SINGAPORE - The world is entering a new era of geopolitical disputes, which will bring about more economic decoupling and fragmentation.
Countries should not resign themselves to these external challenges, but do whatever they can to steer the region towards peace and stability, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday.
Speaking at the FutureChina Global Forum 2022 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Mr Wong said the theme of this year's forum, Stability Amidst Turbulence, is timely.
The annual event, a gathering of business leaders, is organised by Business China, which was set up in 2007 by Singapore founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to nurture bilingual and bicultural Singaporeans.
There will be uncertainties as the world moves towards a new equilibrium, Mr Wong said, adding that countries should stand firm on fundamental principles of international law, and work with others to strengthen multilateralism and uphold order.
This is the approach that Singapore has consistently taken in its foreign policy – working with fellow Asean member states to strengthen integration and developing an open and inclusive architecture of cooperation for the region.
"Singapore and Asean may not be able to do much to influence the course of US-China relations, but we will do all that we can to keep the region open and inclusive," he said.
The future of the global order will not be defined by the United States and China alone, DPM Wong added.
He cited the example of India, which is rapidly emerging and set to become the third-largest economy in the world by 2030.
Asean, he said, is also becoming a growth centre in Asia with a combined population of 660 million and a combined gross domestic product of US$3 trillion (S$4.3 trillion), which is expected to double, if not quadruple, over the next two decades.
All these major partners should build stakes in the region and foster economic interdependence and integration so that every country can grow its economic ties with one another and develop overlapping circles of friends, said Mr Wong.
"For all of us in Singapore and Asean, this is not a matter of choosing sides, but it's about making choices for ourselves, advancing our collective interests, and doing what is best for our people," he said.
Singapore has long supported China's engagement of South-east Asia in this context, and has consistently supported China's "reform and opening up" over the past four decades, said DPM Wong.
For example, China and Singapore established major government projects to support China's economic development through its different phases.
These projects include the Suzhou Industrial Park in the early 1990s when China was industrialising; Tianjin Eco-City in the 2000s when China wanted to focus on sustainability; and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative in the 2010s, to grow China's connectivity with the world, he said.
Singapore was also the first Asian country to sign a free trade agreement with China.
Singapore-China ties have grown over the years. China is Singapore's largest trading partner, and Singapore has been China's largest foreign investor, DPM Wong added.
Singapore will continue to build a strong foundation by collaborating with China in emerging areas of the new economy, such as the digital economy and green development. It will also do more to foster deeper people-to-people links between the two countries, DPM Wong said.
Organisations such as Business China, which marks its 15th anniversary this year, play an important role in this, he added. It has brought business leaders of both countries together, and helped forge new partnerships not just between Singapore and China, but also between Asean and China.
DPM Wong encouraged Business China to continue nurturing "China-ready" skills in Singaporeans, especially among the younger generation today.
The one-day forum, the 13th edition, featured more than 30 speakers from around the world, and was attended by about 500 participants to exchange ideas and perspectives on the growing relationship between China and Singapore.