LONDON: When it comes to the Commonwealth, part of the value is in the agenda and what is talked about, like trade, security and sustainable development, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Apr 20).
But the networking, warmth and goodwill that is enjoyed forms “the other part of the agenda”, and should also be cultivated, added Mr Lee.
Speaking to Singapore media at the close of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in London, Mr Lee stressed that there is value in Commonwealth member states talking to each other and understanding each other’s perspectives and problems.
He added that there is a lot of goodwill for Singapore in the Commonwealth. One reason for this, he said, is because Singapore cooperates on many projects with the Commonwealth.
“We have training programmes, the officials come to Singapore and spend time with us, they get to know us, they go back and talk about what they have seen and how they can pick up ideas from us,” he said.
There is also goodwill for Singapore because it is seen as a model for many other countries, he added, and also because of its size.
“We are all small countries and we are all trying to navigate our way forward in a very dangerous world,” he added. “In that circumstance, I think just talking to one another and sharing notes over meals, over tea breaks, or even chit-chatting on the sidelines of the meetings is very valuable.”
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent countries, almost all of which were formerly under British rule. A total of 31 of the 53 Commonwealth countries are also small states.
“This is a valuable constituency,” said Mr Lee. “By coming to the Commonwealth, we have the chance to talk to them, to renew the relationship with them and to strengthen our position in the world.”
COMMONWEALTH CONTINUES TO REMAIN IMPORTANT: UK PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY
Leaders at the CHOGM came to consensus on major global issues during the week-long meeting that closed on Friday, said the Commonwealth in a media statement. At the final CHOGM press conference on Friday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May also stressed the continued importance of the Commonwealth.
“For when many of the greater challenges we face are global in nature, the breadth of the Commonwealth, spanning six continents and a third of the world’s population, offers a unique perspective in helping to forge the global solutions we need,” she said.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland also highlighted the renewed commitment of member countries to the organisation, including ensuring its financial stability.
All 53 Commonwealth states have agreed to adopt a Commonwealth Blue Charter to protect the ocean from effects of climate change, pollution and over-fishing. Various member countries would take the lead on specific issues like coral reef regeneration and getting rid of plastic in the ocean.
Leaders agreed to work closely together to evaluate and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks and response mechanisms, with the adoption of the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration.
They also committed to increasing intra-Commonwealth trade to US$2 trillion by 2030, and expanding intra-Commonwealth investment.
Leaders have also decided that Prince Charles will be the next head of the Commonwealth. His mother, Queen Elizabeth, has been head of the Commonwealth for 66 years. Rwanda would also host the next CHOGM, which would be held in 2020.