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Vivian Balakrishnan: Singaporeans have no need to be negative about the future, in spite of global tensions

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While in the midst of global tensions today, there is no need for Singapore to be negative about the future, said Vivian Balakrishnan, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister in Parliament on November 19, Monday.

Balakrishnan reviewed the country’s achievement in the light of its achievements in foreign affairs this year, citing that the country has developed the “very precious asset of trust” with neighboring countries as well as the larger international community in a time of “significant geopolitical turbulence”, due to following a rules-based order and international law.

“They trust us because they know we are straight, honest brokers, we are sticklers for international law and a rules-based world order and free trade, and we believe in the sanctity of agreements and contracts. And they also trust our competence, to be able to deliver when times are short and the outcomes are urgent and important. We will continue to be nimble to adapt, seize opportunities and to do our best.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister emphasized the importance of gaining the support of Singaporeans since foreign policy starts in one’s home country. “An effective foreign policy rests on this domestic consensus, a consensus built both within this House, and outside with fellow Singaporeans.”

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Balakrishnan acknowledged the current turbulent times, as well as Singapore’s ability to adapt to the environment.  “We witnessed a global order in rapid transition, marked by heightened big power rivalry, rising protectionist sentiment, xenophobia, and technological disruption. As a small country, we have responded nimbly to this volatile global environment, making ourselves relevant to powers big and small, and enlarging the political and economic space for all Singaporeans.”

Among the Foreign Affairs’ highlights for this year that Balakrishnan cited were:

  1. Singapore’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—establishing the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, finalizing the Model ASEAN Extradition Treaty, and progress with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the biggest global trade agreement.

“Our chairmanship has been a whole-of-nation effort involving all our government agencies, our media, universities and think tanks, as well as the private sector. Post-2019, Singapore will continue the role of ‘shepherd’ for the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, and bring new ideas to the table. There is much more that ASEAN can achieve, and we will work with our counterparts to build a more united, resilient and innovative ASEAN in the years to come,” Balakrishnan noted.

2. Hosting the historical Trump-Kim summit in June and the Bloomberg New Economy Forum earlier in November. The Foreign Affairs minister said these were proof of the country’s ability to make important contributions to the rest of the world. “Overall, both these events allowed us to raise our standing in the world, and fly our flag high.”

3. Strengthened relationship with Malaysia, with good communication among people in leadership. “Malaysia has a new, diverse and lively Cabinet – their ages range from 25 to 93 – but we share many aspirations and challenges, and I can speak certainly for the younger ministers, both in Singapore and Malaysia, that there is good rapport and communication.”

4. “Expanding economic cooperation” with Indonesia due to initiatives such as Nongsa Digital Park in Batam and the Kendal Industrial Park in Central Java.

5. Good relations with both China and the United States, due to bilateral cooperation with China because of the Belt and Road Initiative, and firm “defense, economic and security” ties with the US.

Read related: ‘US-China trade relations Singapore’s biggest concern, not Malaysia’ : Vivian Balakrishnan

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