Globalisation still has a lot going for it, and has benefited everybody in Singapore: PM Lee

The prime minister noted that deglobalisation has been underway for some time. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Globalisation may be under pressure, but there is still a lot going for it, and the imperative for countries to cooperate is not going away, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Globalisation has also benefited everybody in Singapore, he said, adding that if the country did not have multinationals or the international trade it did, and were not as open as it is, there is "no doubt all of us would be worse off".

Speaking in an interview with the BBC broadcast on Sunday (March 14), Mr Lee acknowledged that there will be tensions between countries over security, competitiveness and control of technology.

"But you cannot avoid working with one another because to go back to where you were, that way lies poverty and despair, and probably instability and conflict," he said.

Citing the example of Covid-19 vaccines, he noted that not every country can make its own vaccines, and countries that can do so need to cooperate with one another.

"Globalisation will be under pressure, but the imperative for countries to cooperate, for businesses to operate across many geographies, to tap resources, to bring skills and talents and experiences together, and then serve markets all around the world, I do not think that is going to disappear," he said.

The Prime Minister noted that deglobalisation has been under way for some time, not least because of United States-China tensions, and Covid-19 may give it a further push.

"Everybody says I need to make my own masks, I need to have my own supply chains. When everyone scrambles at the same time for something scarce, it is not very good for the world," he said.

The pandemic has seen some nations turn inward and adopt a more protectionist approach as they tackle the coronavirus, adding to pressure on globalisation, which is already beset by waning confidence in multilateral institutions and strains in the US-China relationship.

Asked by the interviewer, BBC World News Asia Business correspondent Karishma Vaswani, whether Singapore needed a new economic model, given that many people have felt left out of globalisation, Mr Lee said that globalisation has benefited everyone here.

"You may not feel it so, but if we did not have the multinationals here, if we did not have the international trade that we have, if we were not open as we are, I have no doubt all of us would be worse off," he said.

"What has generated tensions is when the interface is so stark, people see the competition directly - because they are in a global market now," he said.

"But at the same time, they understand that our way forward cannot be to close ourselves up, because if we do that, we are all going to be worse off."

Mr Lee added that Singapore will work hard to ensure people get support to compete and can see that globalisation is working out for them. For those who feel that the competition is fierce and the future unpredictable, they will be assured that they are not alone, and there is extra help and support for them, he added.

Singapore will also make sure that they are well-looked after, provided they make the effort to upgrade themselves.

He noted that the Government has in place the national skills and lifelong learning movement SkillsFuture, calling it a "comprehensive programme" to train and retrain people throughout their working lives. This includes organising courses, having schemes and arrangements with employers, as well as government subsidies.

"Every country is trying to do this, but we are trying to do it more systematically, and with our full resources behind it," he said.

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