'We must be very careful that we don't fall into trap of extremists': Vivian Balakrishnan in UN speech

'We must be very careful that we don't fall into trap of extremists': Vivian Balakrishnan in UN speech

"Extremists everywhere actually have a common playbook," Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister says.

Vivian UNGA
Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan speaking at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.

SINGAPORE: Leaders should be "careful and measured" in their response to extremists, Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in his speech at the 72nd session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Saturday (Sep 23).

"Extremists everywhere actually have a common playbook," he said. "First, commit an egregious act of violence. Second, stick a religious label on the situation in order to convey a sense of 'us' versus 'them'. Third, to eliminate the grey zone of moderates by causing alienation due to an overreaction.

"We must be very careful that we don’t fall into the trap of these extremists."

Citing the ongoing conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine state following a terrorist attack in August, Dr Balakrishnan said it was the responsibility of every government to protect every civilian, regardless of their ethnicity, religious belief or origin.

He noted that he had visited Nay Pyi Taw last week and met with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who was "deeply troubled by what is happening in her own country, and deeply distressed by the pain and suffering which is happening there".

Dr Balakrishnan said the situation in Rakhine was "a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots" that will not be solved instantly, and that ASEAN supports Myanmar seeking a long-term solution to restore stability in its own borders.

Singapore will work with ASEAN, through ASEAN and with Myanmar to extend humanitarian assistance to all affected communities, he added.


In his speech, Dr Balakrishnan said the global leaders at the assembly were meeting in a time of uncertainty, with old fault lines of race, language and religion remaining active, renewed anxiety about jobs and inequality, and new technologies and non-state actors challenging the international order.

Terrorist groups are also using the Internet to spread their poisonous radical ideologies, including in Southeast Asia. Cyberattacks and fake news have proliferated and conflicts in many regions of the world remain while new ones have emerged, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan argued that the UN was the only universal body best placed to address the problems of the global commons.

"In an environment of increased uncertainties, the case for multilateralism becomes stronger, not weaker," he said.

"Now more than ever, we need the UN to help us find solutions to difficult, complex, global and local issues."

The UN has given Singapore "enormous opportunities for amazing progress over the past five decades" and is "absolutely essential" especially for small states, he said, adding: "It has made a significant difference to the lives of people around the world."

The minister said that if the UN is to remain effective and relevant, it has to become “fit-for-purpose”.

"There is much scope to optimise synergies and minimise inefficiencies within the UN system," he said, adding that Singapore "strongly supports" UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' efforts to reform and restructure the UN.

"We need to safeguard and strengthen our multilateral, rules-based system so that even the smallest country can survive and thrive as an independent, sovereign nation. We need an open global architecture based on a vision of interdependence in order to secure sustainable prosperity for every single one of us. But most importantly, we need inclusive and fair economic growth to empower all our people to lead good and meaningful lives."

Source: CNA/mz