM Lee.
He noted that steady progress is being made towards building an Asean Economic Community, which could be the fourth largest single market in the world by 2030.
He called on members to stay committed to the multilateral, rules-based and open trading system, and strive for high-quality pacts that benefit Asean's businesses and peoples.
He welcomed Asean's signing of free trade and investment agreements with Hong Kong on Sunday.
And he encouraged countries to continue efforts to reach a high-quality Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-nation free trade agreement Asean and six partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand - are negotiating.
PM Lee said: "As long as we stay united, resilient and adaptable, I am confident that Asean will continue to prosper and we will continue to forge a stronger community."