Asean meetings to take stock, boost regional cooperation

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Find out who's who and what is on the agenda for the 33rd Asean Summit, held at the Suntec convention centre from Nov 11 to 15.

Singapore will be in the spotlight this week as leaders of all 10 Asean members gather for the 33rd Asean Summit and several related meetings at the Suntec Singapore convention centre.

The summits, which mark the final milestone of Singapore's chairmanship of Asean this time round, will be chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The leaders are expected to adopt the Asean Smart Cities Framework, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement yesterday.

The framework covers the setting up of a network of smart cities in the region. Its initial 26 members include Bangkok, Cebu City and Yangon, all of which will tap technology and work with partners to improve public services and economic opportunities for residents, among others.

The leaders will also take stock of Asean's achievements this year in strengthening the grouping's resilience and innovation - two key themes of Singapore's chairmanship - and discuss how to take Asean forward at a time of geopolitical and economic change, the PMO said.

Asean, which marked its 50th anniversary last year, has generally held two summits a year over the past decade.

  • 8 things on the agenda

  • 1 The Asean Smart Cities Framework

    2 How Asean has strengthened the grouping's resilience and innovation

    3 How to take Asean forward at a time of geopolitical and economic change

    4 Resettlement of Rohingya refugees in Rakhine State

    5 Ways to build trust in the region, so disputes over trade or territory don't flare up

    6 Negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal

    7 Greater cooperation on countering terrorism and on nuclear security

    8 Ensuring Asean remains key to shaping the region's future, including the concept of the Indo-Pacific

The first, usually in the middle of the year, sees leaders of all 10 members meet to discuss key concerns among themselves.

The second, at the end of the year, sees Asean joined by its key partners from outside the region, to discuss their ties with the grouping at separate meetings.

Asean and its eight key partners will also gather at the East Asia Summit to discuss regional cooperation across a range of issues, from the environment to cyber security.

Other issues that could be raised are the resettlement of Rohingya refugees and ways to build trust in the region, so that disputes over trade or territory do not end in blows.

Against the backdrop of US-China trade tensions and rising protectionism globally, a key concern for many leaders is the need to underline their commitment to lowering trade barriers and integrating regional economies closer together.

Hence, hopes are high that further headway can be made to conclude negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal involving Asean and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. Progress on the RCEP will be discussed at Wednesday's RCEP Summit.


The opening ceremony of the Asean Summit will take place on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Asean leaders meet new Australian PM Scott Morrison for an informal breakfast summit. They will then meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Asean-China Summit, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Asean-Korea Summit.

PM Lee then hosts a working lunch for Asean leaders and guests - Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Asean leaders then meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asean-Russia Summit, followed by Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at the Asean-Japan Summit.

A slew of regional and global issues will be discussed at these meetings, including how links between Asean and the respective countries can be strengthened.

Leaders of countries negotiating the RCEP will then meet among themselves at the RCEP Summit, before a gala dinner hosted by PM Lee.

The final day of the summit, on Thursday, will be the busiest.

Asean leaders will gather for the Asean-India informal breakfast summit with Indian PM Narendra Modi, before meeting United States Vice-President Michael Pence at the Asean-US Summit.

They then gather at the Asean Plus Three Summit with Mr Li, Mr Abe and Mr Moon, before joining Mr Modi, Mr Morrison, Mr Pence and Mr Putin, as well as New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, at the East Asia Summit.

Capping the meetings is the closing ceremony on Thursday, which will see PM Lee hand over the Asean chairmanship to his Thai counterpart, Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The Asean chairmanship is rotated annually among all 10 members, in alphabetical order.


Several leaders will also be on official visits, their first since taking up their current posts. They are Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad, Mr Li and Mr Pence.

Mr Putin will make a state visit, his first to Singapore.

Both Dr Mahathir and Mr Li will separately meet Singapore leaders tomorrow and be hosted to meals.

Mr Li and PM Lee will witness the signing of several agreements, covering areas from trade and culture to cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative.

On Tuesday, Dr Mahathir will be conferred an honorary doctorate by the National University of Singapore and address the Asean Business and Investment Summit, which is organised annually by the Asean Business Advisory Council on the sidelines of the main summit.

Mr Li will deliver the Singapore Lecture.

And Mr Putin will co-officiate the ground-breaking ceremony of the Russian Cultural Centre with President Halimah Yacob, who will also host a state banquet in his honour.

On Friday, Mr Pence will have a private meeting with PM Lee, who will host a breakfast meeting for him and senior members of his delegation.

Many of the leaders, including Mr Pence and PM Lee, will then travel to Papua New Guinea for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economic leaders' meeting, where a key focus will be on lowering barriers to trade.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 11, 2018, with the headline Asean meetings to take stock, boost regional cooperation. Subscribe