Asian Century brings challenges for Asean

ASIA’S rise, in what has been dubbed the “Asian Century”, will bring changes to the current global strategic configuration and the pace of change will continue to accelerate.

The shift of relative economic weight towards Asia will also bring shift in political power. Role of non-state actors such as civil society, multi-national corporations and international institutions will also increase. The challenge for Asean, His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam believed, will be finding its strategic place in this new configuration by playing a greater role in regional and world affairs to ensure the security and prosperity of its people.

His Majesty spoke at the 34th Singapore Lecture at the St Regis Singapore yesterday.

In the afternoon, His Majesty consented to attend a luncheon hosted by Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore.

His Majesty shared his vision of the wider regional architecture where countries enjoy peace, prosperity and progress characterised by respect, understanding and cooperation, with an open and inclusive arrangement with countries in the Asia-Pacific rallying around Asean. It is imperative for Asean to be pro-active in shaping the future. Member states must continue to strengthen Asean and it is crucial regional problems or issues are addressed or resolved through peaceful dialogue and initiatives.

Earlier, upon arrival at the St Regis Singapore, His Majesty was greeted by Teo Chee Hean and Wong Ah Long, Deputy Chairman of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS.

Accompanying His Majesty was His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Malik.

His Majesty was invited to the John Jacob Ballrom, where the lecture was held.

His Majesty consented to deliver a lecture entitled “The Future of Asean”. His Majesty firstly acknowledged the significant role played by institutions such as the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in driving Asean forward from the start.

His Majesty recalled the world was a different place when he attended his first ‘Asean Heads of Government Meeting’ in 1987, and was fortunate to be surrounded by many good friends, including former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

His Majesty observed that much has changed in geopolitics and the global economy. Many countries in the region have seen remarkable progress. East Asia and Asia-Pacific contributed significantly to global growth and world trade.

Asean too has changed, His Majesty further observed, growing in membership and confidence and emerging as a community next year.

His Majesty noted Asean will be confronted with different and possibly more intense challenges, and these challenges constituted present and imminent danger to our people.

His Majesty further shared that Asean needs to be strengthened. It must guarantee its people the security of their livelihood, provide them clean air and water, improve their skills and offer bright prospects that open up opportunities for their future. The three community pillars must serve the region’s interests and Asean must be for the people. Internal coordination and cooperation need to be enhanced. Projects aimed at bringing about a sense of regional belonging amongst the people need to be realised speedily, where an ‘Asean mindset’ needs to be nurtured to promote harmony, including the use of new social media and cultural and educational exchanges amongst our youth.

The statement by the Prime Minister of Malaysia to make a “People-Centred Asean” as the main focus of the country’s chairmanship next year was therefore welcomed by His Majesty.

His Majesty also touched on Asean’s way of reaching out beyond the region in contributing peace, stability and prosperity by strengthening confidence and trust with its many partners. Significance of rules-based relations among countries needs to be promoted. At the same time it is important to work hard to raise Asean’s GDP, build better infrastructure, expand markets for the goods, develop stronger integrated financial markets, enhance financial literacy and create more jobs for our youth. Sustained economic growth is important to avoid future social problems.

On the other hand, His Majesty observed Asean requires the support of a strong and dynamic Secretariat equipped with necessary resources, especially in coordinating regional responses to crises. Humanitarian exercises in the past must be put into action.

His Majesty was happy to share his experience seeing all 18 countries including regional powers such as China, the US, Japan and India, working in unison, hand-in-hand at last year’s landmark Asean Defence Minister’s Plus, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and Military Medicine Exercise held in Brunei Darussalam. That exercise conveyed a very strong message of how meaningful our work can be.

His Majesty also applauded Singapore’s offer of the Changi Command and Control Centre as a regional humanitarian and disaster relief co-host centre.

Asean Summits now take place twice a year and have grown far beyond just a showing of solidarity, His Majesty noted. Whilst the practice of consultation has been ingrained in the ‘Asean way’, the association must adapt to emerging realities and consultations will be even more important.

His Majesty foresees the need to be more inclusive and responsive, taking into account the interests of our stakeholders and partners in Asean.

Asean will also need to ensure strategic trust and confidence need to be maintained. Above all, Asean must determine its own destiny.

His Majesty envisions that with further broadening of our horizons, the success of the association and its cooperation with its partners in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific, will become ever more important.

His Majesty concluded by sharing his wish to see the Asean region progresses on the basis of stronger neighbourly relations, closer friendship, pragmatic cooperation and interdependence so that peace and prosperity is shared by all.

Before the lecture, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore delivered his welcoming address in which he shared with the audience among others the achievements of His Majesty as one of the longest serving elderly statesman.

After the lecture, His Majesty consented to receive a ‘pesambah’, a form of art, presented by the Deputy Chairman ISEAS.

The Singapore Lecture Series was inaugurated in 1980 by ISEAS, designed to provide opportunities for distinguished statesmen, scholars, and other highly qualified individuals specialising in various disciplines to share knowledge and experiences.

The presence of such eminent personalities will allow Singaporeans, especially the younger executives in both the public and private sectors, to have the benefit through the lecture, thereby enabling them to widen their experience and perspectives.

His Majesty later attended a luncheon hosted by Teo Chee Hean at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Accompanying His Majesty were Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister of Environment and Water Resource of Singapore, as Minister-In-Attendance; Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Haji Awang Abu Bakar bin Haji Apong, Minister of Education; Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Minister of Finance II at the Prime Minister’s Office; Pehin Orang Kaya Pekerma Dewa Dato Seri Setia Lim Jock Seng, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II; and Pehin Datu Singamanteri Colonel (Rtd) Dato Seri Setia (Dr) Awang Haji Mohammad Yasmin bin Haji Umar, Minister of Energy at the Prime Minister’s Office. - Borneo Bulletin (23 April 2014)