SINGAPORE - Asean's capacity for growth remains relatively intact despite recent global challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic, and more can be done to get Singaporeans to have a better understanding of neighbouring countries, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Jan 11).
This is especially significant given how Asean has managed to position itself well globally, said Mr Heng, who noted that there has been greater recognition of Asean in the past few years.
"We need to do more programmes with our friends and neighbours in the region, rather than to go to faraway places. Start to know our neighbors better first," said Mr Heng.
This push to get Singaporeans to be more familiar with their neighbours was something Mr Heng said he had been suggesting to schools since he was Education Minister.
He was responding to questions from viewers of The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum to emphasise how Asean's prospects remain bright.
The dialogue was moderated by Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times.
The 10 nations that make up Asean are home to more than 650 million people and have a combined gross domestic product of about US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion).
Observers have said that if these nations were one country, they would be the fifth-largest economy in the world. And given how quickly it is growing, the region is projected to become the world's fourth-largest economy by 2030.
In his reply, Mr Heng pointed out that progress is being made on regional economic agreements and integration, and added that besides economic growth, the region can do more to cooperate in areas like sustainability, managing public health and cybersecurity.
A lot of progress has also been made in socio-cultural cooperation too, he noted. He held up Asean as a rich and diverse region, with each of its 10 countries having their own history, culture and heritage.
Mr Heng said it was a big step that Asean nations can all collaborate and come to common agreements now given that not too long ago, some of the nations were at war with one another.
He also hopes Singapore students will take an interest in not just the economic potential of Asean, but also its cultural and historical aspect.
"There's a lot of this work that is going on now. I do hope that our young people take an active interest in understanding our region," he added.