Malaysia and Singapore are separate, independent sovereign nations. But a quick peek into our respective histories will unveil how intertwined the neighbouring countries have been for centuries.

We are often referred to as siblings – each has its own personality and preferences but we share a common DNA. Our similar cultures, equally delectable food, business partnerships, familial relations and friendship ties have not been limited by national boundaries.

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We have similar cuisines that we both share a common love for.
PHOTO CREDIT: MUHAMMAD IQBAL

Perhaps, like siblings, it is inevitable that we get into disagreements from time to time. We have seen our fair share of differences over Pedra Branca, the price of water, the high-speed rail project, and more recently, the dispute over airspace and territorial waters.

Yet even in times of tension, Singaporeans and Malaysians continue to cross the border to visit relatives, live, work, study, shop, strike business deals and enjoy the cuisines our neighbour offers.

While we must be resolute in wanting to resolve these disputes firmly and fairly, we must be careful to not let them affect our everyday relationships.

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As of 2016, almost 300,000 commuters cross the Singapore-Johor causeways daily, making them among the busiest crossings in the world.
PHOTO CREDIT: MUHAMMAD IQBAL

Malaysia and Singapore are also two siblings in the larger ASEAN family of 10, both having worked on and conceived ASEAN alongside Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand in 1967.

Collectively, if the 10 ASEAN members were a single country, we would be the fifth largest economy in the world. And with more than 60 per cent of our ASEAN population being below 35 years of age, we are well placed to take advantage of our workforce and markets and grow into an economic powerhouse.

All this is, however, underpinned by our ability to envision a collective future and work together for the collective good of the region.

If the recent ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) that I attended is anything to go by, there is a deep appreciation that ASEAN will be stronger as a collective where member states are able to lean on and grow alongside each other.

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The AYF, attended by 40 youth leaders from Singapore, Malaysia and the rest of the region, aims to connect and strengthen bonds within the ASEAN community.
PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL YOUTH COUNCIL

Over the course of five days, young ASEAN leaders from the public, private and people (community) sectors quickly realised that we were more interconnected than we previously thought. We discussed viewpoints, ideated in the face of common challenges and laughed over our idiosyncrasies. One of it was our almost-sacred ASEAN love affair for rice!

On that note, the youth in the region are hungry, ambitious and ready to make a mark. In challenging times like these, we should use our voice to collectively call on our governments to stick to their commitment: to build and grow an empowered ASEAN for Singapore, Malaysia and the region.

Written by ASEAN Youth Fellow Ms Sujatha Selvakumar