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International Relations

Singapore PM tells ASEAN to adjust to new power balance

Lee says region can benefit from China, India despite their "tidal pulls"

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at an event in Singapore on March 13. (Photo by Kentaro Iwamoto)

SINGAPORE -- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations should adjust to a new power balance in Asia so that individual members and the group can benefit from increasingly influential China and India, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a lecture on Tuesday.

The city-state is this year's chair of the 10-member bloc.

Speaking at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, a Singapore-based research center focused on Southeast Asian studies, Lee said that ASEAN "has to adjust to a strategic balance which is shifting both globally and in the region."

Lee specifically noted the rising power of China and India. "New powers are growing in strength and influence, especially China and India. Individual ASEAN countries must adapt to the new and changing strategic landscape."

This is because the two big countries, he said, will provide opportunities for ASEAN countries.

He said India is "cultivating its relations with ASEAN, and pursuing a more activist foreign policy beyond the sub-continent." He noted that the Southeast Asian leaders visited Delhi to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi late January, seeking stronger ties.

And China "has put forth concrete, major initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that will benefit the region," he said.

He added that the relationship between ASEAN and China is deep and broad, but also complex due to disputed claims over the South China Sea.

"We must accept the reality of these tidal pulls, yet they must not lead to fault lines forming within the ASEAN group," Lee stressed, referring to the influence wielded over the smaller countries by the two big powers.

Lee said ASEAN members should deepen internal partnership to maintain the bloc's relevance. "Only thus can ASEAN remain at the heart of the regional architecture, and a valuable partner for the major powers," he said.

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