With the United States and China engaged in a strategic rivalry that threatens to change the global geopolitical climate, all countries need to speak up to secure a peaceful and prosperous world and future, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told a forum of world leaders here yesterday.
While Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump's meeting at last month's G-20 summit showed that talks must be more productive, trust on both sides will take time to rebuild, Mr Goh said in a speech at the annual World Peace Forum organised by Tsinghua University.
The world is "at risk of being shackled by history, blinded by suspicions, misled by misconceptions and destroyed by zero-sum superpower rivalry", Mr Goh said.
As the two largest economies face off, smaller countries may watch passively from the sidelines and see how the situation unfolds before deciding their next moves.
But that is not ideal, he added, as small countries can play a positive role in shaping the international order.
By engaging global powers, they can understand their geopolitical ambition, temperament, power and reliability as friends.
"Based on this understanding, they can convey their concerns, as well as collectively spell out the shared world and future they want - a safe, secure, peaceful environment where all countries, big and small, can compete and cooperate on a consensus-driven, rules-based, multilateral system," he said.
Small countries which feel their voices are too faint can look at Asean's experience, in which a diverse group of nations built trust through regular meetings.
Over the years, this foundation has expanded into an Asean-centric regional architecture that has supported the region's peace and stability. "When enough countries stand together, their voices can be as loud, if not louder, than the trumpet of elephants," he said.
Such a voice of moderation is not a new bloc, but simply the voice of concerned countries, leaders, institutions, media, businesses and people who speak for rationality and stability, and who want to avert a catastrophic clash between the US and China. He added: "Only by speaking in unison, will the global powers take heed of us."
Mr Goh urged the US and China to work together to update global rules that have been the bedrock of global peace and prosperity for decades.
China must also dispel anxieties over its long-term intentions and behaviour as a global power, he added, such as by taking on new responsibilities and working to strengthen the international system that has benefited it for 70 years.