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Asean must be innovative, adaptive to stay relevant

The region has right ingredients to harness opportunities, tackle challenges associated with current tectonic shifts in global affairs.

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Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan (centre) and Asean Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi (far right), together with other Asean Foreign Ministers at a retreat in Singapore in February 2018.

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"The digital revolution has also fundamentally disrupted the way we live, work, play, communicate, mobilise and organise our societies. Asean needs to be innovative and adaptive to remain united and relevant in the face of these challenges." - Vivian Balakrishnan (above)

THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) faces increasingly complex strategic challenges.

These include competition between super-powers, trade friction, terrorism, cyber-threats and natural disasters.

The digital revolution has also fundamentally disrupted the way we live, work, play, communicate, mobilise and organise our societies.

Asean needs to be innovative and adaptive to remain united and relevant in the face of these challenges.

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Singapore has chosen Resilience and Innovation as the theme for our Asean chairmanship in 2018.

Our region has the right ingredients to harness the opportunities and tackle the challenges associated with the current tectonic shifts in global affairs. Around 60 per cent of Asean's 630 million-strong population is below 35 years old, giving our region a demographic dividend that has yet to be harvested.

Our combined gross domestic product (GDP) stands at US$2.55 trillion in 2016, with a compound annual growth rate of around 5 per cent over the last decade. Asean is a prime investment destination and is set to become the fourth-largest single market in the world by 2030.

This weekend, the leaders from the 10 Asean member states will meet in Singapore for the 32nd Asean Summit. The leaders will exchange views on regional and international issues, forge consensus and provide direction to build a Resilient and Innovative Asean.

One of the key deliverables for the upcoming Summit is to establish an Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN).

History has demonstrated that during periods of monumental change, a key determinant of a country's well-being has been its ability to master new technologies.

A prime example would be the Industrial Revolution that started in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, which allowed the West to harness industrial technology that conferred unassailable economic and military superiority over agrarian based civilisations in the last two centuries.

For Asean to thrive amidst the digital revolution, we must adapt and remain open. There is currently no regional smart cities eco-system that synergises the efforts of individual Asean member states in smart cities development.

The ASCN will be a collaborative platform for member cities to exchange best practices and urban solutions, as well as to catalyse bankable smart city projects. Our goal is to leverage technology to improve the lives and livelihood of our people.

In line with Asean's open and inclusive approach, we will work with Asean's external partners, many of whom have amassed smart cities' expertise, to contribute to the development of this regional smart cities eco-system.

At the Asean-Australia Special Summit held in Sydney in March this year, I was pleased to note that Australia would be committing A$30 million (S$31 million) to the development of Asean smart cities.

We look forward to the active participation of all of Asean's external partners. We want to bring cities, companies and governments together to develop, fund and implement commercially viable solutions that would create jobs and make a tangible and positive impact on the ground.

I am optimistic about Asean's future. The upcoming 32nd Asean Summit is an important occasion for our leaders to set the direction our region needs to take to navigate the unprecedented opportunities and challenges presented by our rapidly changing world.

Singapore, as the Asean Chair, will do our best as an honest and reliable partner to make our thriving region assume our rightful place in a more peaceful and prosperous world. Ultimately, we all seek a brighter future for our people in the midst of great change.

  • Dr Balakrishnan is Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Resilience and innovation

Singapore's chairmanship tagline is "Resilient and Innovative". It encapsulates our vision for Asean to be united in the face of growing uncertainties in the global strategic landscape. Asean must also be adaptable and forward-looking so that we can harness opportunities and manage challenges from disruptive digital technologies, equip our citizens with skills to build a future-ready Asean and boost our capabilities to make our cities smarter. 


This Asean Singapore 2018 supplement is brought to you by the Asean 2018 Organising Committee

Supplement editor Lee U-Wen Sub-editor Shazalina Salim SPH Media Solutions, Integrated Marketing Amy Ho, Royston Thong