MANILA: As the incoming chairman of ASEAN in 2018, Singapore looks forward to the United States' continued support for the regional bloc, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 13).
Speaking at a summit to commemorate 40 years of dialogue relations between ASEAN and the US, Mr Lee told US President Donald Trump that his attendance at the summit signals a positive step towards the sustained expansion of ASEAN-US relations under his administration.
Mr Trump is in Manila for the 31st ASEAN summit and other events, as part of his first tour of Asia.
ASEAN is already the US’ fourth largest trading partner and creates more than half a million jobs for Americans through trade in goods and services, Mr Lee noted, adding that the regional bloc has “tremendous growth potential” for American businesses.
ASEAN is also projected to become the fourth largest single market in the world by 2030.
“With a combined population of over 600 million, a growing middle class and a youthful demographic that is adept at technology and adapting to the digital economy, ASEAN is a bright spot in the world economy,” said Mr Lee.
“Our key priorities are to enhance ASEAN’s resilience, innovation and deepen our economic integration create scope for stronger ASEAN-US cooperation, particularly in mutually beneficial areas such as the digital economy, connectivity and cyber security.”
Mr Lee added that the Expanded Economic Engagement initiatives between ASEAN and US, when completed, will encourage a "fair and mutually beneficial trading and investment climate" between the two parties. The framework was introduced in 2012 for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the US and ASEAN, creating new business opportunities and jobs in all eleven countries.
At the opening of the summit, Mr Trump said the US "remains committed to ASEAN's central role as a regional forum for total cooperation". He added that the diplomatic partnership advances the security and prosperity of the American people and the people of all Indo-Pacific nations.
"Today, we celebrate your incredible success, and we also seek economic partnerships on the basis of fairness and reciprocity," he said.
SINGAPORE STRONGLY CONDEMNS PROVOCATIONS BY NORTH KOREA
Speaking on a subject that has dominated Mr Trump's Asia tour, Mr Lee said Singapore urges North Korea to desist from its provocations and abide by international obligations and commitments.
Singapore strongly condemns the recent provocations by North Korea, including a nuclear test in September, Mr Lee added.
With mounting fears that North Korea may one day deliver a nuclear payload to the West, the US President has threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea if his country is forced to defend itself or its allies.
“Singapore ourselves takes our obligations under the United Nations Security Council Resolutions very seriously and will implement them faithfully and fully,” Mr Lee said.
He added that while there is no easy and quick solution to the issue, a combination of pressure and dialogue among all stakeholders is needed, in order to make progress on this “delicate situation”.
Mr Lee said that ASEAN shares the US’ concerns on issues threatening the region’s peace and stability, and that terrorism remains a “serious, acute and continuing threat” for the region. This is despite the Philippine military ending the siege of Marawi by pro-Islamic State militants, with the help of US Special Forces.
"ISIS has been trying to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia and has been linked to deadly attacks in several ASEAN capitals," he said.
As Islamic State loses ground in Syria and Iraq, it is shifting its messaging from encouraging individuals to join the battlegrounds in the Middle East, to calling on its supporters to conduct “simple” lone-wolf attacks in their home countries, Mr Lee noted.
He added that he hopes the US continues to support the counter-terrorism efforts of Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
On the South China Sea, ASEAN appreciates the US’ consistent support for the bloc's efforts to build a rules-based regional order and for the peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in accordance with international law, Mr Lee said. On Sunday, Mr Trump offered his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, help in mediating disputes over the South China Sea.