Today, we commemorate the 45th anniversary of ASEAN. On this day in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, was established by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Since then, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have joined us in ASEAN. 45 years after its inception, ASEAN now brings together 600 million people, and has the third largest GDP in Asia. ASEAN is now progressing towards its vision of a single ASEAN Community in 2015, comprising the three Pillars of the ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

2                 What does ASEAN mean for Southeast Asia and in particular, for us here in Singapore? ASEAN was created to safeguard and advance the peaceful development of our region. The spirit of mutual respect, trust and cooperation which Member States have forged since 1967 has been the basis for a consensus-based approach to problem-solving that is responsible for the peace and stability we have enjoyed in Southeast Asia. Member States have enhanced cooperation in combating terrorism, cybercrime, drug trafficking, and other forms of transnational crimes to safeguard our region against these threats. To sustain our regional security, ASEAN reaches beyond Southeast Asia to engage global partners on common political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The ASEAN Regional Forum has grown to 27members, and is the only security forum which brings together all the major powers in the region, fostering dialogue and developing positive relations among Member Countries. ASEAN has thus built a central role in maintaining the stability and peace of our region that Singapore benefits from.

3        This peace and stability has underpinned the economic growth that Southeast Asia and Singapore has experienced in the past 45 years, as it has enabled ASEAN Member States to focus on economic development and fortified the trust of our global partners in our region. ASEAN has since moved to integrate the economies of ASEAN Member States through initiatives such as the ASEAN Free Trade Area so as to allow our products, professionals and financial capital to move freely through our region. As a bloc, ASEAN has also concluded Free Trade Agreements with several of our dialogue partners, including China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. ASEAN has thus established itself as a key engine in accelerating the economic growth of the region. By positioning itself as an integrated economic bloc, ASEAN can promote itself as an attractive investment destination, which will benefit all ASEAN Member States.

4        ASEAN is more than just a political or economic organisation driven by government leaders and officials. ASEAN’s citizens are ethnically diverse, and Southeast Asia is home to a historically rich and wide range of languages, cultures and traditions. As a people-centered grouping of nations, ASEAN has thus continuously promoted greater cross-cultural understanding and the development of a stronger sense of common identity among the ASEAN peoples. To this end, beginning in 2011; all embassies of the ASEAN Member States began flying the ASEAN flag alongside their national flags, symbolic of the growing social and cultural bonds among our people. Furthermore, ASEAN is studying the possibility of co-hosting major international sporting events, including possibly the 2030 World Cup, and organising club level competitions among ASEAN Member States. Sport is a proven vehicle for bringing people together, and we hope that such initiatives would enhance the bonds between the ASEAN peoples. Through such initiatives, Singaporeans would have the rare opportunity to play with and play host, along with the rest of ASEAN, to such major events.

5        Approximately 40% of ASEAN’s population is below 20 years of age. It is for you that ASEAN is being built, and it will be you who will in turn build ASEAN’s future. As citizens and future leaders of the ASEAN Community, I encourage you to take part in the various efforts geared towards developing this Community. These include the ASEAN Youth Movement, an online portal established by ASEAN Youths and Youth@ASEAN, a platform for you to interact and exchange information with your counterparts in other ASEAN Member States. You can also participate in events such as the ASEAN Youth Forum. These projects enable you to take part in building ASEAN, form friendships with your peers from the other ASEAN Member States, and get to know our region better.

6        The Singapore-ASEAN Youth Fund was launched in 2007 to support activities for ASEAN youth, such as courses on leadership and organisational skills, public speaking competitions and overseas learning projects. Thus far, the fund has benefitted more than 60,000 ASEAN youths and more than 45 projects have been implemented. Student leaders among you with community projects in need of funding can explore the provisions under this Fund, which is administered by the National Youth Council. There are plenty of opportunities available for you to take part in building the ASEAN Community, and I strongly encourage you to make the most of them.

7        While we appreciate the opportunities that ASEAN has opened up for our region and for Singaporeans, we must not take it for granted. Much more needs to be done to achieve our vision of an ASEAN Community that brings together this highly diverse region. We should treasure our uniqueness and celebrate our differences, whilst understanding that we all have a stake in the development of the region and remain united towards our common purpose of peace and harmony. To this end, whether ASEAN continues to grow and remain central to the peace and stability of our region will depend also on you and your counterparts in the other ASEAN Member States. I wish everyone a happy and meaningful ASEAN Day.

K Shanmugam

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law