Call for nations to act with restraint, wisdom amid challenges

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Ministry of Home Affairs' appreciation event in late June, following the Trump-Kim summit held in the Republic.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Ministry of Home Affairs' appreciation event in late June, following the Trump-Kim summit held in the Republic.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

The world is at a turning point, with major uncertainties looming over global affairs, noted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night.

"We cannot be confident that the major powers will continue to work with one another, and that the existing international system which has held the world together for so long will still hold," Mr Lee said.

"We do not know whether after a while, new rules and norms for international cooperation will form, or whether there will be prolonged tension and suspicion, mutual rivalries and hostile blocs."

The Americans and Europeans have long been firm friends but are now arguing over trade and defence spending, while the Americans and the Chinese, who have the most important bilateral relationship in the world, are waging a trade war.

The United States and China need to work closely together on issues such as climate change, but America's leaders have labelled Beijing a "strategic competitor". China, for its part, has pledged to push back and not "turn the other cheek".

Pointing to this "unprecedented situation", Mr Lee said:"We hope all countries will act with restraint and wisdom, overcome the current challenges, and find a new way to move forward together."

The ongoing global frictions will affect Singapore, he added. Openness, globalisation and free trade have come under pressure as the US, which used to promote free trade and the free movement of people, imposes tariffs on imports from other countries, including European Union nations, Canada, Mexico and China.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

Organising the summit brought us all together, supporting and cheering one another on. We have every reason to feel proud of ourselves.

PM LEE, on the Trump-Kim summit.

"These countries are retaliating, imposing their own tariffs on US exports like soya beans, bourbon, blue jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles," he said.

"This tit for tat affects business confidence, undermines the multilateral trading system and threatens global prosperity."

There are no winners in a trade war, he said. Small and open economies are especially vulnerable, he added, and Singapore will suffer collateral damage.

While highlighting these uncertainties, Mr Lee noted that Singapore played a part to "shine a light" in the world, when it stepped up to host the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.

While Singapore was not involved in the discussions, it had a big responsibility to ensure the summit proceeded smoothly and safely, he said. The US and North Korea chose Singapore as host because they considered the Republic to be a serious and reliable partner, Mr Lee added.

"We are friendly and straight with all parties, and both trusted us to have the infrastructure and capability to provide a safe and secure environment."

It was a daunting task but Singapore rose to the challenge, he added, extending a personal word of thanks to all who worked hard to make the summit a success.

"Organising the summit brought us all together, supporting and cheering one another on. We have every reason to feel proud of ourselves."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2018, with the headline 'Call for nations to act with restraint, wisdom amid challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe