Growth 'vital for Asean success'

Growth 'vital for Asean success'

Singapore's Goh calls for strong leadership

Former prime ministers Goh Chok Tong of Singapore (left) and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia spoke Thursday at the Bangkok Post Forum 2017 titled 'Asean@50: In Retrospect'. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
Former prime ministers Goh Chok Tong of Singapore (left) and Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia spoke Thursday at the Bangkok Post Forum 2017 titled 'Asean@50: In Retrospect'. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

Asean has high potential to build up regional prosperity and stability but, to be successful, the regional bloc needs robust internal growth, regional integration, and strong collective leadership, former Singapore premier Goh Chok Tong says.

Mr Goh, also Emeritus Senior Minister, said the important task for current and future Asean leaders is to help Asean ensure its cohesiveness and keep the regional architecture intact and relevant amid new challenges.

"If we can grow internally, link up through new technologies, and exercise collective leadership, Asean can contribute to the stability of Asia as a neutral, non-threatening interlocutor between powerful regional and global protagonists," Mr Goh said.

He was speaking at Bangkok Post Forum 2017 titled "Asean@50: In Retrospect" at Centara Grand at CentralWorld.

The forum, which featured leading executives and former leaders, central bankers and leading business operators in the Southeast Asian region, was held just after 10 Southeast Asian nations ended their leaders' summit in Manila, the Philippines, on Tuesday.

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana and Commerce Minister Apiradi Tantraporn also delivered speeches at the forum.

Mr Goh said that although each Asean member state needs to look after their own interests, the interests of each individual country will best be advanced through a cohesive, stable and prosperous Asean.

"If we are effective as an organisation, our interests will be better advanced," he said.

Mr Goh also outlined the need to improve human resources as a main driving force in crafting a successful Asean community and utilising the community's youthful population to stimulate internal growth.

Education reform is key and Asean should invest in the younger generation with an emphasis on skills formation and life-long learning.

"Asean needs to encourage its young generation to pursue the study in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and maths] education, since the future economy requires a workforce that will be able to adjust themselves to the changes and push the frontiers of science and technology.

As Singapore will assume the chairmanship of Asean next year, Mr Goh said Singapore's Asean chairmanship will focus mainly on forging a resilience and innovation-based community.

He said the Singaporean government emphasised how Asean can become "smart Asean" and more connected with the digital economy.

Responding to a question that the Rohingya issue was not mentioned during the Asean summit, Mr Goh said that in dealing with the issue, Asean needs to "go by the Asean principle".

To issue a statement with a unifying voice might not be viable since the Rohingya issue was not simple because it stemmed from a long and complex history.

He urged Asean to have discussions over the issue and said Asean has to recognise this is an issue that affects the whole community.

"What we should do is to discuss it with Aung San Su Kyi; we can do it formally or over lunch," he said.

Addressing the issues affecting Asean, the former Singapore premier said the centrality of Asean is essential in contributing to regional issues such as China's assertiveness in the South China Sea.

"Asean has the tremendous advantage of a large population and being neutral and independent. Asean's effort is to encourage the making of a code of conduct to be signed by all parties concerned that will make all the parties abide by the rules," he said.

Mr Goh added that having world leaders such as US President Donald Trump attending the East Asian Summit and Asean summit is a great contribution to Asean centrality.

"If Asean lose its cohesiveness as a unit, Asean will lose its strength and each individual country will lose leverage when negotiating with countries that are more influential."

Mr Goh reminded all Asean members to move forward together as an organisation and retain its cohesion.

"That's what China wants in the issue of South China Sea. That's what the US wants in trade negotiations; the US is doing what China's doing in the South China Sea," he said.

Former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong at the Bangkok Post Forum. (Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong)

Foreign Minister Don reiterated the need for the Asean community to adjust its mindset to become more future-oriented, in order to ensure the regional bloc's long-term sustainability and its relevance in the years ahead.

Mr Don said Asean must be responsive to the needs of our time; therefore, it is critical for Asean to be forward-looking to ensure its long-term centrality.

He underscored community-building, connectivity and centrality as three new focuses of the Asean community.

To ensure a community that is effective, resilient and dynamic, Asean needs to be able to meet challenges such as transnational crime and the region's trust deficit and ensure that no one is left behind, Mr Don said.

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