ASEAN countries have to work together in light of COVID-19

The webinar encouraged youths to step back and look at the ASEAN region in a new light.

Celeste Lim

Published: 27 October 2020, 12:24 PM

During COVID-19, ASEAN countries are facing great uncertainties.

These smaller countries face economic problems, but increased tensions between the United States and China leave them in a predicament.

To find out what ASEAN countries can do during this time of unpredictability, some Singaporean youths attended a webinar, COVID-19, Geopolitics, Integration: What ASEAN can do, on Oct 24.


Over 700 youths from the Asia-ready Exposure Programme attended the webinar. PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL


The first in the Asia-Ready Webinar series organised by the National Youth Council (NYC) and Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), the webinar touched on issues that are important to youths in the ASEAN region.

These are some takeaways from the hour-long session:

1. Uncertainty is our future’s certainty

Mr David Chua, chief executive officer of NYC, started the session by saying the only certainty about the future is the uncertainty that it will bring. He added that while we can’t predict the future, we can always “build our youth for the future”. 

He went on to share how NYC plans to assist and support youths as they expose themselves to the international market, because those opportunities are larger than Singapore itself.

This will happen wherever it can happen – be it via online platforms, or in other countries when green lanes are open.

2. Competition among countries is good

Associate professor Simon Tay, the chairman of SIIA, emphasised that competition between countries is not a bad thing.

In response to a question asking what geopolitics are, he likened the governments of countries to the operating systems of computers. Competition between operating systems elevates them to be even better, which benefits all customers.


The webinar had several polls for youths to express their thoughts on current issues in ASEAN.PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL


The trouble comes when that competition turns negative. Smaller countries would have to pick a side between larger countries such as the US and China, when they would rather have the best of both worlds.

That is why it is important for ASEAN countries to grow together and help bring the region closer.

3. Singapore needs to be open and integrate with other countries

Assoc Prof Tay pointed out that COVID-19 has been a sharp wake-up call for many countries in ASEAN, alerting them that they have to integrate with other countries.

He acknowledged that it may be tough for ASEAN to open and be integrated, as the countries have very different political systems. Furthermore, every country wishes to keep its best jobs for its people.

He compared the integration of countries to marriage – even when you get married to someone, you do not have to share every single pastime. While he agreed that countries must be careful when integrating, he continued to emphasise the importance of integration.

He said: “All ships are safest in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”

Having built a good system in response to COVID-19, he believes it is time for Singapore to be open.

Assoc Prof Tay answered questions from youths who are concerned about ASEAN and sustainability.

Before ending the session, Assoc Prof Tay said that we need to figure out what comes next without being complacent.

He concluded: “[We need to] start to take action to try to be ready for the future that’s coming. And that begins with yourself.”

Moderator Quek Lu Yi, who works at SIIA, wrapped up the webinar by advising youths to “reach out even when other countries are going inwards”.

“Only by integrating with ASEAN, will Singapore survive and hopefully thrive,” she said.

Samantha Ang, an undergraduate who attended the webinar, shared some of the insights she gained: “It was interesting to hear Professor Tay share about COVID-19’s impact on the US-China relationship, and how Singapore should strengthen its ASEAN integrations, and promote regionalism.”

Joelyn Chua, a polytechnic student, said: “I have learnt the importance of integration and that the ASEAN countries, with large diversity, brings forth great economic potential.

“The confidence that we need in order to open up to other countries during this COVID-19 situation will help to build up strong relations and trust between countries.”


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