Thursday, November 17, 2011

S'pore pledges S$50m to narrow ASEAN gap

BALI, Indonesia: Singapore announced an extension of its contributions to the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) for another four years from 2012 to 2015, totalling S$50 million.

Revealing this during the plenary session of the ASEAN Summit in Bali, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this will be the country's fourth pledge to the IAI.

The IAI aims to help member states such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam narrow the development gap to achieve the vision of an ASEAN Community by 2015.

Giving an overview, Mr Lee noted the global economy remained vulnerable with problems in the European Union and the US economy still weak with low growth and low unemployment.

He said ASEAN must cooperate to weather the storm.

He said this can be done in three ways - achieving the vision of an ASEAN Community by 2015, enhancing ASEAN connectivity and strengthening links with the rest of the world.

Mr Lee stressed that ASEAN is at a critical juncture in its community-building efforts, with slightly over three years left to achieve the 2015 vision.

He said ASEAN's credibility and success are at stake and he called on the group to focus on achieving existing targets.

ASEAN Chair and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who opened the summit, spoke of the need for solidarity among ASEAN countries to settle problems using peaceful negotiations.

Mr Lee also said connectivity is key to the group's integration and community-building efforts as it is important for ASEAN to draw the region closer, narrow development gaps and explore opportunities to involve the private sector in its programmes.

As ASEAN expands external links, Mr Lee said there is a need for ASEAN to "entrench its centrality in the regional architecture".

One way is to move towards the concept of an ASEAN++ Free Trade Agreement (FTA) framework.

Mr Lee said he believes this will synergise the benefits from the web of ASEAN+1 FTAs it has with partners.

He urged economic officials to quickly finalise the template for an ASEAN++ FTA.

Mr Lee also said he is confident that Cambodia as the next Chair of ASEAN will sustain the momentum of strengthening and integrating the grouping.

Meanwhile, Mr Lee said Singapore is ready to play its part and work with Myanmar to ensure successful outcomes if Myanmar becomes ASEAN Chair in 2014.

Mr Lee confirmed Singapore's support for Myanmar's bid to the ASEAN Chair in 2014.

He said he believes with the support of member countries, Myanmar will be able to make further progress in its domestic politics, and assume leadership of the bloc.

Mr Lee added that having guidelines to implement a code of conduct over South China Sea disputes is an important step forward. It also showed that ASEAN can work constructively with external partners on sensitive issues.

Mr Lee said Singapore's fundamental interest in the South China Sea disputes is to ensure freedom of navigation and a peaceful resolution in accordance with international laws.

Mr Lee stressed Singapore takes no sides in the territorial disputes.

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