Today, we celebrate the 54th anniversary of ASEAN’s founding in 1967.
We normally mark this happy occasion in person with lots of great food, reflecting the delicious and beautiful and wonderful diversity of ASEAN. However, due to COVID-19, I will have to convey my greetings to all of you virtually for the second year in a row.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way we live, work and play. I know that we all long to travel again and to meet again in person. Because of the new variants, governments in ASEAN and beyond are still working very hard to curb its spread and to limit the socio-economic impact on our peoples. ASEAN has redoubled our joint effort in the fight against COVID-19, under Brunei’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme of “We Care, We Prepare, and We Prosper”.
Even as we work to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, we do so with an eye towards positioning ourselves for eventual reopening. One area that ASEAN has been working on is on vaccines. The COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund will be used to purchase vaccines for our Member States, and this will contribute positively to our region’s vaccination efforts.
We have also worked hard to keep our trade flowing and our supply chains open, even amidst the pandemic. To boost regional trade and investment and to rejuvenate our region’s economies, ASEAN is working with our Partners towards the swift entry-into-force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, or RCEP for short. To this end, Singapore was the first RCEP participating country to ratify the RCEP in April this year.
The pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of all our societies. ASEAN thus adopted the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 to develop our peoples’ digital abilities, to harness the powerful potential of the digital economy while securing our digital systems against attacks.
As we prepare for a COVID-19 endemic world, ASEAN must progressively re-open our economies and resume travel in a safe and calibrated manner. To this end, we adopted the ASEAN Travel Corridor Arrangement Framework, to facilitate travel around our region, even as we prioritise public health and safety.
At the recent AMM, we also took stock of ASEAN’s community building efforts and the myriad of challenges confronting our region. We will continue to work towards a rules-based ASEAN that supports multilateralism and upholds international law, including especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
We also need to address the situation in Myanmar. It is an immediate and complex challenge for us in ASEAN. While a long-lasting solution must and will ultimately depend on the people of Myanmar, Singapore fully supports ASEAN’s efforts to facilitate a return to normalcy, and hopefully peace and stability in Myanmar for the long-term. This includes the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus agreed to by the ASEAN Leaders and the leader of the Myanmar military in April 2021. We welcome the appointment of Brunei’s Minister of Foreign Affairs II Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, as the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair to Myanmar.
In addition to the upheaval following the events of 1 February 2021, Myanmar is also now, unfortunately facing a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
ASEAN is working to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar through the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, known for short as the AHA Centre. This would be a top priority for the AHA Centre and its newly appointed Executive Director, Mr Lee Yam Ming, who happens to be from Singapore.
This virus does not respect national borders, creed, or political affiliation. We need to bear this in mind as ASEAN stands ready to cooperate with all stakeholders and partners to lend a helping hand to our dear friends, our brothers and sisters, the people of Myanmar. Just as ASEAN has come together to overcome COVID-19, so too can we overcome the challenges of our day, both great and small.
It is in this spirit of recognising that we are all one ASEAN family, that I wish all of you a very happy ASEAN Day!