Welcome Remarks by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, SIF Chairman, at SIF Connects! Washington DC

Congressman Joaquin Castro,
Congressman Hank Johnson,
Congressman Denny Heck,
Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri,
Ambassador Pisan Manawapat,
Ambassador Dato Serbini Ali,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us at SIF Connects! Washington DC.

It gives me tremendous joy to be back in DC. Not just because I was a student at Georgetown University many years ago and later served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Singapore Embassy here, but because of the warm and longstanding friendships established over the years. I see some familiar faces in the room today, as well as new faces. It is a pleasure to be among friends, it is great to have all of you here with us.

As we convene today for the fifth instalment of the SIF Connects! Washington DC, it is an affirmation of our commitment to continuing conversations between Americans and Singaporeans to strengthen mutual understanding. This is also the second year that the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) is partnering the US-Asia Institute (USAI) to hold this dialogue in DC. I firmly believe that platforms such as this are crucial to strengthening understanding across communities. In today’s complex and fractious climate, it is more necessary than ever to build bridges where peoples of different cultures and backgrounds can come together, to discuss and act on a shared desire to create a better world to live in. One that is peaceful and inclusive, with opportunities for all. 

The topic of today’s dialogue – “Strengthening meaningful connections between the US and ASEAN” – is timely as ASEAN celebrates the 50th year of its founding. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of US friendship with ASEAN and, in establishing a bipartisan ASEAN Congressional Caucus earlier this year, the US government has given this relationship a special status. ASEAN is also a subject that sits close to my heart. I served as Secretary-General of ASEAN between 2003 and 2008, and now I continue to observe its developments closely through my work at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Discussions about US-ASEAN ties usually focus on geopolitical and economic perspectives. In comparison, the socio-cultural aspect of ASEAN has been much less explored. As Chairman of the SIF, whose mandate is to foster stronger people-to-people ties through international cooperation for positive change, I am happy that we have chosen to shift the conversation today to building an ASEAN social-cultural community.  ASEAN seeks to foster a community that is people-centred and socially responsible, with a view to achieving unity among the nations and peoples of ASEAN. Their vision - a caring and sharing society that is inclusive and harmonious and where the well-being, livelihood, and welfare of the peoples are enhanced. In this regard, the SIF has worked over the last 26 years to contribute to positive and sustainable development in Asia when Singaporean volunteers work alongside their counterparts to share ideas, skills and experience to effect change, while fostering greater intercultural understanding.  I do hope today’s dialogue will inspire thoughts around (or push the boundaries on) how the US and ASEAN communities can collaborate for change and deepen people-to-people ties that translate into stronger relations tomorrow.

The SIF and USAI have put together a wonderful panel for the dialogue, all of whom are established, well-respected individuals with a wealth of experience in ASEAN matters and in community capacity building. Please allow me to thank my fellow panellists, Chris Fenton from the US-Asia Institute; Ambassador David Adelman, US Ambassador to Singapore from 2010 to 2013; Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs; Miss Mimi Kirk, Contributing Writer at the Atlantic’s CityLab; and lastly SIF’s representative in Washington DC, Matthew Herrmann. Thank you for joining us today, and I encourage all to participate actively with your comments, thoughts and questions. Hopefully the exploration of different ideas and opinions will allow us to augment our foundation of enduring US-ASEAN ties.

Thank you. 



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