DPM Teo Chee Hean at the 24th International Conference on the Future of Asia

SM Teo Chee Hean | 11 June 2018

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the 24th International Conference on the Future of Asia – Keeping Asia Open – How to Achieve Prosperity and Stability on 11 June 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.


"Building a Vibrant, Peaceful and Stable Asia-Pacific"

Mr Tsuneo Kita,
Nikkei Chairman and Group CEO,

Mr Naotoshi Okada,
Nikkei President and CEO,


Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank Nikkei for inviting Singapore to this annual gathering. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had planned to join you for this Conference this year. But, as you know, PM Lee is a little bit busy welcoming leaders for the Summit tomorrow in Singapore and he sends his regards for a successful conference. This morning, I would like to offer some perspectives on “Building a Vibrant, Peaceful and Stable Asia-Pacific”.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to the world’s first, second and third largest economies, and contributes 40% of global output and two-thirds of growth. There are good prospects for sustained growth and prosperity if all countries continue efforts to integrate our economies, and work together to secure peace and stability, as we have done for the past three decades. 

At the same time, we recognise that the Asia-Pacific is a vast, diverse and complex region, which presents both challenges and many opportunities:

  1. With countries of different sizes, resource endowments and populations – big continental countries, small island nations, mountainous nations as well as archipelagos;
  2. With different levels of development, as well as systems of governance.

30 years ago, the Cold War divided our region. Since the end of the Cold War, we have benefitted from an increasingly open and integrated region.

  1. The original ASEAN-5 had doubled to ten countries by 1999.
  2. New ASEAN-led mechanisms, such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Plus Three, ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, have helped to bring parties across the region together in an ASEAN-centric regional architecture.
  3. Ministers and officials meet regularly, and develop deep personal networks.
  4. These have helped to build a sense of community and cooperation, which can also be called upon to respond to crises – ranging from financial crises to pandemics.
  5. Countries from ASEAN are also at the core of regional groupings such as APEC, the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Asia-Middle East Dialogue, the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation and regional trade arrangements such as the CPTPP and the RCEP. 
  6. Community building in the region also encompasses important groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and initiatives such as the Trilateral Summit and discussions on a Trilateral Northeast Asia FTA.
  7. Initiatives such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure also bring new resources to address the demand for infrastructure in Asia and beyond, and open and link up markets and regions.
  8. All these efforts build on earlier foundations to progressively bring our region closer together into an open and inclusive regional architecture.

But several issues continue to need careful management.

  1. In the immediate term, attention will be on developments on the Korean Peninsula.
  2. We welcome the Inter-Korean Summits in April and May, and the Panmunjeom Declaration, and Singapore will do our best as hosts to support the Summit between the DPRK and the US that will take place in Singapore tomorrow.
  3. There are high expectations for this Summit and indeed, this is an important meeting for inter-Korean relations, for Northeast Asia, including Japan, and the global community. But permanent peace and eventual denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula will take time.
  4. And we have to manage other areas of friction, for instance in the South China Sea, to maintain the peace and stability which underpin regional growth and prosperity.

Asia-Pacific countries will therefore have to find ways to manage these important bilateral and multilateral relationships and conduct foreign relations based on mutual respect and trust.

  1. Issues arising from the uneven distribution of the benefits of trade between countries and within individual countries, are leading to trade frictions and protectionism.
  2. Japan is no stranger to managing such trade frictions.
  3. How the US-China relationship evolves will shape the world order in the coming decades.
    1. The US has thus far, been the champion and sponsor of the post-Second World War international system and promoted free trade.
    2. But now, many Americans feel that others are benefiting more from the global system at their expense, and want a re-balance of benefits.
    3. So, trade has now become a top issue for the US leadership, especially addressing its trade imbalance with China, but also with other countries.
    4. Unilateral and tit-for-tat actions, if implemented, will hurt businesses and can undermine the multi-lateral trading system which ensures that all countries, big and small, can have a level-playing field, and contribute to and benefit from this international network of cooperation.
    5. The trade dispute can also spill over to a wider and more serious quarrel.
    6. Both sides, the US and China, are continuing with negotiations. But It is not clear which way their relations will tilt.
    7. If the trade dispute cannot be managed properly either bilaterally or through the World Trade Organisation, and it is allowed to escalate, it will be bad not only for the two powers, but for the rest of the world. Strained ties will make it more difficult for the US and China to cooperate on many pressing global issues.
    8. But if relations were to tilt to the other extreme, where both sides cooperate, but they set rules that only benefit themselves, that would be just as detrimental for other countries, especially for smaller countries which will have no say in the process.

