BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes the process to resolve the South China Sea dispute will be back on track when Brunei assumes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) chairmanship next year.
Mr Lee, who is on a three—day visit to Brunei, urged all parties involved in the dispute to start working on a Code of Conduct.
He said the steps to find a solution are incremental and stressed that informal consultations must start among the parties concerned.
The divide among ASEAN countries on how best they should tackle the South China Sea dispute scuppered a joint communique at their July summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for the first time in the regional grouping’s 45—year history.
Diplomats had said a key point in the impasse was Cambodia’s refusal to include bilateral maritime disputes in the statement.
With the ASEAN Chair to be rotated to Brunei next year, Mr Lee expressed hopes of moving ahead on the issue after meeting with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
"ASEAN has to take a position on the South China Sea because it happens in our doorstep and we have to have a forward—looking neutral view which is balanced and encourages all the parties to come together and start working on the Code of Conduct, and I think Brunei is thinking along the lines too. They are focussed on making outcomes during the year as ASEAN Chairman and less so on the form of the meetings and the events, which are part of the ASEAN process," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee, who’s in Brunei to deepen ties, spent the morning with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the Tasek Lama Park. Both leaders planted a Selunsor Tree, symbolising deep—rooted friendship between the two countries.
In the afternoon, Mr Lee visited the Universiti Brunei Darussalam where he met students who were engaging students from the National University of Singapore through interactive video conference.
The university started a global classroom, which is an international video conferencing module this year. It links Brunei students to five universities in Asia that includes the National University of Singapore. A key feature of this programme is an active participation from the students.
Both countries will step up interactions in education, which has been a cornerstone of bilateral ties.
Singapore’s Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower, Hawazi Daipi, said one plan covers Malay Language.
"We would like to expand the opportunities for our teachers through an immersion programme. So from next year, we will have 15 Malay language teachers to be involved in an immersion programme in Brunei. They will be visiting schools and they will have the opportunities to visit and have discussions at the Malay Language Centre," he said.
Such immersion programmes are expected to help improve the pedagogy of Malay language teaching in Singapore.
Mr Lee also commented on the work of Singapore’s three new ministries carved out of two current ministries — for a sharper focus to reflect and address the needs of a fast—changing Singapore society.
He said the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Communications and Information cover important areas which Singapore needs to develop.
He is assured that he has enthusiastic ministers looking after the ministries when the changes take effect on November 1.
Mr Lee said: "They have been appointed, they have been given their ’marking orders’ really — not marching orders. But their mission statements are quite clear and I think they all have very challenging tasks ahead and I expect them fully to take up the new responsibilities with enthusiasm and develop new ideas which will be helpful to Singapore."
Commenting on the performance of the ethnic groups in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) over the past 10 years, Mr Lee said he is happy with the results.
Mr Lee, who noted the significant improvement in Mathematics by Malay and Indian students, said he was not surprised because it is something the Government has been consistently and patiently working at for many years.
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