ASEAN looks at ways to stay in charge of its future

ASEAN looks at ways to stay in charge of its future
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi meeting for the first time for bilateral talks yesterday on the sidelines of the 25th Asean Summit in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. They affirmed the excellent ties between Singapore and India, discussed expanding links in areas such as tourism and urban development and shared ideas on celebrating the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties next year. Mr Modi accepted Mr Lee’s invitation to visit Singapore next year.

THE leaders of all 10 South-east Asian nations yesterday agreed that more needed to be done to ensure the grouping remained in charge of the region's destiny in the years ahead, amid the growing menace of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and the latent tensions from the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The leaders also pledged their support to build a tighter-knit ASEAN Community, with freer flow of goods and people by the end of next year.

They decided to set up a high-level task force to chart a post-2015 road map, strengthen the Jakarta-based ASEAN secretariat, and adopt a common position on global concerns such as terrorism and climate change.

The moves will ensure that ASEAN, and not outside powers, remains in control of its future.

ASEAN's unity - achieved through seeking consensus on key political decisions - had ensured peace and growth in the region, Myanmar President Thein Sein said while opening the summit.

But challenges such as natural disasters, the Ebola pandemic and extremism remained and it was important to strengthen ASEAN's ability to overcome these, he said.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said ASEAN had to constantly look for ways to strengthen its capacity.

PM Lee and other leaders noted that the potential for miscalculations remained in the South China Sea despite the recent lowering of tensions. Mr Lee said it was good that both ASEAN and China had agreed to work towards "early conclusion" of a Code of Conduct, and "early harvest" measures such as hotlines to tackle flare-ups.

Officials should work with China to finalise these moves in the coming year, he added.

He also said ASEAN had to intensify counter-terrorism cooperation to deal with ISIS.

"To effectively handle the major tasks ahead, we must stay united and maintain ASEAN centrality in the region," he said.

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