Call for countries to work together for post-Covid-19 world

Each nation must also adapt how it works with others - in an open, inclusive way: DPM

Mr Heng Swee Keat noted much will depend on countries' collective will to implement effective national interventions and collaborate across borders.
Mr Heng Swee Keat noted much will depend on countries' collective will to implement effective national interventions and collaborate across borders.PHOTO: ST FILE

Cooperation between nations will be especially important as the world addresses Covid-19 and builds back from the pandemic's disruptions, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, called on countries to work together to make the best of the coronavirus situation for a more resilient, sustainable future.

"Each country will also need to adapt how it works externally with others - in an open and more inclusive way," he said at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum.

"At home, each country will need to undertake structural reforms, to build new competitive advantages to benefit from globalisation, and to ensure that social policies are sustainable."

In a speech, Mr Heng sketched out three broad areas where international partnership is crucial: public health, climate change and digital governance.

On public health, he held up the multilateral Covax facility initiative which is meant to ensure equitable vaccine access worldwide.

He highlighted the need to strengthen the collective response to future pandemics, and warned that Disease X - a new, unknown disease that is highly infectious, deadly and mutates easily - is inevitable. "We must lock in and strengthen the unprecedented level of information exchange - in science, research and best practices."

Public health cooperation goes beyond pandemic responses, he added, saying global cooperation on healthcare innovation in areas like dealing with an ageing population will enhance the resilience and effectiveness of healthcare systems worldwide.

On climate change, an international effort is needed, given how it is a problem which affects all countries, especially small island states like Singapore, said Mr Heng.

He was glad the United States will be recommitting to the Paris Agreement, an international framework for tackling climate change. The US formally left the pact last year under President Donald Trump, who deemed its regulations harmful to the country's economy. US President-elect Joe Biden has said he would rejoin the agreement on assuming the presidency next week.

During a question and answer segment, Mr Heng said this, together with the work of scientists and researchers, made him hopeful that the global community will address climate change more seriously after Covid-19. The segment was moderated by Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, who is editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group.

Mr Heng pointed out that in working together through science and technology to address climate change, countries can achieve not only sustainability goals, but also economic growth. "There is great potential to improve resource efficiency for energy, water and food production, develop nature-based solutions for climate change, and employ biophilic design to build greener, more sustainable and liveable cities," he said.

On digital governance, Mr Heng noted the digital revolution was well under way before Covid-19, but that it sped up during the pandemic as life shifted online, with people working and learning from home.

But global norms and rules in cyberspace are not fully worked out, he warned. As technology becomes pervasive in daily life, cyber security will be even more critical and international collaboration is crucial to maintain a secure cyberspace.

There will also be a need for common standards to enable trusted data flows across borders as digital trade grows, said Mr Heng. Singapore has pursued digital economy agreements with partners to develop new approaches for the cross-border digital economy, such as e-payment across jurisdictions.

Responding to a question from Mr Fernandez on concerns about cyber security and national spying, Mr Heng said such incidents are inevitable given how technology has become more pervasive. There is a need for greater global cooperation to develop frameworks to address such cyber risks, as well as greater individual responsibility to be careful online, he added.

In his speech, Mr Heng said the world is now at a crossroads, and cautioned that if countries do not come together to tackle common challenges, it will become more fractious and unequal.

But he added that the pandemic has also given countries common cause to work together, and each one can take small concrete steps to lay the foundation for a better post-pandemic world.

"If we succeed, each country can grow new strengths and complement one another, achieving more together than we could on our own, and giving us a stake in one another's success," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'Call for countries to work together for post-Covid-19 world'. Print Edition | Subscribe