Pandemic has shown need for more cooperation, collective action: Teo Chee Hean

All countries are ultimately united by a common goal, which is to create a better life for their people and for a better world, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The lessons of the past few years are that countries need to work together out of enlightened - and not narrow - self-interest for the world to be a less dysfunctional place, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday (Jan 6).

Issues such as Covid-19 recovery, supply chain resilience and climate change clearly require collective action and global solutions, SM Teo said in his keynote address that opened the two-day annual Regional Outlook Forum.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated pre-existing geopolitical trends such as US-China rivalry, he noted, while multilateralism was disrupted as international organisations like the World Health Organisation faced difficulty coordinating a global response.

Such trends have also taken hold in international relations, "where it is expedient to externalise domestic problems," said SM Teo at the forum organised by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute to tackle key economic and political issues facing the region.

While the Group of 20 (G-20) leaders were able to take concerted action to stabilise the world economy in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, the state of relations among several key G-20 countries meant the grouping was not able to muster collective action to deal with the pandemic despite the urgent need, he noted.

"Countries hope to see the US and China manage their outstanding bilateral issues," he said.

"We hope that this will allow the two major powers to act in their own enlightened, rather than narrow, self-interest and work together to exercise global leadership to help all of us to collectively address our global challenges."

But instead of waiting for the US and China to take the initiative or to reach a new modus vivendi, smaller countries have agency to step up through partnerships and to shape the global order "even if the major countries are unable to do so in the short term", he added.

For instance, the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership had its genesis in an agreement between Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand, while the 15-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership  agreement has at its core Asean and its free trade agreement partners, noted Mr Teo.

There are more areas that regional countries can work together, including in risk-pooling, insurance, and collective investment in vaccine production capacity, he said.

Other key issues such as terrorism, climate change and cyber security also demand that countries put their heads together, he added.

"It is hard work, takes time, requires compromise and consensus, and can be imperfect, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change... but it is important work to be done to broaden the middle ground for countries to work together and prosper together," he said.

All countries are ultimately united by a common goal, which is to create a better life for their people and for a better world, said Mr Teo. To that end, good governance is measured by results, rather than dogma or ideology.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean delivering a virtual keynote address at the Regional Outlook Forum on Jan 6, 2022. PHOTO: ISEAS-YUSOF ISHAK INSTITUTE

The 20th century has shown that dictums alone - whether from the capitalist or communist playbook - have failed to deliver and have to be tempered by the realities of each country and society, said Mr Teo.

"Neither the dictum of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need', nor the 'invisible hand' of the market, provide an adequate policy playbook," he said, quoting from philosophers Karl Marx and Adam Smith.

Governments should instead take a logical rather than ideological approach, and evolve their policies over time based on actual experience to meet changing needs and to realise the potential of their people.

"That is the best way to achieve stability and continuity of policy, and achieve sustained progress towards a better life for all," he said.

"We should let the proof of good governance be in the eating."

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