Even as we are pre-occupied with how current events unfold, we can take a step back and look at principles which can guide us to address our common challenges, and foster collaboration for a Vibrant, Peaceful and Stable Asia-Pacific. I would like to suggest three principles:

  1. Commitment to an Open and Connected World;
  2. Support for International Law and International Organisations such as the UN and the WTO; and
  3. Strengthening People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges

First, Commitment to an Open and Connected World

  1. This is crucial to the Asia-Pacific’s growth and prosperity. We should strive for greater mutual understanding, and find ways to accommodate the changing needs, capabilities and aspirations of countries as they develop and grow.
  2. All countries should have a part to play in how the rules are set, so that there is mutual commitment to abiding by these rules. This is likely to result in more cooperation, greater interdependency, and less conflict.
  3. Although we did not achieve the TPP-12, Japan and the 10 remaining countries, with strong leadership from Japan, have chosen to proceed with the CPTPP – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership; I was heartened to hear my old friend and colleague Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, from Vietnam, demonstrating and stating strong support for the CPTPP. This sends a strong signal to the international community, businesses and people, of our commitment to an open multi-lateral trading system. The CPTPP is a high-quality agreement which will reduce market barriers and foster trade in a combined market with an output of more than US$ 10 trillion, or 14% of global GDP.
  4. We are also working hard to make progress on the RCEP, which will bring together the ASEAN-10 and our six dialogue partners which have FTAs with ASEAN.
  5. The RCEP will bring together key countries which do not yet have FTAs with each other.
  6. We support the CPTPP and the RCEP because we want to strengthen an open multi-lateral environment that is conducive to trade and investment. Both are pathways to an eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific where all countries in the region can benefit from mutual collaboration and development.
  7. ASEAN itself is a good example of the benefits of regional integration and openness. And ASEAN, located at the geographic centre, and at the cross-roads of this vast and vibrant Asia-Pacific, will continue to play its part in catalysing the evolving regional architecture.
  8. As ASEAN Chair this year, Singapore will contribute to strengthen ASEAN through our Chairmanship themes of “Resilience” and “Innovation”.
    1. We will strengthen our collective resilience against common threats such as terrorism, cybercrime, and climate change; and
    2. Innovate to raise productivity and growth as we enhance regional air, land and sea connectivity, leveraging on technology and key projects such as the network of ASEAN Smart Cities, which will bring 26 ASEAN cities together.
    3. We welcome all our dialogue partners, including Japan, to work with us to shape the future of Asia.

Second, support for International Law and International Organisations such as the UN and the WTO

  1. This is crucial for small countries such as Singapore, as it provides a predictable basis for conducting relations with other countries, and for settling disputes, especially with larger countries, in a peaceful, fair and consistent way.
  2. At the global collective level, support for international law and international organisations, and multilateral approaches can help countries address common challenges such as countering terrorism, cybersecurity, and issues of global commons such as climate change and fishing in the world’s oceans.
  3. With a global regime, companies would also have a predictable framework in which they can better make their investment decisions and build capabilities for the future.
  4. For emerging issues such as cyber and unplanned encounters at sea or in the air, there is scope for countries to work together to develop norms and codes to reduce the prospects for conflict, build mutual trust and strengthen peace and stability.

Third, Build Stronger People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges

  1. Such ties and exchanges will help raise cross-cultural understanding, develop friendships and build goodwill among our people.
  2. These can reduce anxieties and help keep our societies open. Sports for instance, have helped to normalise relations for several countries in our region - ping-pong diplomacy in an earlier era, and winter sports to help thaw relationships this year.
  3. As countries work on open skies and improve connectivity, we can broaden our exchanges and increase flows of visitors for leisure, for studies, training and for business.
  4. When we understand each other, and we understand each other’s languages, enjoy each other’s food and culture, and play sports together, we build a stronger sense of community, common humanity and common destiny.

Before I conclude, I would like to suggest some areas in which Japan can contribute to a vibrant, peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific.

  1. Japan and ASEAN celebrate 45 years of dialogue partnership this year.
  2. We hope that Japan will build on its longstanding contributions to regional integration, in particular through trade, investments and overseas development assistance, to continue to play an active role in the region. We can explore ways to further deepen our cooperation in existing areas, and also on new ones such as Japan’s “Quality Infrastructure Investment”, and the Digital Economy, Smart Cities, Green Growth and Innovation.
  3. I thank Japan and Prime Minister Abe for your leadership in concluding the CPTPP, and look forward to Japan playing a proactive role on regional trade agreements such as RCEP.
  4. Japan has put forth the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy:
    1. Singapore welcomes mutually beneficial collaboration with Japan, as well as other partners, through constructive and complementary initiatives that strengthen our open, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture.
    2. We welcome Japan’s affirmation that the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy is inclusive and has ASEAN Centrality at its core.
  5. I also met Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue last week in Singapore, and we discussed how Japan can play a role to support humanitarian assistance efforts in our region, as you have done in the past.
  6. In the next two years, Japan will play host to major events such as the 2019 G20 Summit in Osaka, and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. These are good opportunities for Japan to highlight your efforts to promote an open and interconnected world.
  7. Like Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972 and Nagano 1998, I am confident that Tokyo 2020 will be memorable and showcase Japan’s achievements and contributions to the world, and the traditional Japanese warmth and hospitality.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the world is at an inflexion point. Do we turn our backs on the openness and integration that has brought millions out of poverty and provided the promise of a better life? Or, do we strengthen our commitment to openness and integration, taking into account new realities, and find ways to make the necessary adjustments in the spirit of cooperation, collaboration and mutual respect?

Now, more than ever, it is important for all countries to step forward and work together, to increase the openness and linkages among our economies. In Singapore, Japan will find a reliable and steady partner for this journey.

Commitment to an Open and Connected World, Support for International Law and International Organisations and Building Stronger People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges can help fulfil the promise of a vibrant, peaceful and stable Asia-Pacific for all our people.

Thank you very much

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