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MFA Press Release: Edited Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Remarks at the ASEAN Day Reception, 22 August 2017

by August 22, 2017 General


Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

50 years ago, our region was experiencing great uncertainty. In 1967, Konfrontasi had just ended. Two years before, Singapore had just been ejected from Malaysia. At that point in time, there were still disputes between nation states [in Southeast Asia].

Nevertheless, five Foreign Ministers � Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narcisco Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdul Razak of Malaysia, our own S Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand � decided that we, as small states in Southeast Asia, would not let our differences divide us. They committed that we would not be balkanised, we would not be manipulated, we would not be divided or rendered weak by outside forces.

They envisioned that if small countries in Southeast Asia could remain united, pool our collective resources, and exercise enlightened self-interest, we could contribute to the peace of the world, and we would all would grow and prosper. Our founding fathers recognised that we would be better and stronger together.

In this context, on the 8th of August 1967, history was made when our founding fathers united, in the name of ASEAN, in Bangkok, and signed the ASEAN Declaration, giving birth to the ASEAN we have today.

The Declaration was very succinct. It was only two pages long, but it shows you that in history, sometimes the shortest documents are the most potent. It affirmed our collective commitment to economic growth, social progress, cultural development, and the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law.

50 years later, ASEAN has enjoyed peace and prosperity because of the wisdom and foresight of our founding fathers.

If I may borrow the wise words of my predecessor, Mr S Rajaratnam, being part of ASEAN means that we must not only think of national interests but posit them against regional interests. We must accept the fact that regional existence sometimes means painful adjustments from the practice of just thinking in our own national hat, within our respective countries.

We are still going to need this spirit if we are to ensure that ASEAN remains united, credible and relevant in the next 50 years.

The ASEAN that we see today is one that we can be proud of, and one that gives our children and grandchildren hope for the future.

We now constitute a bloc of 630 million people. A young population; 60% of us are below 35 years old.

We have a combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion today. That is set to grow about two or three times in the decade to come.

By 2030, if we continue to maintain our peace and prosperity, ASEAN is projected to become the world’s fourth largest economy, after the EU, US and China.

Singapore’s future is inextricably intertwined with ASEAN’s.

As a maritime nation, trade is our lifeblood. ASEAN is Singapore’s largest trading partner. In 2016, Singapore’s trade with our ASEAN partners amounted to US$217.1 billion, accounting for a quarter (25.7%) of Singapore’s total trade with the world.

We have therefore consistently advocated an ASEAN which is open, economically integrated, peaceful, rules-based, and open to innovation and opportunities.

Today is also a day for us to introduce our pioneer generation of leaders, diplomats, civil servants and private sector supporters who have understood ASEAN’s importance, and therefore worked tirelessly to carry out the vision of our founding fathers.

I am therefore grateful for the endeavour of Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh and his co-authors, Sharon Seah and Chang Li Lin, who have taken the time to compile the experiences of this group of Singapore pioneers who toiled tirelessly for the ASEAN cause, and to share their stories with us through their book, Fifty Years of ASEAN and Singapore.

Tommy himself was a close friend and colleague of Mr Rajaratnam, and one of Singapore’s representatives in the High-Level Task Force which drafted the ASEAN Charter.

It is therefore an honour and privilege to invite my friend, Tommy, to share his hopes and insights for ASEAN, on the celebration of its 50th birthday.

Ambassador Koh, please.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore