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Asean Economic Community a 'big step', but there are next steps in regional cooperation: PM Lee
THE Asean Economic Community will be formed by the end of this year as planned, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday - but that does not mean that all issues will have been resolved.
Said Mr Lee during an hour-long interview with a group of Asean journalists: "I think when we make the Asean community by the end of the year, that is a very big step but that is not the end of our completion of our cooperation. There is more agenda to be done, even the target for what we want to do by December this year, I suspect there will be some items which we will not have completed by then and which will be outstanding business."
One example of such outstanding business is the South China Sea dispute, which continues to be a security issue in the middle of South-east Asia.
"Asean has a stand which is that we should be negotiating a Code of Conduct. We want to complete the Code of Conduct with China. We are in the process of doing this," said Mr Lee, even as he acknowledged that "it is taking awhile".
Beyond such territorial disputes, however, Mr Lee said that Asean will need to think about its next steps in regional integration and cooperation. He noted that there is a high-level task force that is working on this.
Said Mr Lee: "Part of their recommendations I am sure will be how to work towards narrowing the development gap and how the Indo-Chinese countries can help to grow faster, either through human resource development or trade or technical cooperation and we look forward to the ideas."
The 17 Asean journalists are in Singapore as part of the 7th Asean Journalists Visit Programme (JVP) organised by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI).
Prior to their interview with Mr Lee, the group called on Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on June 3, and also visited agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Gallery Singapore, and ITE College Central.