Vivian makes case for rules-based, open world order

S'pore minister says this is key for stable and peaceful world, and essential for small states

Singapore believes a rules-based multilateral order, an open global architecture and inclusive economic growth are key for a stable and peaceful world, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told Singapore media as he wrapped up a busy week in New York on Tuesday.

A rules-based, multilateral world order was particularly essential to give small states like Singapore a sense of predictability, security and a chance to secure peace and advance the interests of their citizens, Dr Balakrishnan said, elaborating on one of the three points he had stressed in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The minister said he also argued the case for an open global architecture where "all states would have a chance to cooperate, to collaborate, to pursue issues of common interest in a win-win collaboration".

The alternative model would be a world divided into rival blocs, zero-sum games and proxy wars.

"The point here was to argue and to make, hopefully, a persuasive case that the world will be safer, more prosperous and more peaceful if we had an open global architecture," he told Singapore media.

Turning to the need for inclusive growth, he urged countries to ensure that no segment of society feels left behind by globalisation and the technological revolution.

Expanding on the point in reply to a media question, he noted that for a long while, economic integration and free trade had been seen as a recipe to lift millions from poverty into a new middle class.

"Now, primarily because of the digital revolution and because of perceived fears for middle-class jobs and middle-class wages, that consensus is fraying," he said.

That is why, he added, at a domestic level, every country has to sort out its own economic strategy, social security, social safety nets and ensure no one gets left behind.

"This domestic focus is essential because if you don't give people that assurance, then you'll find individual countries can't make the commitment for globalisation, economic integration and free trade," he said.

One hot-button issue that came up was tensions on the Korean peninsula. "All of us need to fully comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and we hope that North Korea will do so and we hope, ultimately, that cool heads will prevail," said Dr Balakrishnan.

On the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state, another hot-button issue, he said there were extensive discussions and consensus was reached in three areas.

First, the violence has to stop now. Second, humanitarian assistance needs to be delivered to those who have been displaced to the Bangladesh side of the border as well as to the affected communities in Rakhine state.

He said the Asean Humanitarian Assistance Centre has been activated and will help deliver assistance to all the affected communities - without discrimination.

"The third area of consensus was you need a long-term political solution. This can only occur through reconciliation, and constructive and positive dialogue," he said.

In his speech last week, Dr Balakrishnan noted the threat of extremism and terrorism.

"There are also areas of what I would say are unconventional threats in cyberspace, threats of self-radicalisation, hate messaging and its ability to influence people who would not otherwise have been exposed to such messages or to even embark on such violent causes," he said on Tuesday.

In New York, he lodged Singapore's instrument of ratification for the Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, with the UN. And he registered a treaty Indonesia and Singapore entered into earlier this year to delimit their maritime boundaries.

Both treaties, he said, reflect the importance of the UN and of international law in securing Singapore's long-term interests.

Dr Balakrishnan had more than a dozen bilateral meetings, plus Asean and regional meetings, including with Pacific island states and Caribbean countries. The Forum of Small States, which was founded by Singapore and now has 107 UN member-states, celebrated its 25th anniversary.

He also convened the annual meeting of the Global Governance Group of 30 medium-sized to small countries, which engages with the Group of 20 nations regularly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2017, with the headline 'Vivian makes case for rules-based, open world order'. Print Edition | Subscribe