TOKYO: Multilateralism puts Asian countries in a good position to tackle challenges and shape developments in a region increasingly dominated by big power rivalry, said Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.
Speaking at the annual Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on Thursday (May 25), Mr Wong highlighted three global challenges that could threaten stability in the region: geopolitical tensions, economic protectionism and climate change.
He called the Taiwan Strait the most dangerous flashpoint in the region, which has the potential to drag Asia into any confrontation between the United States and China.
However, he said that Asia has the ability to navigate multiple storms.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in particular, has responded to rising tensions by cooperating more on defence and security, and providing platforms for dialogue.
Leaders of the bloc also regularly engage with major powers outside the region, including the US, China, Japan and India.
Mr Wong said the grouping employs this active multi-engagement approach to strive for common ground among key players and advance cooperation on regional peace and stability.
In the face of great power rivalry, he stressed it is “more important than ever for ASEAN to maintain its centrality”.
“We engage with all major powers, and we avoid exclusive commitments with any single party,” he said, adding that multiple summits hosted by the regional bloc offer neutral platforms for dialogue.
With partners in Asia and beyond, ASEAN’s aim is to have many overlapping platforms that a variety of countries can take part in, Mr Wong said. It is a set-up that embraces multilateralism and rejects dominance by any single power.
“These diverse arrangements form a dense mesh of cooperation and interdependence, as well as interlocking circles of partnerships between the region and our external partners,” he said.
“This gives all of our partners concrete stakes in Asia's peace and prosperity, and we believe this makes for a more stable and balanced region.”
ASEAN is taking simil...