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PM Lee call on Asean leaders to send message of co-operation

Posted on: March 2, 2009

Channel NewsAsia – Sunday, March 1

SINGAPORE: Send a clear message to the world that ASEAN is open for business. That’s the call made by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a wide-ranging interview with the Bangkok Post released on opening day of the 14th ASEAN Summit in Thailand.

Echoing similar sentiments was the Thai premier and current ASEAN chair who called on the grouping to reinforce itself internally and strengthen its links with the rest of the world.

The ASEAN Summit is taking place at a time of great upheaval in the world with the financial crisis affecting each member country, said PM Lee who kicked off his day with talks with his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Both leaders also emphasised that it’s important at this time to send a clear message that ASEAN is promoting trade and economic integration amongst member countries as well as with external partners through free trade agreements.

Said Mr Lee: “We are proceeding with the Charter. We are promoting trade amongst ourselves, economic integration amongst ourselves, also trade with our external partners through free trade agreements. And we stand for a continuing free-trading stance against protectionism and that we will do our best during these difficult times.”

ASEAN sent a clear signal on Friday when it signed a free trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand.

A key outcome of this ASEAN Summit is the Hua Hin package which is very much a follow-up to the Chiangmai Initiative. This initiative was put together by the ASEAN finance ministers recently and it emphasises close co-operation with ASEAN’s dialogue partners to tackle the global economic downturn.

“We must not only think about measures to deal with disasters. We must also think about measures to keep ourselves stable and growing, and avoid disasters. And that means co-operating among ourselves for economic purposes, for investments, for trade, for working together in enhancing the business environment in Asean,” said PM Lee.

Mr Lee said it’s important for the international community to know that ASEAN remains on the radar screen and is relevant to the world and to its own people.

In his interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Lee added that nobody knows how long the global economic downturn could last as the projections had turned out to be too optimistic.

Turning to Singapore in his interview with the Bangkok Post, he said the country is hoping for a U-shape recovery.

Mr Lee believes the US recession will last through this year and maybe a bit longer.

But the concern will be what happens after the US recession – whether there’ll be a strong recovery or if the difficulties will take several more years to work out.

Leaders spent much of Saturday in meetings with several focus groups, such as ASEAN youth, business leaders and civil society.

Myanmar premier Thein Sein and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen had threatened to boycott the meeting with ten civil society representatives if activists from their own countries were present. But they subsequently attended it when the representatives they objected to were not allowed in.

They’ll have their retreat on Sunday where they’ll brainstorm ideas to ride out of the economic downturn and pursue the goal of an ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. – CNA/vm


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