Vivian Balakrishnan warns against isolation, urges more open, rules-based world order

Singapore Foreign Minister Balakrishnan addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York.
Singapore Foreign Minister Balakrishnan addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK - Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, delivered three key messages at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) - the importance of a rules based world order, open global architecture, and inclusive economic growth.

A rules-based multilateral world order was particularly essential for small states to have a sense of predictability, security and the chance to secure the peace and advance the interests of our citizens, he told The Straits Times, at the conclusion of his trip to New York for the UNGA.

Dr Balakrishnan lodged Singapore’s instrument of ratification for the Minamata treaty with the UN, and also registered a treaty that Indonesia and Singapore entered into earlier this year delimiting their maritime boundaries. 

“Both these treaties really… reflect the importance of the UN and international law in securing Singapore’s long term interests,” he said.

The Minister also argued for “an open global architecture where all states have a chance to cooperate, collaborate, pursue issues of common interest in a win-win collaboration - as opposed to the alternative model which is a world divided into rival blocs, zero sum games, proxy wars.”

“The point here was to… hopefully a persuasive case that the world will be safer, more prosperous and more peaceful if we have an open global architecture where we look for opportunities to do things together and achieve win-win outcomes.”

He also urged countries to ensure that no segment of society be left behind by the process of globalisation and the technological revolution.

 

“For a long while, it was taken almost for granted that economic integration, free trade was a given and a recipe to raise hundreds of millions of people from poverty into a new middle class,” he said.

“Now primarily because of the digital revolution and perceived fears of middle class jobs and middle class wages, that consensus is fraying.

“At a domestic level, every country has to sort out is own economic strategy, its own social security and safety nets, ensure first no one is left behind and then give the population confidence, hope and skills so we can… grow our economies, grow a confident middle class confident in the future and with a sense of hope for the next generation.

“This domestic focus is essential because if you don’t give people that assurance then you’ll find individual countries can’t make the commitment for globalisation, economic integration and free trade,” he said.

In his address to the UNGA last week, Dr Balakrishnan stressed the challenges of extremism and unconventional threats. These included in cyberspace, where hate messaging had the ability to influence people who would not otherwise have been exposed to such messages or embark on such violent courses, he said.  

The crisis on the Korean peninsula loomed large over the UNGA. Asked about this, Dr Balakrishnan said: “We believe all of us need to fully comply with UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions (on North Korea).”

“We hope North Korea will do so and ultimately cool heads will prevail because that’s the only way you can get a peaceful resolution of this very long, 70-year-old conflict. This calls for greater compliance with UN principles and the UNSC resolutions,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan had over a dozen bilateral meetings, plus Asean and regional meetings with, among others, Pacific island states, Caribbean countries, and to mark the 25th anniversary of the Forum of Small States (FOSS) which was founded by Singapore 25 years ago and has now grown to include 107 members of the UN.

He also met World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, and was hosted to lunch by American Jewish Committee (AJC) chief executive officer and executive director David Harris as well as other members of the AJC leadership in New York.
 
Among those attending the reception for the FOSS was president of the General Assembly, Mr Miroslav Lajcak.
 
“Small states can and must work together at the UN to advance our common interests,” Dr Balakrishnan said at the reception.
 
“There is no doubt that as a group, small states can better amplify our voice and our influence on the global stage.  More importantly, small states are united in their strong support for the UN and the multilateral rules-based system.”
 
“Small states play an active role at the UN because we are deeply committed to the success of the UN,” he said.

Dr Balakrishnan also convened the annual meeting of the global governance group of about 30 medium to small countries which engage with the G-20 (Group of 20 large economies) on a regular basis.

“It is another opportunity for us to play go between, between the larger economies and the rest of the UN membership to ensure that our views are heard,” he told The Straits Times.