Singapore cannot assume open markets still the natural order of things

On the world stage, small countries like Singapore can also have a voice and play an active role in international cooperation.
On the world stage, small countries like Singapore can also have a voice and play an active role in international cooperation.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Generations of Singaporeans, who have grown up believing globalisation and open markets are part of the natural order of things, can no longer assume it in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday when he spoke on the nation's future challenges.

In a nationally televised address that laid out how Singapore intends to uphold its political and economic standing, Mr Teo noted that pre-existing geopolitical trends have been accelerated by Covid-19.

These include the rivalry between China and the United States, disruptions to global supply chains, and deepening social divisions in several countries that have fractured social and political stability.

The resulting turmoil has fuelled nativism and protectionism, Mr Teo said in the third of a series of six ministerial speeches.

"Countries are acting unilaterally to protect their own short-term interests", handicapping international organisations seeking a coordinated global response, he said.

These developments are threatening the international system and global order which provided opportunities for countries to grow peacefully for over 70 years, he said.

But some things will remain unchanged, said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Singapore will always be a small, multiracial country surrounded by bigger neighbours and exposed to external forces beyond its control.

It, however, wants to keep contributing, both regionally and globally.

Mr Teo said: "We will continue to actively promote close ties and good cooperation with our Asean partners, especially Indonesia and Malaysia, not least to tackle Covid-19 together."

Citing Singapore's various efforts, he said the country has donated masks, test kits and ventilators to both countries and other Asean members as a "gesture of solidarity".

The Republic is also working with Asean and other partners to curb the transmission of the coronavirus and limit the economic fallout in the region.

With Malaysia, it is working closely on the cross-border flow of people and goods during the outbreak.

At the same time, bilateral issues that inevitably arise between close neighbours must be dealt with constructively, he said. "We will try our best to resolve these issues and achieve a win-win outcome while protecting Singapore's interests."

 
 
 
 

Problems must be managed and contained till they can be resolved, he added, to allow wider areas of cooperation for mutual benefit.

Beyond the region, Singapore is making itself useful to the world - even during the pandemic, said Mr Teo. "We are working with key partners to keep supply chains open, connected and resilient."

Singapore is also taking part in the World Trade Organisation's efforts to promote trade through updating rules to suit the digital economy, he said.

There was also the election of Mr Daren Tang as director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), the first time a Singaporean will lead a United Nations agency.

Mr Tang will begin his six-year term with Wipo in October, after relinquishing his role as chief executive of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore.

In addition, Singapore is contributing to global action to tackle climate change as a small island state. For example, it submitted an update on lowering its emissions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in March, Mr Teo noted.

"These are all key issues that will determine the shape of the world to come," he said.

  • The national broadcasts by Singapore leaders will start from 7.30pm on the following dates:

    June 7: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

    June 9: Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

    June 11: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean.

    June 14: Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

    June 17: Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

    June 20: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

    All speeches will be televised in the four official languages. Or watch it on Gov.sg website, Facebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter.

On the world stage, small countries like Singapore can also have a voice and play an active role in international cooperation, he added, citing several multilateral partnerships the country leads or is part of.

They include the 30-member Global Governance Group, which provides inputs to the Group of 20, and the UN's Forum of Small States, which Singapore founded and still leads.

In addition, there is the 11-member Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which originated with a trade pact among Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei, plus the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which brings Asean and its trade partners together.

An "able and agile" foreign service has helped Singapore play this constructive role on the world stage, and create more opportunities and space for its people, said Mr Teo, adding this is even more important with global changes brought about by the virus.

 
 
 

Covid-19 as a crisis will affect everyone and should be a reason for countries to come together, rather than to be divided, he said.

"Pursuing narrow self-interest can leave all of us worse off, while enlightened self-interest means working together for a better outcome for everyone," said Mr Teo.

"A bleak outcome is not inevitable. What each country does, together with like-minded partners, can make a difference."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore cannot assume open markets still the natural order of things'. Subscribe