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Upholding inclusive, rules-based multilateral system is 'only way forward': Vivian Balakrishnan

Climate change and food insecurity, pandemic preparedness and digital transformation are three areas where there is an urgent need to build resilience, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan told the UN General Assembly.

02:59 Min
Upholding the inclusive and rules-based multilateral system that has underwritten peace and progress since World War II is "the only way forward", Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Saturday (Sep 24).

SINGAPORE: Upholding the inclusive and rules-based multilateral system that has underwritten peace and progress since World War II is "the only way forward", Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Saturday (Sep 24).

"It is in the world's interest and in our own national long-term interest to set aside our differences, to address the challenges of the global commons, and to harvest the emerging opportunities provided by new technologies," he said.

Delivering Singapore's statement to the UNGA in New York, Dr Balakrishnan said the post-World War II era of relative stability and prosperity had come to an end.

"A new world order is being born and ... the moment of delivery is actually the most dangerous. So, will we have a more divided, less prosperous and less peaceful world?

"Or instead, can we strengthen multilateralism and the UN to deal with the challenges of the future, to uphold and to strengthen the rules-based international system, and to jointly harness the opportunities offered by new technologies – including digital technology, synthetic biology and customised healthcare, and of course renewable energy?

"If we can do this, we can then create a new era of peace and prosperity for everyone."

He highlighted three areas where there is an urgent need to build resilience.


One is climate change, which remains "the most pressing challenge confronting humanity today", said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We need a sustained and ambitious global response. Continued commitment by all countries to the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact – that's absolutely critical. We also need to step up cooperation in the transition to net zero."

This will require considerable economic restructuring, technological breakthroughs, investments and behavioural changes, with the UN-led multilateral system key in pulling everyone together to move in the same direction without leaving any behind, he said.

He highlighted Singapore's moves to raise climate ambition to achieve net-zero emissions "by or around mid-century" and progressively raise carbon taxes, which were announced at Budget 2022.

A related issue is food security, the threat to which has been exacerbated by climate change, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, he said. The minister cited a UN report stating that 828 million people were affected by hunger last year – 46 million more than in 2020 and 150 million more than in 2019.

"We must reverse this negative trend. First, we need to ensure that food supply chains remain open and operate smoothly.

"Second, we must pursue innovation and leverage technology to adapt to new challenges. For example, working together to develop climate-resilient food systems, whilst developing the necessary precautions for food safety."


Dr Balakrishnan also said it was essential to build a more robust global health architecture to protect future generations.

"After COVID-19, there will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. In my view, actually COVID-19 was perhaps a full dress rehearsal for a worse pandemic to come," he said.

"We must be better prepared to predict, prevent, detect, assess and respond to pandemics in a coordinated and effective fashion.

"We have a collective responsibility to rectify the longstanding under-investment in pandemic preparedness, amongst other global public goods."


The minister also stressed the need for an open and inclusive global framework to harness the opportunities of the digital revolution while addressing its challenges.

"The digital transformation does not take place in a vacuum. It must be navigated in the context of intersecting issues – the geopolitical tensions, technological bifurcation, cybersecurity threats and the digital divide," he said.

"The world has made significant progress by developing based on a single, shared technology stack. Interconnectedness, interoperability has brought us together, lowered costs, spurred innovation and competition and the cross-fertilisation of ideas.

"But if we fracture our world and our technology stack, all that good work and that speed of progress and innovation will be slowed down significantly.

"A zero-sum, exclusionary, bifurcated approach benefits no one. An erosion of trust and an atmosphere of confrontation will only breed more cyber threats and malicious cyber activities," he added.

Dr Balakrishnan reiterated Singapore's full support for the UN Secretary-General's proposal for a global digital compact, adding that all states should benefit from the digital revolution and not be left behind.


Speaking to reporters after his address, Dr Balakrishnan said that the mood at this year's UNGA was "somewhat sombre" as it was taking place during a time of anxiety, including over the relationship between the US and China.

He said the recent rhetoric and actions occurring across the Taiwan Strait were of "grave concern", but that he was hopeful given the meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New York.

"I think both sides understand the gravity of the situation. We can only hope that cool heads and good sense will prevail, and they will avoid the possibility of mishaps, miscalculations, accidents or worse, getting into an escalatory spiral."

Dr Balakrishnan said the next two to three months would be "vital" in de-escalating the situation, and expressed hope that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping would be able to meet on the sidelines of upcoming summits and arrive at a modus vivendi.

A modus vivendi refers to an arrangement or agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully, either indefinitely or until a final settlement is reached.

Turning to the situation in Myanmar, the minister said he was "pessimistic", noting reports of continued violence and political detentions.

"Our view remains that the only way out of this quagmire is for political reconciliation, and for good faith discussions and negotiations between all the parties," he said, adding that this must involve both Myanmar's former leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Source: CNA/dv(gr/rj)


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