Singapore looks to boost Asean awareness

Singapore needs to find markets to replace faltering China. Source: Flickr

As Singapore prepares to chair Asean in 2018, initiatives are in the pipeline to promote awareness of the bloc among Singaporeans, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan announced.

The ministry would join with the business community and civil-society organisations as Singapore started a year-long series of celebrations and initiatives to mark its regional leadership, he said.

“We will make a concerted effort to promote Asean identity and awareness among Singaporeans through the mainstream and social media, as well as through initiatives such as the Annual Youth Model Asean Conference, which aims to educate and engage younger Singaporeans about the workings behind Asean,” he added.

A series of high-profile meetings will also be held in Singapore, including the Asean Summit, Asean Plus Three Summit and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

He said the city-state needed to boost economic and personal ties throughout the nine other members.

Balakrishnan said the newly launched Asean Economic Community (AEC) would create fresh trade and investment for Singapore with its aim to create a common market for goods and labour. Singapore’s exports are proving vulnerable to the Chinese economic slowdown.

“The AEC will integrate Asean into a single, regional market, thereby facilitating a freer flow of goods, services, investment and capital among member states,” Balakrishnan said.

Singapore would push forward the Initiative for Asean Integration (IAI) programme in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, to accelerate their integration into the wider Asean economy, opening fresh markets for Singaporean firms, the Foreign Affairs Minister said.

The republic was pushing for the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which he said “will transform Asean and its FTA partners into an integrated market”.

“Together, the AEC, TPP and RCEP are key pathways to the eventual realisation of a free-trade area in the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

“Asean remains a cornerstone of Singapore’s foreign policy, and provides the necessary bedrock for a stable, peaceful and prosperous region. Asean creates a platform for us to engage key major powers at a regional level. Singapore will continue to work actively to enhance Asean integration and centrality in the evolving regional architecture, as well as deepen Asean’s relations with its external partners.”

On the domestic front, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam said Singaporeans should make a greater effort to protect racial and religious harmony in the crowded, diverse and multi-religious city-state.

He said the government would step up measures to protect peace, in a speech to over 500 religious and community leaders, academics and students.

The minister highlighted the growing tendency towards greater religious extremism in the region.

“Our very existence as one of the most religiously diverse, and tolerant societies in the world, where mosques, churches and temples are situated side by side. This is unacceptable to the zealots. They consider us infidels who ought to be exterminated,” he said.