Asean strengthening ties with ‘all major powers’ amid troubled … – TODAY

JAKARTA — Amid a “troubled phase” in geopolitics, including concerns over United States-China ties and the South China Sea remaining a potential flashpoint, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (Asean) response is to strengthen ties with all major powers, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday (Sept 6).

Mr Lee was speaking in Jakarta at a meeting between Asean and the United States, represented by US vice-president Kamala Harris.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Lee said during a meeting between Asean and China, represented by Premier Li Qiang, that it is crucial for the US and China to “continue dialogue, build strategic trust at all levels, and strive for greater cooperation”. 

“Both the US and China need to show leadership to address a whole range of global issues affecting all of us,” Mr Lee said. 

The 11th Asean-US Summit and the 26th Asean-China Summit were held under the umbrella of the Asean Summit in Jakarta. 

Chief among Mr Lee’s concerns were US-China relations and the current geopolitical climate — set to be big talking points at this year’s summit. 

Mr Lee said during the Asean-China Summit that the region is watching the trajectory of US-China relations with “great concern”. 

Mr Lee also attended the 24th Asean-South Korea Summit and the 26th Asean-Japan Summit on Wednesday, where he expressed concerns to both nations’ leaders over North Korea’s long-range missile launches. 

He also attended the Asean Plus Three Summit on the same day, which involves Asean leaders as well as leaders from China, Japan and South Korea, where he spoke on areas of cooperation including in the digital and green economies. 


In a fairly brief speech at the Asean-US Summit, Mr Lee said that the US’ role had become more critical, especially with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine being a “continuing problem” for the world. 

However, he said that the US-China relationship is a “longer-term concern”. 

“Southeast Asia is concerned that a miscalculation could draw the region into serious conflict.” 

He added that one potential flashpoint is the South China Sea, which is a “shared resource” for the region. 

China is seen as a major player in disputes involving the South China Sea, due to its territorial assertions and claims in the region. 

Ahead of the Asean Summit, the Chinese government released a new national map which claimed almost the entire South China Sea to be Chinese territory, thus stirring controversy in the region. 

Though Mr Lee did not mention the new map in his speeches, he said during the Asean-US summit that the region should “continue to maintain the rights of all states to freedom of navigation and overflight” when it comes to the South China Sea. 

He added that Asean welcomes the South China Sea code of conduct, a legally binding document to regulate behaviour in the South China Sea.

Talks had fallen behind schedule and both Asean and China had already missed a 2022 deadline to reach an agreement.

Likewise, Mr Lee said during the Asean-China Summit that efforts to conclude the code of conduct should be intensified.

The code should be internationally recognised and universally agreed to, and also safeguard the rights and interests of all parties, said Mr Lee. 

At the Asean-US Summit, Mr Lee said that Asean’s response to geopolitical challenges is to strengthen its ties with all the major powers.

He said that the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which is an affirmation between Asean members to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, is an “important framework through which we can expand and deepen Asean-US cooperation”. 

At the Asean-China Summit, Mr Lee similarly reiterated his concerns on US-China tensions.  

“Asean has a direct interest since tensions could easily stoke existing flashpoints in the region and undermine the peace, prosperity and stability that we have all enjoyed for decades,” he said. 

Both China and the US thus need to continue dialogue and build trust, he added. 


Mr Lee said in separate Asean-Republic of Korea and Asean-Japan summits that one of his concerns is peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. 

At the Asean meeting with South Korea, which was represented by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Mr Lee said that the situation “remains worrying” in light of North Korea’s inter-continental ballistic missile launches, the most recent in July. 

“These have raised tensions on the peninsula and violated UNSC (United Nations Security Council) resolutions,” said Mr Lee. 

The UNSC resolutions addressed issues related to the proliferation of weapons, including ballistic missiles. 

Mr Lee also said he hopes that Asean-centred forums such as the Asean regional forum, which is mainly related to security matters, will provide a useful platform for constructive dialogue on the issue. 

Mr Lee reiterated during the Asean-Japan Summit, at which Japan was represented by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, that Singapore has “consistently and strongly condemned” North Korea’s long-range missile launches.

“We also hope that long outstanding matters, such as the abductions issue, can be resolved at long last,” said Mr Lee. 

The “abductions issue” refers to Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime decades ago, in a bid to train spies or steal their identities for espionage purposes. 


Across the different summits, Mr Lee also spoke about deepening areas of collaboration in cybersecurity, the digital and green economies, and in connectivity, among other areas, between Asean and its respective partners.

At the Asean-China Summit, Mr Lee suggested two areas of cooperation: 

  • On connectivity, Mr Lee suggested a further liberalisation of the Asean-China Air Transport Agreement, to encourage more people-to-people exchanges
  • On the digital economy, to support Asean’s efforts to forge the Digital Economy Framework Agreement to allow for more seamless cross-border digital transactions 

At the Asean-US Summit, Mr Lee said that coorperation will be strengthened on several fronts, such as: 

  • The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership launched last year gives Asean the platform to further elevate relations with the US, as does engagements such as the Asean-US Summit 
  • Sectoral engagements, such as the Asean-US Energy Cooperation, help to facilitate the US’ support for the region’s green energy transition
  • Asean also welcomes the US to share its expertise in big data, AI governance, and standards to help Asean’s digital development

For the Asean Plus Three Summit, Mr Lee highlighted several areas of cooperation: 

  • Strengthen the capacity to combat future public health threats, such as through the operationalisation of the Asean Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases 
  • To step up cooperation in the emerging digital and green economies, such as through the Asean leaders’ Statement on the development of the electric vehicle ecosystem

On Wednesday, Mr Lee also met with Timor-Leste Prime Minister Jose “Xanana” Gusmão on the sidelines of the Asean Summit.

Mr Lee congratulated Mr Gusmão on his appointment as Prime Minister in July, and agreed to “work together to explore new and meaningful areas of cooperation”, said the Prime Minister’s Office.

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