Singapore will have to expand and deepen its global networks of trade and investment in the face of the threat of deglobalisation, which is exacerbated by the potential decoupling of the American and Chinese economies because of their bilateral trade war. This message came through in the deliberations at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum last Friday. Forum participants, who included Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, looked at evolving political and economic situations in Asia and offered suggestions on how Singapore could navigate the new forces of change.
The way ahead is critical particularly for the young, most of whom have no lived memory of Singapore's difficult past. The challenge this time is greater than it was during the Cold War, when Singapore became independent. Then, the choice was between the economically prohibitive and politically restrictive policies of the Soviet Union, and the expansive globalisation promoted by the United States in its pursuit of a rules-based liberal international order. China took the latter road towards the end of the Cold War. Singapore, a resource-starved city-state, gravitated towards the international possibilities inaugurated by the rules-based order. Unfortunately, the political and strategic divide between Washington and Beijing today has driven a wedge within that order. Singapore cannot choose sides between its two partners for economic and strategic reasons, but it also cannot be held hostage by their rivalry. It has to find its own way forward.