BANGKOK: The global trading system must be updated to “reflect current realities” so that it can continue to work well, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 4).
Speaking at the 14th East Asia Summit, Mr Lee said that this can be done by accounting for the “growing weight” of emerging economies as well as developing new rules to accommodate the “digital revolution”.
“On economic cooperation, international trade has been a key driver of global growth and prosperity since the end of World War II, ” he said.
“But the multilateral system must be updated to reflect current realities, to continue to function properly and in a politically sustainable way.”
Singapore has supported efforts such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) Joint Statement on E-Commerce initiative, and it also supports updating the WTO rule-book with like-minded partners, Mr Lee added.
The East Asia Summit, which has 18 members including Russia and the US, is an “integral element” of ASEAN-centred “regional architecture”, said Mr Lee.
“At a time the multilateral systems is under pressure, the EAS has been a useful platform for its 18 members to develop complementary, mutually beneficial relationships,” he added.
“And to work together on the strategic, economic and political challenges facing the world, including transboundary problems that no one country can solve.”
Mr Lee also spoke briefly about political cooperation, touching on four issues including the South China Sea.
ASEAN and China have completed the first reading of the Single Draft COC Negotiating Text. The agreement, set to finish in 2021, will lay out conduct guidelines for the waters along with conflict resolution parameters.
In working towards a binding South China Sea code of conduct (COC), Mr Lee said that it is vital that all parties exercise “self-restraint”.
“While we work towards a binding COC, it is important that all parties exercise self-restraint and avoid mishaps and miscalculations that could result in many unintended consequences,” said Mr Lee.
While Singapore is a non-claimant state, it has “fundamental interests” in maintaining regional peace and stability, preserving the freedom of navigation and overflight, and the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), said Mr Lee.
Speaking on the situation in Hong Kong, Mr Lee reiterated that it was a “difficult issue with no easy way forward”.
“I hope that the situation can calm down soon so that the issues can be progressively dealt with by the SAR (Special Administrative Region) government,” he said. “They will have to find solutions within the “one country, two systems” arrangement because Hong Kong is ultimately part of China.
“We wish Hong Kong all the best, because we are convinced that a stable Hong Kong is good for the region.”