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Turning challenges into opportunities
SINGAPORE is honoured to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.
As we open a new chapter and chart the way forward for ASEAN, which turned 50 last year, we also have to adapt the grouping to a rapidly changing and increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.
The world is at a critical turning point. The strategic balance is shifting both globally and in the region, and the open, rules-based international order which has underpinned ASEAN's growth and stability is under pressure.
At the same time, our fates have become more intertwined, because of the complex and unprecedented challenges we all face, ranging from the digital revolution to climate change and terrorism.
These call for greater collective action, not just within ASEAN but also across the wider international community.
ASEAN has to respond actively and creatively to these major external concerns, in order to stay relevant and central to the region's architecture and future.
Singapore's chairmanship theme of "Resilience and Innovation" reflects ASEAN's resolve to tackle these issues together, and our commitment to turn challenges into opportunities, thus building a cohesive and effective ASEAN for ourselves and the future generations.
With the strong support of ASEAN partners, we have launched several concrete deliverables that will lay the groundwork for a more united, resilient and innovative ASEAN.
We piloted the ASEAN Smart Cities Network in 26 cities across ASEAN. This regional eco-system will allow us to share our experiences and use technology to bring tangible benefits to the lives and livelihoods of our peoples.
At the same time, we established the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence to boost ASEAN's resilience against cyber threats.
We have redoubled our efforts on economic integration. We launched the ASEAN Single Window and ASEAN Agreement on E-Commerce to facilitate freer flow of goods across the region.
We also made significant headway on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agreement between ASEAN and our six Free Trade Agreement partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
When concluded, the RCEP will be the world's largest trading bloc, accounting for 45 per cent of the world population, 40 per cent of global trade, and one third of the world's gross domestic product.
ASEAN's efforts to close ranks, at a time when the strategic forces of big power dynamics and anti-globalisation are pulling member states in different directions, reflect our conviction that ASEAN benefits its members because it is greater than the sum of its parts.
Member states think regionally, not just nationally. Successive national governments have looked beyond their domestic concerns, and invested political capital in the ASEAN project for the last 50 years. This is why ASEAN has stood the test of time.
Our determination to stay the course has borne fruit. Today, ASEAN is one of the more politically cohesive and economically vibrant regional groupings in the world.
Our consensus-building model has served us well. By recognising every member's concerns and seeking common ground, member states find it meaningful to work together and stay in the group.
By integrating our national economies, we bring together a diverse and youthful population of 630 million citizens, and a fast-growing regional economy that is slated to be the world's fourth largest by 2050.
The future of ASEAN is bright and exciting. We have much to look forward to and celebrate.
Singapore is honoured to have played a modest part in strengthening ASEAN in its Chairmanship year.
As we hand over the Chairmanship to Thailand, we look forward to continue working with fellow ASEAN members in making ASEAN "One Vision, One Identity, One Community".
- Lee Hsien Loong is the Prime Minister of Singapore