Review S'pore's position as 'price-taker'

I agree with Professor Tommy Koh that size does matter in international politics, but not merely as a summation of a country's material attributes ("Small and successful"; last Saturday).

As he highlighted, small and open-minded states such as Switzerland, the Nordic countries, Israel, New Zealand and Singapore are leading performers by many measures.

A key reason is their ability to bring the size and substance of their imagination and skills to bear.

These countries are well placed to continue thriving in a more "borderless" world, where technology can mitigate their lack of mass and scale.

Whether in the military or economic sphere, success is strongly correlated with one's ability to strategically harness the resources at one's disposal.

There is certainly room for the Davids of this world to thrive alongside the Goliaths on the same stage, especially during peace time.

Seen in this light, it may be worthwhile to review a longstanding principle of our foreign policy which portrays Singapore as a "price-taker" and not a "price-setter" in international affairs ("S'pore's foreign policy in a changing world"; Sunday).

This basic tenet was articulated when Singapore was still a low-income developing country.

In practice, over the past half century, Singapore has helped to shape global institutions, policies and norms in areas such as maritime law, climate change and finance.

We should not underplay our capabilities as constructive influencers.

Like-minded small states can contribute much to the development of a more civilised and inclusive world order which upholds the rule of law.

They should collaborate more to plug gaps in the international system - via multilateral vehicles such as the United Nations Forum of Small States.

Perhaps Singapore could even play host to a new entity that is the equivalent of the Group of 20 for small nations.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Review S'pore's position as 'price-taker''. Print Edition | Subscribe