BEIJING - As a strategy that promotes trade and connectivity, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can play a crucial role in strengthening cooperation between countries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (April 26).
It is coming at a time when the world is seeing a pushback against globalisation, and growing distrust of governments and public institutions, making it harder for countries to work together, he said.
But working within such multilateral frameworks is the only way countries can solve the many complex transnational challenges they face, from terrorism to climate change, PM Lee said at a high-level meeting during the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.
"Both countries and their problems have become so interconnected and interdependent," he added.
"All countries, big and small, rely on a stable global order on which we can cooperate productively, resolve disputes peacefully and work together on new areas."
Mr Lee is on a five-day visit to China, where he is attending the forum for the first time. He spoke at the high-level meeting along with other world leaders including Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
The BRI, a plan to revive ancient overland and maritime trade routes which connects China to Europe, Africa and other parts of Asia, is the signature foreign policy and development strategy of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Part of the strategy includes building a network of ports, railways and trading hubs. In doing so, the initiative addresses the need of many countries for better infrastructure and connectivity, said PM Lee.
"Better infrastructure will enhance trade and economic cooperation not just between other countries and China, but also with one another," he added.
Singapore was an early and strong supporter of the BRI, with its participation focusing on infrastructure and financial connectivity, cooperation in third countries, and providing professional and legal services.
On the last point, he pointed out that Singapore is a neutral third-party venue with legal centres that allow BRI countries and companies to resolve commercial disputes efficiently.
Singapore also has the shortest resolution time worldwide for standardised commercial disputes, he said.
"We hope we will be able to provide some of the soft infrastructure to help pull some of the BRI projects together," he said.
Singapore was also cooperating with China on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, which among other things aims to link up the overland and maritime trunks of the BRI.
It has so far reduced by two-thirds, the time required for goods from western China to reach South-east Asia, improved flow of trade, finances, and smoothened customs procedures.
He also said the initiative was one of the tangible outcomes from the BRI.
Now, six years after the BRI was mooted, it was timely to "review progress and to discuss perspectives on the way forward", said PM Lee.
Later in the day, Mr and Mrs Lee, along with other foreign leaders and their spouses, will be hosted to a welcome banquet by President Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan.