Meeting other leaders face-to-face valuable, can't be replicated by Zoom calls: PM Lee

World leaders standing for the official "family photograph" on day one of the G-20 Summit in Rome, on Oct 30, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

ROME - Meeting the leaders of the Group of 20 (G-20) economies has been a valuable experience that Zoom calls cannot replicate, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Oct 31).

"In a Zoom conference, you cannot interrupt one another, you cannot float an idea and then see what he thinks," Mr Lee said, speaking to Singapore reporters after this year's G-20 Leaders' Summit in Rome.

"You can make a speech, I listen carefully, try and catch your facial features through the little Zoom picture, I make my speech and after we all finish speaking... well, that's a conference done."

This format may be suitable for formal business, "but you do not get the same meeting of minds or at least mutual sounding out of one another", he added.

"And I think that is very valuable; I hope we will be able to do more."

Mr Lee met multiple world leaders on the sidelines of the two-day summit, including United States President Joe Biden. The hour-long session on Sunday was the first meeting between both leaders since Mr Biden became president in January.

The White House said they reaffirmed the importance of the US-Singapore Strategic Partnership and reviewed opportunities to build on the momentum generated by Vice-President Kamala Harris' visit to Singapore in August.

It added: "The President expressed his desire to deepen cooperation with Singapore in pursuit of our shared interests and a free and open Indo-Pacific, including in upholding freedom of the seas and advancing supply chain resiliency."

Also at the meeting between PM Lee and President Biden were Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and his counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

This year marks the first time that the G-20 meeting has been held in-person since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Last year's edition, hosted by Saudi Arabia, was conducted entirely online.

PM Lee with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the La Nuvola convention centre in Rome on Oct 31, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Sharing his takeaways from the conference, the Prime Minister said world leaders are interested in how Singapore sees the world from its vantage point in South-east Asia.

They also want to know how the country is tackling the pandemic and how it sees the path ahead.

On top of that, they are interested in working with Singapore on a variety of things - including digital economy cooperation, technology cooperation, research and development as well as security issues, he added.

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