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PM Lee sets out S'pore's agenda as Asean chair

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Closing ceremony for 31st Asean Summit

Asean is a lifeboat for all 10 countries in South-east Asia to come together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, on the cusp of Singapore's helming the group.

The grouping, which turned 50 this year, is a vehicle "to have our voice heard on the world stage and to be able to manage our own issues among ourselves and to cooperate to improve the lives of the people in South-east Asia", he said.

He also outlined Singapore's key priorities as chair, captured in its tagline "Resilient and Innovative", in a speech at last night's closing ceremony for the 31st Asean Summit.

The host, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, gave him a symbolic gavel to mark the handover of the chairmanship.

Mr Lee said that as Asean chairman next year, Singapore will seek to ensure that the group promotes and upholds a rules-based regional order.

This is to better deal with emerging security challenges in the neighbourhood, such as cyber security, transnational crime and terrorism.

Singapore will also steer fellow members to press on with regional economic integration and enhance connectivity, so as to keep the region competitive and prosperous. And it will find innovative ways to manage and make use of digital technologies and equip Asean citizens with skills and capabilities.

The goal, he added, is for Asean to remain a central and dynamic driving force in the region that can deal with challenges and opportunities.

Singapore will also continue to build relations with Asean's external partners, Mr Lee added. If it can make Asean more effective and strengthen cooperation with its neighbours, this will benefit the man on the street, he said.

Mr Lee also congratulated the Philippines for its successful chairmanship. A major highlight was a framework for the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Asean leaders also held their first summit with United States President Donald Trump and pledged to protect the rights of migrant workers.

Trade featured prominently, as leaders spoke of the need to send a signal of commitment to free trade and open markets.

They acknowledged the hurdles in the way of concluding talks on the Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and Mr Lee said Singapore will do all it can to push negotiations forward.