Friday, 12 January 2018

Singapore atop Asean with a wary eye on China

City-state takes over regional bloc's rotating leadership amid fraying cohesion on how to manage China's rising power and assertiveness

Singapore recently began its tenure as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) for 2018, inaugurating what observers believe will be a critical year for the 10-member regional grouping.

The city-state presides over the bloc’s rotating chairmanship against a backdrop of divisive regional geopolitics, complex security challenges and fraying group cohesion as members are increasingly viewed as either aligned with or opposed to China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Sea.

Singapore, one of Asean’s six original founders with a vision to contain the spread of communism in Southeast Asia, has historically been a linchpin of the grouping. But the rich island nation must now balance increasingly complex intra-bloc dynamics while steering sensitive regional discussions with a perceived as even-hand.

While Asean operates on a consensus basis, the annually rotating leadership has the prerogative to set agendas that shape multilateral engagements. Duties involve chairing and facilitating official meetings, tabling new initiatives and serving as group spokesperson. The chair may also veto and unilaterally issue statements should serious divisions occur among member states.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has identified Singapore’s chairmanship as promoting a “rules-based order” capable of effectively addressing regional security challenges as well as pushing ahead with regional economic integration and projects aimed at enhancing free-trade multilateralism and economic connectivity.

Read the full story at Asia Times.

Nile Bowie is a writer and journalist with the Asia Times covering current affairs in Singapore and Malaysia. He can be reached at