The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was born during a period when immense political and economic transformation was sweeping throughout the region. Singapore, a founding member of the ASEAN, was then a fledgling state when it gained full autonomy two years before the organization’s inception. Since then, Singapore remained strongly committed to achieving a dynamic ASEAN community. Singapore made it clear that its ASEAN membership will be the cornerstone of its foreign policy. “Active membership of ASEAN,” comments an article, “is seen by the Singaporean Government as a means to enhance its own economic competitiveness and provide the region with a strong platform to engage key international players, especially the US and China.” As a staunch proponent of regionalism and economic competitiveness in Southeast Asia, Singapore supports a number of regional organizations built around ASEAN such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asia-Europe Meeting, Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation, and the East Asia Summit, among others. Singapore knew that the ASEAN economic integration is vital for its progress.
Now that the ASEAN integration is gradually coming into view, will Singapore still be at the forefront of regionalism in Southeast Asia?
Why the dream?
During the ASEAN summit held in Singapore in 2007, ASEAN leaders committed to establish the creation of an ASEAN community by 2015. This has been the vision of Singapore ever since. An ardent supporter of regional integrations, Singapore wants an East Asian counterpart of the European Union (EU) which is a response to regionalism happening elsewhere as a result of globalization. For the time being, this dream is more utopian rather than realistic. One of the challenges which hinder the ASEAN to take such gigantic stride is the appropriate relationship and balance between national sovereignty and the demands of regional cooperation. ASEAN is founded on the basis of the principle of ‘non-interference’ in the affairs of member states. Because ASEAN proves to be an effective avenue where Singapore can promote its interests, Singapore is committed to take regionalism efforts a notch higher. This is why the ASEAN must be of more efficient conduit for Singapore’s economic interests as a global, industrialized city-state.
The dividends of Singapore from these multilateral relations are mostly politico-economic in nature. For instance, Singapore brought about several regional counter-terrorism initiatives together with ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. Singapore’s combat against terrorism is being taken seriously as she fears that terrorist attacks, even threats thereof, might negatively reflect on Singapore’s local economies. Aside from counter-terrorism efforts, Singapore places emphasis on combating the problem of pandemics and environmental degradation. As a proponent of open markets and multilateral trade liberalization in SEA, Singapore also benefits from the enhanced liberalization in goods, services and investments. Singapore’s trade policy approach is to further the cause of free trade through regional fora such as the ASEAN. People-to-people exchanges, including tourism, appear to be beneficial for Singapore, considering the country’s small population size.
More importantly, Singapore benefits much with ASEAN as these countries are her major trading partners. In 2008, Malaysia was Singapore’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to $111.5 billion. Singapore has been Indonesia’s second largest foreign investor with investments amounting to approximately 10% of Indonesia’s foreign direct investment. Also, it remains to be one of the largest export markets of the Philippines while the Philippines serves as one of Singapore’s largest trading partners. The Singapore Cooperation Program (SCP), where the Philippines was considered a priority country, continues to extend technical cooperation and technical training in a variety of fields.
Prospects for integration
With strong service and manufacturing sectors, it appears that Singapore has a lot to offer aside from political linkages. The economy of Singapore successfully reduced dependence to export of electronics by developing its services sector. Further, its major industries, such as the electronics, financial services, petroleum refining and pharmaceutical manufacturing, are those industries which Southeast Asian States can adopt and develop to promote development in their respective regions. Singapore, as what it is doing now, can provide technical know-how in various fields. This technical knowledge can be translated to development if utilized productively and efficiently. The Singapore Cooperation Program has some ASEAN states, including the Philippines, as its beneficiaries. Trainings are provided in the fields of healthcare, environment, finance and trade promotion, productivity, public administration and law, information technology, and management and productivity
Much has already changed since Singapore became independent on 1965. Its separation, if not expulsion, from the Malaysian Peninsula brought far-reaching changes to a then-struggling state. From the years past, Singapore proved that it has offered a lot for the advancement of the ASEAN. While bilateral disagreements and divergence to economic policies are inevitable, Singapore’s mutually-beneficial economic links remain strong. As far as how events unfold, Singapore still vouches for unity amidst diversity. A firmer regional cooperation is inevitable and Singapore is willing to push beyond the limits for the fulfillment of this dream.
Image Source: The Borneo Post