Coronavirus pandemic

PM Lee calls for more cooperation during virtual G-20 summit

PM Lee participating in the Extraordinary Virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Group of 20 leaders yesterday called for collective action on the coronavirus pandemic during an extraordinary virtual summit carried out online.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said countries need to coordinate policies to prevent the world economy from falling into recession.

"We must comprehensively step up international cooperation and foster greater synergy so that humanity as one could win the battle against such a major infectious disease," Xinhua reported Mr Xi as saying.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong similarly stressed that a global solution was needed to the crisis. In a written statement shared with the G-20 leaders, PM Lee suggested collaboration in three areas: public health, the economic downturn, and science and research.

On public health measures to contain the outbreak, he said that even if countries were able to eradicate the virus within their own borders, there was still the risk of importing new cases.

"All of us are only as strong as our weakest link. Thus, we must cooperate, share expertise and experience, and help one another," he said.

PM Lee also voiced concerns about the pandemic causing countries to look inward.

"Naturally, countries will now want more safeguards against the risks of globalisation, and to strengthen national capabilities to reduce dependence on others," he said.

"But we should resist the urge to turn inwards and discard globalisation completely because autarky will result in a poorer world for all. The pandemic is proof of our in-terdependence, not an indictment of globalisation. It highlights the need for more cooperation between countries, not less."

Singapore was invited to participate by Saudi Arabia, this year's G-20 chair.

During opening remarks, Saudi Arabia's King Salman also urged G-20 leaders to take "effective and coordinated" action to combat the global crisis, and called on them to assist developing nations.

"This human crisis requires a global response. The world counts on us to come together and cooperate in order to face this challenge."

As concerns mount for poorer countries without access to capital markets and adequate health facilities, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have urged G-20 leaders to support their call for governments to put debt payments on hold.

"It is our responsibility to extend a helping hand to developing countries and least developed countries to enable them to build their capacities and improve their infrastructure to overcome this crisis and its repercussions," King Salman said.

G-20 finance ministers and central bankers had agreed this week to develop an action plan to respond to the outbreak, which the IMF expects will trigger a global recession, but few details have been offered.

There are growing concerns about protectionist measures being discussed or adopted as countries scramble to respond to the virus.

The United States Chamber of Commerce urged G-20 leaders to match a pledge by countries such as Australia and Canada to keep supply chains open and avoid export controls.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline PM Lee calls for more cooperation during virtual G-20 summit. Subscribe