Keeping Raja's zeal for regional links alive

It is both fitting and timely that Temasek Holdings has launched the $100 million S. Rajaratnam Endowment to deepen regional ties with the aspiration of bringing about peace and stability in the region.

It is an appropriate tribute to one of Singapore's founding fathers who, as the Republic's first foreign minister, was a key architect of its foreign policy. Mr Rajaratnam was also one of the founding ministers of Asean in 1967 who helped to shape its philosophy of regional unity and non-interference.

These foundational values cannot be taken for granted and have to be constantly reaffirmed, as historical events have demonstrated. Diplomatic squalls might arise out of the blue like the visit of then Israeli President Chaim Herzog to Singapore in 1986 and Indonesia's decision earlier this year to name a new warship after two Indonesian marines responsible for a 1965 bombing in Singapore. To withstand such turbulence, a deep reservoir of goodwill has to be jointly built and assiduously maintained, going beyond humanitarian responses to disasters that afflict member states from time to time.

The endowment recognises the state of flux that the world is in now and the geostrategic shifts in motion in the region. For example, a resurgent and assertive China is up against the United States' pivot to the region, leading to uncertainty and unease among regional states. Against this backdrop, preserving Asean solidarity assumes greater urgency - not just for the sake of upholding its well-established corporate identity but also for greater collaboration in tackling issues that affect all member states.

Investing in promoting regional cooperation and development is the natural impulse of a small state with an open economy which needs to stay engaged with its neighbours and others farther afield. Pioneer leaders like Mr Rajaratnam nurtured this instinct and laboured to institutionalise linkages. It was no accident that the first Commonwealth heads of state meeting outside Britain took place in Singapore in 1971.

The endowment serves to demonstrate that Singapore remains invested in the region's future and in sparking a collaborative spirit among Asean's young. The upcoming Youth Model Asean Conference supported by the fund, for example, will gather 400 Asean youth leaders to discuss wide-ranging topics relevant to the region. Other programmes similarly promoted relate to international relations, social development, culture, literary arts and journalism, all areas close to Mr Rajaratnam's heart. The hope is that his passion to keep neighbourly links strong will live on via the efforts of the endowment.