Singapore's neutrality is its strength

I was surprised when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Asean may one day face the need to take sides (Asean must strive to remain cohesive amid global tensions: PM Lee; Nov 16).

Neutrality has always been at the core of Singapore's survival, and centrality and unity have always been Asean's cornerstones.

Our partnership with the United States, for example, is predicated upon a mutual need as South-east Asia remains smack in the middle of the Indo-Pacific.

US President Donald Trump may threaten to disengage South-east Asia, but senior American officials know too well about the critical need for the US to persevere and advance its economic and security interests in the region to desert us.

China, too, knows that a fractured Asean will serve it no more good than fractured connectivity and support for its Belt and Road Initiative would.

Besides trade, Asean and China have also blossomed in collaboration across education, agriculture, tourism, anti-corruption, healthcare and disaster management, to name a few.

It would be imprudent to flush all these away.

Singapore should not forget that China and the US are not the only great powers around.

This is a time for Asean to look to and engage other great powers, like Japan, Australia, India and Russia, so as to avail ourselves of more alternatives.

Asean has proven that it is greater than the sum of all its parts for five decades and its members have braved many storms together.

It is with this affirmation that Asean must pull itself together cohesively to tackle the challenge before us in unity.

Meanwhile, Singapore should assert our neutrality more strongly than ever and build up our brand as a valued international mediator.

Lily Ong (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore's neutrality is its strength'. Print Edition | Subscribe