The Straits Times says

A strong case to retain multilateralism

The average global citizen could be excused for thinking this is increasingly a topsy-turvy world, filled with undelicious irony. The oft-heard refrain in the United States, for instance, used to be that China is a mercantilist power and a unilateralist in the way it chooses to ignore international law where it does not suit its convenience. Latterly the US has branded China and Russia as "revisionist". Yet, such labels could well be stuck on the US under Mr Donald Trump. The American President's disdain, if not plain aversion, for the global supply chain, his chiding of companies such as Harley-Davidson that locate factories outside the US for sound reasons, are emblematic of the situation. This is why Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's speech at the United Nations General Assembly on the importance of eschewing unilateralism could not have come a day too soon, even if it was a message that risked falling on wooden ears.

Across the world, and not just in the US, scepticism about the very concept of multilateralism is growing. Conflated with the perceived ills of globalisation, the result has been an uneasy mix of isolationist, protectionist and xenophobic instincts. Britain's vote to leave the European Union was in some ways helped along by Germany's welcoming attitude towards immigrants that Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a heavy price for at home and abroad. Yet there is, as Dr Balakrishnan said, an even stronger case to "double down" on multilateralism. This stands to benefit not only the small states that he highlighted, but also equally the large and powerful ones.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2018, with the headline 'A strong case to retain multilateralism'. Print Edition | Subscribe