Working within agreed global rules key: Vivian

Foreign Minister says countries should take up issues at multilateral bodies like WTO

From an Asean point of view, the ideal world is one in which the US, China, Japan and Europe get along and work within agreed multilateral rules, whether on trade or managing maritime disputes, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, a transcript of which was released by his ministry yesterday .

The showdown between the world's two largest economies - in which both sides have threatened severe trade sanctions and tariffs - has a significant impact on Singapore and Asean, said the minister.

China is Singapore's biggest trading partner, while Singapore is the largest foreign investor in China. Asean's major investors include the United States, Japan and the European Union.

"We do not wish to see trade wars, we do not wish to see unilateral imposition of trade measures," said Dr Balakrishnan, adding that countries should take matters through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and accept multilateral rules.

"To us, this is a big issue," he said in the wide-ranging interview where he touched on the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis, as well as Asean's plans to do more on smart cities ande-payment systems.

Leaders of the 10 Asean states are gathered in Singapore for the first of two annual summits this week to discuss how to strengthen the grouping's resilience and innovation. Singapore, which chairs Asean this year, is keen to develop a network of smart cities in the region, as well as beef up cyber security among the countries in the bloc.

NO UNILATERAL MOVES, PLEASE

We do not wish to see trade wars, we do not wish to see unilateral imposition of trade measures... To us, this is a big issue.

'' FOREIGN MINISTER VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, on the US-China showdown in which both sides have threatened trade sanctions and tariffs.

Officials will also discuss developments such as the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state, the situation on the Korean peninsula, maritime security in the South China Sea, and the trade stalemate between the US and China.

In the interview, Dr Balakrishnan said both Singapore and Asean will continue to make the case for free trade, economic integration, investments, interdependence and the importance of rules-based regimes.

He highlighted what he saw as three key imperatives for Asean: managing its diversity, engaging bigger powers and making a living - for which trade is key.

One of the key initiatives that will see significant progress at the summit is the development of a network of smart cities in the region, as well as efforts to drive technological innovation.

Dr Balakrishnan said the right response to the technological revolution that the world is experiencing now is to invest heavily in education and retraining, as well as build up infrastructure, which the Singapore Government has done by rolling out fibre broadband nationwide.

Governments should also focus on research and development and translate that quickly into products and services that can be pushed out to the market, he added.

 

"What we're trying to do now in Asean is also to make Asean itself, through economies of scale and interoperability, create more opportunities for start-ups," said Dr Balakrishnan.

He cited the example of e-payments, and the potential to link up such regional payment systems.

"Can we make our e-payments systems within Asean inter-operate? For trade, can we have single windows? For harmonisation of standards, self-certification - all these things which would facilitate trade - again, can we harmonise, can we agree?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Working within agreed global rules key: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe