PARLIAMENT

A 'very busy' year in foreign relations

A member of the banquet staff preparing the table for the gala dinner at this year's Asean Summit. During its chairmanship, Singapore spearheaded the Asean Smart Cities Network, which connects cities with private-sector partners to co-develop solutio
A member of the banquet staff preparing the table for the gala dinner at this year's Asean Summit. During its chairmanship, Singapore spearheaded the Asean Smart Cities Network, which connects cities with private-sector partners to co-develop solutions for sustainable urbanisation.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

S'pore has built a reputation as an impartial, reliable country: Vivian

Singapore has further built on its reputation as an impartial and reliable country that can make useful contributions to the international community, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Giving Parliament an outline of Singapore's "very busy" year in international relations, he noted it took place against "a global order in rapid transition, marked by heightened big power rivalry, rising protectionist sentiment, xenophobia and technological disruption".

Singapore worked hard to make progress on several diplomatic and economic initiatives, as it redoubled its efforts to support a rules-based global order and the international trading system, he added.

ASEAN CHAIRMANSHIP

These efforts took place while Singapore was chairman of Asean - a role it handed to Thailand last week at the close of the Asean Summit.

For its chairmanship, Singapore chose the themes of resilience and innovation, Dr Balakrishnan noted, "as we have sought to strengthen Asean's ability to respond to challenges and turn them into opportunities". The Republic spearheaded the Asean Smart Cities Network, which connects cities with private-sector partners to co-develop solutions for sustainable urbanisation.

Asean also stood against the protectionist tide by making substantial progress in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact involving the 10 Asean nations plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

Asean leaders have committed to conclude the RCEP next year, and emphasised closer economic integration through agreements such as the Asean Single Window and Asean e-commerce, which will facilitate cross-border flows of goods and services in Asean.

Singapore also concluded its term as Asean-China country coordinator in August, and a key milestone was the formulation of a single draft negotiating text for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT, BLOOMBERG NEW ECONOMY FORUM

Two other events reaffirmed Singapore's reputation as an impartial and reliable country, Dr Balakrishnan said.

The first was the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12. "The point I want to drive home is that even though we are a small country, we are able to deliver when the occasion demands it," he said. "We are proud to have played a small part in easing tensions on the Korean peninsula."

The second event was the Bloomberg New Economy Forum this month. "China was originally supposed to host the forum but when that did not materialise, Bloomberg had to relocate the event very urgently. Singapore, again, was their obvious choice."

The forum gathered global business and political leaders to discuss challenges facing the world economy and possible solutions. "We were happy to facilitate and participate in these important discussions. It is in our interest to add value and make ourselves relevant to the global business community."

TIES WITH MALAYSIA, INDONESIA

Relations are also good with Malaysia, Dr Balakrishnan said, citing a positive momentum of high-level exchanges with the new Pakatan Harapan government. "My Cabinet colleagues and I have built up good rapport with our new Malaysian counterparts," he said. "Malaysia has a new, diverse and lively Cabinet - their ages range from 25 to 93 years - but we share many aspirations and challenges.

"Issues will inevitably arise from time to time in our relations, and we will seek constructive ways to resolve them, while firmly protecting our national interests," he said.

Ties with Indonesia are in good shape too, underpinned by the robust and expanding economic cooperation through projects like the Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java and the Nongsa Digital Park in Batam, Dr Balakrishnan said.

RELATIONS WITH CHINA

This year was especially significant for Singapore-China relations as it is the 40th anniversary of then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore on Nov 12, 1978. Both sides have maintained a steady cadence of high-level exchanges.

 

"Cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative is a new highlight in our bilateral cooperation. It has progressed well under the four platforms of infrastructural connectivity, financial connectivity, third-party collaboration, and professional services," the minister said.

RELATIONS WITH THE US

Singapore's relationship with the United States is also robust, spanning defence, economic and security, and people-to-people spheres, Dr Balakrishnan said, with a broad slate of high-level, substantive bilateral exchanges this year.

"Despite the current administration's different approach to trade, the fundamentals that underpin our longstanding relationship with the US remain strong. The US remains committed to the region, and we will continue to do more with the US administration in the coming years," he said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has actively supported the Trade and Industry Ministry's efforts to advance Singapore's agenda of free trade and economic integration. The EU-Singapore free trade pact was signed last month, and Singapore ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in July.

LOOKING TO 2019

Dr Balakrishnan said recognising the uncertainty and volatility in today's world does not mean Singapore needs to be pessimistic.

"Even in times of geopolitical turbulence, Singapore has built up that very precious asset of 'trust' with the international community, based on our adherence to international law and a rules-based order. We will continue to be nimble to adapt, seize opportunities and to do our best," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2018, with the headline 'A 'very busy' year in foreign relations'. Print Edition | Subscribe