The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the importance of maintaining links among countries and peoples, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.
It has shown how such connections cannot be taken for granted, he said at the opening of an online conference - China and the Maritime Silk Road: Shipwrecks, Ports and Products - organised by the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM).
The three-day event comes ahead of next month's opening of an exhibition at Shanghai Museum that will showcase highlights of the ACM's Tang Shipwreck collection in China for the first time.
Mr Teo said the collection "gives us a sense of the history of past eras, and allows us to better appreciate the links that have connected civilisations through the ages".
"This is especially important in an increasingly interconnected world which offers much promise, but where, unfortunately, isolationist sentiments in many countries can also be amplified," he said.
He noted how the digital format of the event shows that history is replete with examples of how people find ways to continue to interact in spite of obstacles and challenges.
"It is when interactions take place, with open exchanges of trade, goods, cultures, ideas and people, that human civilisation as a whole advances," he said.
The ACM will host the Yongle, Wanli - Emperors of the Ming exhibition in November which will feature loans from the Palace Museum in Beijing.
Both exhibitions commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China this year.
"They showcase the historical breadth and depth of our bilateral relationship, which continues to grow from strength to strength with each generation," said Mr Teo.
He said the Tang Shipwreck collection is a tangible demonstration of the longstanding historical links between China, South-east Asia and the Middle East that continue to flourish today.
Mr Teo had visited the collection at the ACM on Thursday with China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who was in town on a three-day visit.
The collection has some 60,000 ceramics and luxurious objects of gold and silver that paint a picture of the rich exchanges since at least the ninth century along the maritime Silk Road.
The shipwreck, discovered near Belitung Island off Sumatra in 1998, confirmed that South-east Asia lay at the heart of this ancient sea trading network.
Yesterday, Mr Teo said the vessel itself demonstrates these interconnections - an Arab dhow made of timber sewn together in the style of Persian Gulf ships, with wood from Africa and repaired with materials native to India and South-east Asia, most likely bound for what would be present-day Iraq and Iran.
He noted that one of the artefacts that will be on display in Shanghai is a blue-and-white decorated dish - produced in China but decorated with brilliant blue cobalt glaze, which was mined in Iran and unavailable in China at the time.
Mr Teo said Singapore was a key node along this maritime Silk Road, and continues to be a hub for trade and the exchange of ideas.
He also reiterated Singapore's support for China's Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to rekindle these Silk Road links - over land and sea.
Singapore, he said, "sees the benefit of enhanced connectivity and development in the Silk Road spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit".
A key part of building mutual respect and understanding lies in cultural and historical exchanges, he added.
"The Tang Shipwreck collection tells the story of how we have all connected and worked together over centuries to overcome challenges together and achieve shared prosperity and human progress."