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Strong leaders vital for Asean to succeed

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Goh Chok Tong speaks at Asean@50 event

Asean needs a strong core of leaders to drive it forward into its next phase of growth, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at a forum in Bangkok yesterday.

"At 50, a man starts to feel his age. As an organisation, Asean must not," Mr Goh said at the Asean@50: In Retrospect event organised by the Bangkok Post.

"For it not to age and die like a human being, Asean needs to refresh itself with a strong sense of purpose. This is the task for current and future Asean leaders," he added.

Mr Goh, who was Singapore's prime minister from 1990 to 2004, identified strong collective leadership as one of three ingredients required for Asean to continue to succeed and have weight and influence in the region amid new stresses in the next 50 years. The other two are robust internal growth and regional integration.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Goh outlined how Asean was forged by leaders with one focus - they did not want South-east Asia to be Balkanised by external powers during the Cold War - who set about to build an Asean community from the 1990s through a regionwide free trade agreement and further economic integration.

These leaders "embraced a shared vision of a stable, united and prosperous South-east Asia".

Their efforts enabled Asean to be in the driver's seat in the region and host forums such as the East Asia Summit to engage larger neighbours and keep major powers focused on South-east Asia.

"In Asean's earlier phases, there was a strong core of Asean-minded leaders who saw the world beyond the present and their countries' interests.

"They believed that their national interests were best advanced through a cohesive, stable and prosperous Asean," Mr Goh said.

"This requires trust at both national and personal levels, and a willingness to look out for one another."

Asean also has great potential for internal growth, with a population of more than 600 million and a combined gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion (S$3.4 trillion). Education reform, including a focus on science and technology, is needed for the region not to squander these opportunities, said Mr Goh.

He also called on countries to do more to connect their tech hubs and start-ups with one another. Growing internally, linking up through new technologies and exercising collective leadership will enable Asean to be a central player in a changing world.

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