ASEAN Day 2015
ASEAN Day Reflection
By Benjamin Liow (1T01)
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is one of the most prominent and well-known regional organisations in the world and especially here in Singapore, because of course we helped to found it together with four other southeast Asian countries. Being invited to attend ASEAN Day at the Shangri-La Hotel was, I felt, a great opportunity to experience first-hand how the organisation functioned and to gain new perspectives on regional and global issues by talking to people from around the world attending the event as well. I had initially hoped for some sort of formal, official discussion by the representatives of different ASEAN countries but it was not to be. Nevertheless, the experience provided me with refreshing insights of the workings of ASEAN and our region at large.
In the opening speech, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law Mr. K. Shanmugam constantly repeated the need for ASEAN not to be satisfied with its past successes and not to rest on its laurels. He urged ASEAN to continue to move forward together as a region to ensure peace and stability not only in the present but for the long future. Reflecting upon this, I felt that this was Singapore’s way of prodding ASEAN to ensure it did not get complacent or arrogant with its successful efforts at managing peace in the region. Indeed, now more than ever major global issues such as terrorism need to be carefully monitored, and dealt with in the most effective way possible.
The regional cooperation that ASEAN has built as well as the network of diplomatic ties it has with other organisations and countries are crucial to the peace and stability of the region. With the rise of religious terror organisations like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the regional relations of Southeast Asian states become all the more important. ASEAN must not and cannot allow itself to deteriorate; it is possibly the strongest defence that each country has against the threat of terrorism. It is of even greater importance to Singapore that ASEAN remains strong and continues to uphold cooperation between countries so that there may be peace and security. We are a geographically small country who has associated itself with many a Western power and we are undeniably in a region that is dominated by Muslim states. If ASEAN were to deteriorate, would Singapore by itself be able to identify all security threats to the nation AND eradicate them? How many terrorists would be lurking on the outskirts of Singapore if we didn’t have such good relations with Malaysia and Indonesia, because of ASEAN?
I think therefore that ASEAN is a hugely important organisation to Singapore, and a good future for ASEAN is one that Singapore hopes for. Without this key regional cooperation, Singapore would be left very much exposed to global forces that even it may not be able to control.
A Place where People Come Together
This week, I attended ASEAN Day commemorating the creation of ASEAN. It was an eye opening experience as well as a huge honour, seeing important figures such as ambassadors and delegates from all different parts of the world. We met the Non-Resident Ambassador of Denmark, the Ambassador of Oman and the Ambassador of Russia.
In discussion, I learnt of several interesting features of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), such as how the ministry saves money by appointing Non-Resident Ambassadors to countries that have less of a significance towards their foreign policy. Prominent figures, such as businessmen, would be offered the post and if they chose to accept they would be appointed as the “ambassador” to the country. Singapore would not set up a embassy in that country so as to save money but when a delegation arrives from that country to Singapore, the Non-Resident Ambassador would host them.
I think my main takeaway from this celebration is the emphasis of Singapore and ASEAN on regionalism and diplomacy. When Robert Frost wrote “Good fences make good neighbours”, he meant it ironically. ASEAN strikes me as a place where these neighbours can come together and cooperate or at least “agree to disagree”, a place where conflicts can be effectively talked about and perhaps resolved. Out of the limelight, politicians can actually talk about what they are really concerned about and not what is popular in the moment. They can be less concerned about what others think of them and be confident in speaking what they mean. I think the event itself, while not an ASEAN meeting of sorts, was quite similar. No fancy tableware and official desks and so on but a simple reception with a dinner, all standing up so people can move about and talk with many different people. This event has given me great insight into the workings of ASEAN.
ASEAN Day 2015 Reflection
Having been given the opportunity to attend the ASEAN day, I have gained a new experience. Prior to the event, I went to research more on the current affairs in relation to ASEAN and our country’s role and significance in ASEAN in the 21st century. Through my research, I not only gained insights on Singapore’s standing in the region but I managed to make connections between what is being taught in lectures and what I found from my research. This made me realise how important the study of history is to us as it is very relevant to the happenings of today. It made me see the bigger picture of being a history student and that studying history is more than just getting grades. The event has brought my learning out of the lecture notes and enhanced my learning.
Also, during the event, I got to interact with foreign delegates and ambassadors and through these interactions; I found out the relationship other countries shared with Singapore. This enhanced my understanding on Singapore’s standing regionally and globally. These interactions also made me understand Singapore’s foreign policies first hand. Therefore, by attending this event, I gained much exposure which increased my interest in current affairs, local and regional issues and the subject itself and I’m thankful for such an opportunity.