BEIJING: The global multilateral system has been weakened amid a backlash against globalisation, but China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) can play an important role in reversing that, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Apr 26).
Speaking at a high-level meeting at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Mr Lee noted that the multilateral system remains important in solving many of the world’s complex transnational challenges, such as terrorism, climate change and the spread of infectious diseases.
“These are only issues that can be solved by countries cooperating within a multilateral framework, because both countries and their problems have become so interconnected and interdependent,” he said.
“All countries, big and small, rely on a stable global order on which we can cooperate productively, resolve disputes peacefully and work together on new areas.”
However, the strong pushback against globalisation in many countries and a growing distrust of public institutions and governments have made it harder for countries to work together.
Against this backdrop, Mr Lee said the BRI, which promotes trade and connectivity across Asia, Europe and beyond, can play “an important role to strengthen regional and multilateral cooperation”.
“Better infrastructure will enhance trade and economic cooperation not just between other countries and China, but also with one another,” he said.
This is why Singapore, which positions itself as an open economy and a global hub, has been an “early and strong supporter” of the China-led mega infrastructure project.
Mr Lee said Singapore focuses on four areas – infrastructure connectivity, financial connectivity, third-party market collaboration, and professional and legal services – in its participation in the BRI.
As a financial centre, Singapore intermediates financing needs in Asia, including providing co-financing and risk management services for many BRI projects.
Singapore accounts for 83 per cent of total inbound investments to China from Belt and Road countries, said Mr Lee, citing statistics from the Chinese government. Meanwhile, about one-quarter of China’s outbound investments to these partner countries go through Singapore.
Singapore also offers a neutral third-party venue for BRI countries and companies to resolve commercial disputes quickly and efficiently, he added.
Mr Lee also highlighted the new international land-sea trade corridor that Singapore and China are partnering to develop under their third government-to-government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. The trade corridor is a network of railway links from western China to the port of Qinzhou in southern Guangxi, which further connects to Southeast Asia by sea.
“(This) reduces the time for goods from Western China to reach Southeast Asia by two-thirds, and has improved the flow of trade data, private financial flows, and customs procedures,” said Mr Lee.
Concluding, the Prime Minister said the BRI is “an initiative of immense scale, diversity and potential”. Given that, it is “not possible to have a single formula for success, given the different conditions and context and needs in each partner country”.
“It is timely after six years to review progress and to discuss perspectives on the way forward,” he added.
First mooted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the BRI is an ambitious plan by China to rebuild the old Silk Road to connect the world’s biggest economy with other parts of Asia, Europe and beyond.
Since then, China has invested US$90 billion in projects while banks have provided upwards of US$300 billion in loans, according to a Reuters report citing Chinese officials.
The summit in Beijing this week – the second organised by China for the BRI – is hosting nearly 40 foreign leaders and thousands of government officials and business leaders.
At the opening ceremony on Friday morning, Mr Xi said the BRI aims to advance win-win cooperation among countries, build a new platform for international trade and also create development opportunities for China.
The next step will be to push the BRI towards high-quality development with a focus on green infrastructure and finance, he said in a keynote speech.
The high-level meeting that Mr Lee spoke at was held after the opening ceremony.
This is the first time Mr Lee is attending the Belt and Road Forum. During the previous edition held in 2017, Singapore was represented by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
MEETING WITH VIETNAMESE PM
On the sidelines of the forum on Friday, Mr Lee met his Vietnamese counterpart, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
During the meeting, both prime ministers expressed satisfaction with the strategic partnership established in 2013, as well as the strong and expanding cooperation between both countries, said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in trade and investment, science and technology, innovation, connectivity, as well as financial services.
They also encouraged companies from both sides to further explore business opportunities in each other’s market, the statement said.
Mr Phuc congratulated Mr Lee for Singapore’s successful ASEAN chairmanship in 2018 and the ASEAN Smart City Network initiative. The latter, established last April, aims to get ASEAN member states to tap on technology to improve the lives of their citizens, be it in public services or economic opportunities.
Mr Lee expressed Singapore's support for Vietnam’s ASEAN chairmanship in 2020, PMO added.