Rules-based multilateral system ‘crucial’ for survival of small countries like Singapore: Vivian Balakrishnan

Rules-based multilateral system ‘crucial’ for survival of small countries like Singapore: Vivian Balakrishnan

Vivian Balakrishnan at UN General Assembly
Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan speaks at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday (Sep 30).

SINGAPORE: Amid global uncertainty, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted the importance of the multilateral system and defended the need to uphold it, as he addressed the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Saturday (Sep 30).

Minister Balakrishnan reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to the rules-based multilateral trading system and the importance of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as the neutral arbiter of international trade disputes.

“The global order will evolve; our responsibilities will need to be rebalanced. In this perilous period of transition, we cannot and should not abandon the rules-based world order that has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity for 70 years,” he said.


A clear framework of rules and norms defined through the multilateral process gives all countries a stake in the international order and ensures predictability and stability in inter-state relations and commerce.  Such a system is “crucial” for the survival of small countries like Singapore, he added.

“Without the rule of international law, 'the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must'. For small states like Singapore, we cannot survive in such a world. That is why Singapore has always been a staunch defender of the UN, international law and the multilateral system,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Expressing concern over “recent retreat” from multilateralism, Dr Balakrishnan added that the system’s institutions face a “crisis of confidence” amid a resurgence of isolationist, protectionist and even xenophobic sentiments across the world in “uncertain, volatile and disruptive times.”

On trade, the Minister, while acknowledging that globalization has not benefitted everyone, said it cannot simply be blamed.

“All governments of the day have an obligation to consider long-term and sustainable solutions, instead of reflexively raising trade barriers.  For example, to truly address the anxieties widening inequality and wage stagnation, we must address the root causes.”

He underscored the importance of governments taking restructuring measures and equipping their citizens with relevant skills and capabilities for the future. 

“My take is that every state has to make room to accommodate these new realities and find a new modus vivendi.  Foreign policy and trade policy actually always begin at home. Politics is always local. We need to achieve this rebalancing in our domestic societies and political sphere, as well as a rebalancing in the global and international sphere,” he added.

Minister Balakrishnan also highlighted that Singapore, as ASEAN Chair, has worked closely with ASEAN member states and ASEAN’s partners to forge closer regional economic integration, to promote cooperation in innovation such as through the ASEAN Smart Cities network, and to address challenges confronting the region.

He also spoke about the need to promote the adoption and implementation of rules and norms in cyberspace, and the role of the United Nations as the only universal, inclusive, and multilateral forum to manage the global commons. Highlighting the Singhealth cyberattack, Dr Balakrishnan warned that no country is immune from such attacks and urged cooperation from the global community.

“We need to implement the norms and rules that will prohibit such attacks on critical infrastructure, particularly where lives are at stake,” he said.

The Minister added that strengthening cooperation and building capacity in cybersecurity has been a priority for Singapore as well as ASEAN.

Source: CNA/mn

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