Singapore to double down on globalisation: Vivian


ISOLATION, protectionism and building walls are not an option for Singapore, even as increasing nationalistic sentiment emerge around the world, said Minister for Foreign Affairs (MFA) Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday.

In his speech during the Committee of Supply (COS) debate, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated the government's stance to "double down on globalisation" despite external forces that will have serious implications on Singapore's trade-dependent economy.

Several Members of Parliament, such as Sun Xueling, had asked about Singapore-China relations during the debate.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore has been a "steadfast and longstanding partner and friend" of China, with a strong foundation laid by Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping.

Even when there are differences over some issues, he pointed out that their various engagements, projects and ties have led to a "high degree of resilience" in the relationship as both sides recognise that they have many more shared interests.

Since 2013, Singapore has been China's largest foreign investor, and China is Singapore's largest trading partner.

He highlighted the recently concluded Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, with both sides now exploring ways to deepen cooperation in China's "Belt and Road" initiative.

In particular, their third and latest government-to-government project - the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) has been designated a priority demonstration project and will play a "catalytic" role in linking up Western China and South-east Asia, and across to Central Asia and beyond.

Speaking in Mandarin, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo said that Singapore had proposed three suggestions to China in their recent discussion on the "Belt and Road" initiative at the JCBC.

The first was the Southern Transport Corridor linking Chongqing to the Asean region via Beibu Gulf in Guangxi which could help connect the overland Silk Route Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The second was greater trade, digital and financial connectivity along the "Belt and Road" which will create investment opportunities, and enhance the flow of goods and capital.

The third was for Singapore and China to explore cooperation in joint training for officials from third countries along the "Belt and Road". Such development in human capital will catalyse growth and help accelerate the Belt and Road projects, she said.

Ms Teo said that these ideas were welcomed by their Chinese counterparts and both sides have agreed to flesh out the proposals.

Closer to home, Dr Balakrishnan also spoke on ties with Malaysia, which he said was "as good as it's ever been". While a new milestone was reached with the signing of the landmark Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) in December 2016, it was the issue of Pedra Branca that took the spotlight.

On Feb 2, 2017, Malaysia applied for a revision of the judgment concerning sovereignty of Pedra Branca in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Dr Balakrishnan said that the application has been studied by Singapore's legal team, which strongly believes that the documents relied on by Malaysia do not satisfy the criteria. "We are confident of our legal team and our case."

He added, however, that Singapore should not be disconcerted by these developments as mutually-beneficial bilateral cooperation will continue. "Even with the best of diplomatic and personal relationships, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests."

The issue of Asean and its relevance was also raised by MPs, including Teo Ho Pin, Liang Eng Hwa and Low Thia Kiang.

In an uncertain world, Dr Balakrishnan said, Asean is Singapore's "anchor" and a "cornerstone" of foreign policy. It is now the seventh largest economy in the world, and projected to be the fourth largest by 2050.

He said that the MFA would continue to partner organisations such as the Singapore Business Federation and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to help businesses maximise the opportunities that Asean represent.


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