There is a shift in global strategic balance with China’s influence and interest in the region growing, and that has led to a range of responses among the different Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this on Friday (Mar 16) during a bilateral joint conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as part of the 3rd Singapore Australia Leaders’ Summit and the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.
Speaking at the International Convention Centre in Sydney, Mr Lee noted ASEAN does not see the world in black and white terms - and does business with all the major powers in the world.
He added countries have their own interests and see the world differently. Mr Lee was responding to a question from the Australian media on whether China was dividing ASEAN.
“If you’re a landlocked state on China’s borders, you see the world differently from an archipelagic state which is further away and which does business not only with one major partner but with many different partners,” he said.
“So it’s one of the factors that lead to ASEAN countries having different perspectives, but it’s not the only factor on which ASEAN countries will have different perspectives, and we must expect that this is the reality of the way the world is.”
Mr Lee added these are issues that ASEAN has to deal with and will have to do its best to manage all the tensions and pressures.
SINGAPORE AND AUSTRALIA TIES “IN EXCELLENT SHAPE”
Mr Turnbull meanwhile, said the relationship between Singapore and Australia is “in excellent shape”, and the two countries are bound together by shared values and common interests in regional peace and stability.
One of the many successes the two enjoy is the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership - started in 2015 - which has paved the way for major deals to be inked in the areas of trade, defence and science and innovation.
Both leaders also gave an update on some of the joint initiatives between Singapore and Australia.
Mr Turnbull updated that the land acquisition process for the joint development of a military base in Northern Queensland is under way and on track.
Meanwhile the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement – which was last updated in 2009 – that Singapore is keen to update again so as to catalyse trade and investment flows between the two sides is “a work in progress and subject to discussions”.
Mr Lee and Mr Turnbull also highlighted how ASEAN and Australia can deepen their economic integration. One way is for Australia to get involved in the development of Smart Cities in ASEAN countries.
On the topic of smart cities, Mr Lee noted that Singapore and Australia can cooperate in many areas to develop smart cities in ASEAN countries, which Singapore is leading.
“We are looking to build smart cities in Singapore, as well as a network of smart cities in ASEAN countries because many cities are going in that direction,” he said.
“They’re wiring up; they’re getting their e-commerce going, they’re getting their e-cash going and there’s scope for cooperation in terms of standards, cooperation in terms of interoperability, in terms of footprints of their services so that they can offer their services across the jurisdictions.”
Mr Lee pointed out that many Australian cities now are progressing on these areas too, and it is one way which Australia can integrate into the region.
“ASEAN MATTERS ARE A MATTER FOR ASEAN”
Mr Turnbull was also asked if Australia should join ASEAN, a point that was made by Indonesian President Joko Widodo ahead of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit who said he thought it was a good idea.
Mr Turnbull responded that Australia is honoured and touched by his remarks, but “ASEAN matters are a matter for ASEAN and we have the greatest of respect for ASEAN, the way it reaches its own conclusions”.
He added: “We are a dialogue partner with ASEAN and we work closely with ASEAN and we respect its centrality, its significance and its fundamental portance in our region.”