Opening Address by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the Official Opening of the 39th Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) General Assembly on 4 September 2018 at Raffles City Convention Centre.
“Towards a More Cohesive, Connected, Creative and Climate-Resilient ASEAN”
President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very warm welcome to all of you to Singapore for the 39th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (or AIPA) General Assembly. I speak to you this morning also as a fellow Member of Parliament, a member of the Parliament of Singapore, one of AIPA’s constituents. It is always a pleasure when we get together as one ASEAN family.
ASEAN in a Time of Change
ASEAN’s development over the past 51 years has been marked by relative peace and prosperity. Our political leaders meet regularly and have developed a high level of mutual understanding and respect. Cooperation between member states has broadened and continues to evolve. Intra- and inter-regional trade has allowed our economies to grow collectively and steadily. Greater connectivity has fostered closer people-to-people ties among our citizens.
In a region that is so diverse in culture, history, ethnicity, and religion, ASEAN unity is not a natural state of affairs. But ASEAN unity is a testament to human will, and a collective recognition that our region and our people are better when ASEAN is united.
Today, ASEAN-led mechanisms are key platforms for regional countries to meet and discuss challenging geopolitical issues. Our platforms continue to attract the attention and interest of countries beyond, underlining ASEAN’s centrality in the region’s affairs. This is not a coincidence. Our unity gives us weight, strength and relevance. This in turn has helped to ensure ASEAN’s centrality over the last 51 years. That is not to say that member states do not have our share of differences. Every family does. Yet by and large, ASEAN’s unity has endured, through great effort on the part of its member states.
However, we cannot take ASEAN’s continued centrality for granted, as the geopolitical landscape can shift rapidly and suddenly. The conflicts of the past were waged between nation-states. Today, however, we see an increasingly complex environment with non-traditional and transnational security challenges in the form of terrorism, violent extremism, cybercrime and more. Protectionism, isolationism and xenophobia are threatening to upend the global political and economic order. We face global challenges like climate change and sustainable global growth, that no single country can tackle on its own. The digital revolution continues to sweep the world. It is swiftly changing the way we live, interact, and structure our economies.
As ASEAN navigates these volatile times, it is opportune for us to consider what AIPA’s role can be in supporting ASEAN’s continued centrality. As Chair of ASEAN this year, Singapore is committed to work with all our fellow member states to make sure that ASEAN stays ready to harness new opportunities while managing emerging challenges. The work of the 39th AIPA General Assembly focuses on building a Resilient and Innovative ASEAN Community, which is also the theme of our ASEAN Chairmanship this year. I believe that there are 4 C’s that AIPA can focus on, in helping to build a more Cohesive, Connected, Creative and Climate-Resilient ASEAN.
AIPA’s Role in Building the 4 C’s
First, a more Cohesive ASEAN. As a platform for our parliamentarians to identify and discuss matters of common concern, AIPA plays an important role in fostering greater cohesion and regional cooperation inspite of situations and crises that we may face from time to time. The strong parliamentary ties built through regular engagements such as this week’s General Assembly serve as foundations for further integration and cooperation. This will in turn strengthen ASEAN’s resilience against emerging security challenges at all levels. I urge all our AIPA parliamentarians to continue providing mutual cooperation and support to one another to strengthen our collective efforts.
Second, a more Connected ASEAN. As representatives of our people, AIPA parliamentarians have a key role to play in helping our citizens to better understand the importance of a more inter-connected ASEAN and the need to pursue free and open markets. This is especially true today. As some countries reject the open and rules-based multilateral trading system of the past 70 years, ASEAN must continue to position itself as a champion for free trade. We are a collection of developing countries, developing economies, representing 630 million people, with the sixth largest economy in the world. ASEAN and all of us, have benefited immensely from this network of free and open markets, among ourselves and with the rest of the world. Our continued growth as a region heavily depends on us remaining so. We must avoid the temptation to regress, or look inward, or implement protectionist policies in our own countries. This will only set us all back. AIPA parliamentarians can play a crucial role in our efforts on this front, to be forward-looking and open to the world.
Third, a more Creative ASEAN. AIPA parliamentarians are well-placed to encourage a mind-set of creativity and innovation among our peoples. Not just among the young, but those of us with a little bit more grey hair as well. We can also learn new skills and take advantage of the new opportunities. The digital revolution is driving rapid changes in our economic, social, and even political interactions. While this has become a source of anxiety in some countries and some segments of our populations, , ASEAN cannot try to hide from this wave. Because if we do so, we risk being swept aside. Instead, ASEAN should grasp these opportunities and ride this wave to our benefit.
Inculcating a mind-set of creativity and innovation will help bring about a future-ready ASEAN that is adaptable and forward-looking. It will also enable our citizens to harness the opportunities brought about by new disruptive technologies. We must also learn how to put in safeguards to protect ourselves from those who will use these technologies to do us harm. We have now formed the ASEAN Smart Cities Network. It aims to link our cities together in a new way, allowing us to learn, create and innovate together. 26 pilot smart cities will be implementing their individualised action plans to make our cities smarter, more connected with each other, and better places for our citizens to live in. AIPA parliamentarians will play a key role in promoting the adoption of new technologies among ASEAN’s businesses and peoples through the rules and laws that you create in Parliament, how these laws enable new technologies, and how all our countries can come together more closely.
Fourth, a more Climate-Resilient ASEAN. AIPA parliamentarians play a critical role in our collective push for a low-carbon and climate-resilient ASEAN, through encouraging the promotion of sustainable growth and ecosystems. Climate change is a prime example of a pressing challenge that no single country can face alone. According to the Asian Development Bank, regional temperatures could rise by around six degrees Celsius by the year 2100, if no significant action is taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of our largest cities in ASEAN are located in low-lying coastal areas. Some are facing sinking land levels, and many are exposed to severe natural phenomena such as typhoons, and even tsunamis. Climate change and rising sea levels would have a catastrophic impact on our economies and the welfare of our peoples. Domestic support in each of our countries is crucial for the implementation of climate initiatives. In both your roles as intermediaries between the political leadership and our people, and as bridges between the peoples of different countries, your support is key.
ASEAN and its unity and centrality cannot be taken for granted. There is no guarantee that the peace and prosperity of the past 51 years will continue. It has required the commitment and human will on the part of ASEAN leaders and ASEAN people to bring this about. It will continue to require human will and commitment on our part to take it forward into the future. We have to continue to strive to maintain and strengthen the very idea of ASEAN, by building strong domestic buy-in amongst our people and our member states. It is imperative that we continue to maintain a sense of common purpose, deepen our cooperation, and bring ASEAN closer to our peoples. We should continue to tell the ASEAN story so that our peoples will understand the benefits that ASEAN has brought to all of us and to each one of them.
AIPA’s contributions to ASEAN’s future cannot be understated. As parliamentarians, your support for the ASEAN project is vital against this backdrop of uncertainty and change. Our parliaments represent our people; make our laws; and help explain to our people the challenges of the world, and how we must respond to them collectively. Only through our combined efforts can ASEAN continue to be a cornerstone for peace and prosperity in our world.
I wish you all a stimulating, insightful and fruitful week ahead as you help chart ASEAN’s path forward. It now gives me great pleasure to declare the 39th AIPA General Assembly open. Thank you very much.
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