23 October 2016
Singapore serves as a bridge between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other economies. Photo: Bloomberg
Singapore serves as a bridge between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other economies. Photo: Bloomberg

Why Singapore plays a pivotal role in ASEAN

Singapore’s outlook is generally considered positive as it enters a new era. One reason is its good relationship with both China and the United States, and another is its unique position in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Singapore is one of the founding members of the regional bloc, and is also the most developed country among its 10 member states.

In the human development index (2014) released by the United Nations Development Programme, Singapore ranks first with a score of 0.901 Brunei 0.852 is second at 0.852.  Both exceed the average score of 0.669 in the ASEAN.

Singapore’s advanced levels of development, technology, education and global network enable the city state to produce world-class talent and professionals, making it the natural leader of the ASEAN.

During a banquet hosted by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs to mark its 50th anniversary, the leader of the independent think tank said Singapore could take a more important role in providing leadership, technology and infrastructure for the ASEAN.

In the same event, Parag Khanna, an Indian-American scholar in geopolitics, shared similar thoughts, suggesting that Singapore could become the financial, commercial and diplomatic center of the region.

Singapore has been hosting meetings on regional integration. For example, during the 13th ASEAN Summit held in Singapore in 2007, ASEAN members signed the ASEAN Charter. It is the first legal document of the ASEAN and a symbol of deeper integration of the region.

When it comes to diplomacy, Singapore is also acting as the leader of the region. It serves as a bridge between the ASEAN and other economies, just like Hong Kong being the middleman between China and other countries.

Anil Kishora, the chief executive of State Bank of India, described Singapore as the middleman for India in dealing with the ASEAN. Although India started its “Look East” policy more than 20 years ago, it still does not know much about the region.

There are more examples showing Singapore’s role as the middleman of the region.

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong pushed the founding of the “ASEAN+3” framework. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Singapore invited countries in the Asia-Pacific region to join the Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue. Apart from the 10 ASEAN member states, the United States, China, Japan and Australia also took part in the event.

In universities, Singapore invests a lot in ASEAN studies. The National University of Singapore has set up the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in 1968 and the ASEAN Studies Center in 2009.

It is, therefore, not surprising for Singapore to block Hong Kong from joining the China-ASEAN FTA. Singapore has been working in the ASEAN region for decades, and will not allow Hong Kong to be a free rider.

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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