SINGAPORE: The world as we know it is at an inflection point, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen on Friday (Jan 13) - and as such, the ability to change and adapt is especially relevant today as fundamental rules will change; and with it, the fate of nations.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Yale-NUS College Asia Pacific Model United Nations, Dr Ng said the world has not seen such an acute inflection point since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which marked the end of the Cold War.
In today’s context however, Dr Ng said the rise of extremist right-wing ideologies, xenophobia and trade blocs – among others – are a result of socio-political fault lines and perceived injustices with the status quo, which in turn brought about new social and political arrangements across the globe.
He then listed three global fault lines which he said would affect the world in the decades ahead.
The first fault line, said Dr Ng, was the one between globalisation and nationalism. He noted that while globalisation has created massive wealth, increased life expectancy and reduced extreme poverty, the "stresses of globalisation" show up in two aspects – immigration, and jobs.
Even though migration provides net benefits to recipient countries, it is difficult to convince a worker who has lost his or her job of these boons, Dr Ng noted.
“These developments in part explain Brexit, the Trump victory, and the rise of the anti-EU, anti-immigration parties in Europe,” Dr Ng said. “The backlash against globalisation is emotional and will take time to resolve.”
Secondly, Dr Ng said that the global system governing trade, commerce and security may change in a world in which the United States was no longer the sole global power, and with the rise of bigger countries like China, India and Indonesia in the region.
"What gives you the confidence that you can be a citizen of the world?" said Dr Ng. "What gives you the confidence that anyone else will listen, or that there is anybody who wants to enforce it - or everybody wants to enforce it? Where is the collective world?"
Finally, he addressed the rise of populism, which he said means that "individual interests must be given greater attention than the collective good".
"If all individual interests are taken into account, the shared interests must necessarily shrink," he said. "That kind of domestic politics will polarise communities, as we are witnessing today."
In light of the changes in the coming decades, Dr Ng called on Singaporeans to ask themselves how they can keep the country relevant as a small state, what would root Singaporeans to home despite opportunities overseas, and how to avoid the divisiveness that populism brings.
“The specific responses will call upon your generation to make wise and enlightened decisions,” he said, urging them to face the challenges with the “Singapore spirit” and ensure the country's place in the 21st century.