Singapore PM praises Brunei, shares thoughts on AEC
Siti Hajar & Hakim Hayat

WITH the conclusion of the 22nd Asean Leaders Summit which took place in Brunei Darussalam over the past two days, Singapore’s Prime Minister has expressed his views on what took shape during the meet, praising the Abode of Peace for its leadership role as this year’s Asean chair.

In an interview with the Singapore media, which was made available to the Borneo Bulletin, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “Brunei as chairman has done a good job coordinating the meeting, developing a consensus among the members, taking an even-handed view of the issues” including the South China Sea dispute “which has been on everybody’s mind” along with the work being invested in the Asean Community for 2015 “and making sure we get there and that we have a good, solid Asean Community by December 31, 2015”, which he believes that “the leaders are focussed” on.

As part of the 2015 goal, the Prime Minister also shared his thoughts on the Asean Economic Community (AEC) and explained that in spite of the positive growth that now stands at 77 per cent, the remainder of what needs to be achieved he described as “some of the harder things which need to be done”.

“But we have been encouraged, I have encouraged the leaders. And I think the other leaders have also said similar things – that Asean having reached agreements on what it wants to do, each of the countries has to go back and implement these agreements and translate that into national law and rules and requirements, so that we actually have substance and it actually works.”

In sharing what these “harder things” are, the Prime Minister stated: “There will be sensitive products – agriculture, rice for example,” along with sensitive areas such as aviation.

“I think services are inherently more difficult to do than goods because you can see the tariffs that should be at certain levels,” whilst services have to have several considerations such as standards, safety rules, regulations and non-tariff barriers.

“You can say in principle that you want to make it freer, but in practice when you make the rules, it is not easy. For example, even labour is one area where we talk about making it easier for people, talent to flow between one country to another, but there are many considerations.

“We know in Singapore, we can’t say we open our door completely and there is free flow of labour within Asean. Other countries have similar considerations, so it is not easy to do.

“But we know unless Asean actually develops an effective economic community, I think a lot of the emphasis and focus of investors of the developed countries and trading partners will be on China, on North East Asia, South Korea and other parts of the world, and I think we will lose out.”

On the much talked about South China Sea, the Prime Minister said, “The fundamental issue will take a long time to be solved.

“All we can do is to manage it and acknowledge it. Manage it, work towards a Code of Conduct based on sound principles” of some that have been settled upon following last year’s Asean Ministerial Meeting, “which did not have a communiqué”.

“There is a six-point principle which everybody has agreed to, which I think will be reaffirmed in the communiqué.

“We agree we have to work towards a Code of Conduct. It has to be Asean 10 countries all involved in discussing the Code of Conduct with China. Asean is ready to start. We are waiting for China. When they are ready to begin, we will be there. And we encourage China to start negotiation soon, at least with the Code of Conduct.” - Borneo Bulletin (26 April 2013)