Greater mistrust, rivalry leading countries to choose national security over economic arguments: PM Lee
SINGAPORE: Growing rivalries and mutual distrust between major economies have led countries to choose national security considerations over economic arguments, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Nov 19).
Citing the war in Ukraine, which Mr Lee called a "major threat" to the global order, he noted how the geopolitical context had changed more than 30 years after the formation of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, a forum promoting free trade in the region.
"Principles of market efficiency, equal treatment and fair competition have been subordinated to considerations of supply chain resilience and technological dominance," said Mr Lee at the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok.
The world is also experiencing a bifurcation of technology and this has potentially far-reaching consequences, Mr Lee added.
But for economies to continue prospering, globalisation and economic cooperation remain important, even if they have to be "moderated by other valid concerns".
To this, Mr Lee said it was timely that Thailand has started a refreshed conversation on a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
Reuters reported on Saturday that Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the group had made "significant progress" by agreeing a multi-year work plan for the FTAAP.
He did not elaborate, but advancing FTAAP, which aims to build on existing trade frameworks in the region and has been pushed by China, has been a priority for Thailand at the talks, Reuters reported.
RULES-BASED TRADING SYSTEM
Mr Lee said in this "more complicated world", a strong rules-based trading system is needed. And while existing rules need to be updated - until there is agreement on new rules, economies have to stick to existing ones.
"Otherwise it's the law of the jungle," Mr Lee told reporters after his speech at a meeting with APEC leaders earlier on Saturday.
"So I think that APEC is one of the places where we can discuss these things and maintain engagement. And at least keep talking to one another while we solve the problems."
APEC was formed in 1989, a time when globalisation was intensifying, economies were deepening economic cooperation and barriers to international trade were falling, he said.
But 33 years later, the situation has changed because of geopolitical tensions, due to tensions within APEC itself, which has grown bigger and includes China and Russia, and with the US, which has been there from the beginning, said Mr Lee.
The APEC meeting in Bangkok is the third major event that Mr Lee has travelled to in the past week or so, after the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh and the G20 summit in Bali.
In his view, have geopolitical temperatures cooled, a reporter asked.
"I don't think the temperatures have cooled," came the reply.
He described the meeting in Bali between presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping as a "positive development" but that there was "a long journey to go beyond that, to work on the problems and to turn things around".
He added: "But at least both countries have acknowledged that they want to try and stabilise the relationship and they do not want to collide with one another, and that is a positive."
Mr Lee also outlined the value that such summits have for small countries like Singapore.
"(By having such meetings), we keep the show on the road," he said. Meetings online, as many were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, were very "stilted".
"I look at your tiny picture on the screen, you look at mine. And you say your piece I say my piece we go around ... But here, we're all in the same room, we pay attention to one another and outside the room, we have the chance to interact and engage."
He added: "So from a small countries point of view, we greatly appreciate having the chance to put our perspective across, to meet quite a range of leaders and to stay on the radar.
"And to have them hear what we are concerned about and how we hope the world will move."