Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is in New York for the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), delivered Singapore's National Statement during the General Debate of UNGA. A transcript of the National Statement is below.


Distinguished delegates

1 I am honoured to speak here on behalf of one of the world's smallest city states, the Republic of Singapore. First, I congratulate His Excellency Miroslav Lajcak on his election as President of the 72nd session of the General Assembly. I also congratulate Mr Peter Thomson of Fiji for his successful leadership as President of the 71st session.

2 We are meeting at a time of great uncertainty. The old fault lines of race, language and religion remain active. There is renewed anxiety about jobs and inequality, and new technologies and non-state actors are challenging the international order. Terrorist groups are using the internet to spread their poisonous radical ideologies, including in Southeast Asia. Cyber-attacks and fake news have proliferated. Conflicts in many regions of the world remain and new ones have emerged.

3 In Northeast Asia, the DPRK's reckless actions are raising tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Singapore has strongly condemned the DPRK's missile and nuclear weapon tests, which are in flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolutions. We call on the DPRK to avoid further provocations and to fully implement all the resolutions of the Security Council.

4 In Myanmar's Rakhine State, a humanitarian disaster has occurred in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on 25 August 2017 and related acts of violence. This is a complex inter-communal issue with deep historical roots. And it will not be solved instantly. It is the responsibility of every government to protect every civilian, regardless of their ethnicity or religious belief or origin. I visited Nay Pyi Taw last week and had a very frank discussion with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She is deeply troubled by what is happening in her own country, and deeply distressed by the pain and suffering which is happening there. Excellencies, extremists everywhere actually have a common playbook. First, commit an egregious act of violence. Second, stick a religious label on the situation in order to convey a sense of us versus them. Third, to eliminate the grey zone of moderates by causing alienation due to an overreaction. We must be very careful that we don't fall into the trap of these extremists. As a doctor, the first rule of medicine is to do no harm. Therefore, as the rest of the world looks upon with distress and alarm, we need to be very careful and measured in our response. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers will be meeting later this afternoon. ASEAN supports Myanmar seeking a long-term solution to restore stability in its own borders. Singapore will work with ASEAN, through ASEAN, and with Myanmar to extend humanitarian assistance to all affected communities.

Mr President,

5 Every country actually seeks to achieve the same thing: to ensure security and prosperity for our people, and to create a better future for our children. But no country, no matter how wealthy, big or powerful, can achieve this alone. Multilateralism, international law, constructive interdependence and this sense of win-win cooperation are crucial for sustainable development and for the prosperity of all our countries. Therefore, a strong multilateral system reinforces the resilience of individual states. And this is particularly true for small states, because we depend on a rules-based multilateral system for our survival and our success. Today, I want to speak on the importance of first, multilateralism; second, an open global architecture; and third, having inclusive economic growth.

Mr President,

6 My first point is on a universal, rules-based multilateral system and why this is essential if we are to solve the complex problems confronting the world. No nation can solve trans-boundary problems alone. We need to work with each other, we need to build consensus and we need to find effective solutions to global problems. The United Nations plays a critical role, as a platform for cooperation, based on the principles of mutual respect, mutual benefit and international law.

7 In fact, the UN is the only universal body best placed to address the problems of the global commons. And a good example of this is the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982, which is an enduring testament to what collective political will can achieve. Today, UNCLOS has become the constitution that governs the use of the oceans.

8 The recent adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development showed that multilateralism can respond to new challenges, especially when there is political will and collective commitment. When dealing with global issues like climate change, there really is no alternative to a multilateral approach. The UN has to also deal with emerging global challenges such as cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, and economic disruption due to the emergence of digital technologies, including artificial intelligence and the potential for genetic engineering.

9 If the UN is to remain effective and relevant, it also has to become fit-for-purpose. There is much scope to optimise synergies and minimise inefficiencies within the UN system. In this regard, Singapore strongly supports the Secretary-General's efforts to reform and restructure the UN. We welcome his management reforms and his efforts to review the UN development system as well as to streamline the peace and security architecture.

10 As a small state, Singapore has always been a strong supporter of an effective UN. This year, we are proud that the Forum of Small States, which was founded by Singapore in 1992, celebrates our 25th anniversary.[1] Singapore is committed to working closely with all states, especially small states, in order to support the work of the UN and to enhance its effectiveness.

11 Regional organisations are also an integral part of an effective multilateral rules-based system. They help to reinforce the principles of the UN charter and to underpin international law at the regional and local level. Equally important, they help to build confidence and encourage habits of cooperation.

12 In Southeast Asia, ASEAN is celebrating our 50th anniversary. ASEAN has not only fostered regional economic integration, perhaps even more important, it has secured regional peace for five decades and has strengthened national resilience of each of its members by creating a sense of common identity in the midst of great diversity. The prospects for ASEAN are very bright. And we have ambitious plans to do more, under our vision of a united, resilient and innovative ASEAN Community.

Mr President,

13 My second and related point is the need for an open global architecture, and that such an architecture is essential for growth and sustainable development. We have to make a choice. One model is a world divided by rival blocs, running mercantilist economies, having proxy wars and zero sum competition. There is another model, one based on a vision of a world of open, interdependent sovereign states characterised by enlightened long-term national interests, win-win collaboration and sustainable development. It should not surprise you that Singapore, almost by definition, has to support the latter model. We believe that an open, rules-based multilateral trading system allows every country to fulfil our potential and duty to our citizens. It allows especially small states, who are dependent on international trade and investments, to create a pathway for growth and resilience. It is therefore important, especially at this time, to remain steadfast in the face of growing calls for rising protectionism. An open trading environment has allowed developing countries to export their goods and services and brought hundreds of millions of people from poverty into a new rising middle class. Equally important, this rise of a prosperous middle class across Asia, Africa and South America has also been associated with peace and stability. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is indispensable as it underpins the rules-based multilateral trading system and provides a framework for resolving trade disputes.

14 The G20 is another important platform for discussing global macro-economic and financial issues. However, it is important that the G20 works closely with the UN and with non-members of the G20, in order to strengthen the multilateral system and to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. We welcome the efforts of successive G20 Presidents to reach out to non-members, in particular members of the Global Governance Group, or 3G for short.[2] As a group, the 3G will continue to be an advocate for a more accountable and inclusive framework of global governance.

Mr President,

15 My third and final point is on the need for inclusive economic growth. Politically, the consensus for multilateralism and an open global architecture will not be sustained if people within our own states feel that they are going to be left behind. In other words, we need to make sure there is inclusive economic growth that lifts all communities together. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda is fundamentally a vision for achieving long term inclusive economic growth, not just at the national level but at the regional and global level. It is a vision shared by all countries. However, the challenge for every government is to generate higher growth and to create more jobs while ensuring that no one is left behind.

16 In Singapore, we believe firmly in the role of hard work, savings and self-reliance. However, we also believe in taking care of the weak, the vulnerable in every segment of our society. Consequently, our policies on women, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities, are designed to protect and uplift the most vulnerable. We place great emphasis on racial and religious harmony, and in building social cohesiveness.

17 Beyond resilience, successful societies have to embrace new technologies and to encourage innovation. The digital revolution is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, play, communicate, mobilise and organise our societies. We cannot wish away these disruptive changes. We have instead to restructure our economies and societies, so that we can create new and better jobs for our people in this new digital world. But this will not be an easy task.

18 The transformation due to the digital revolution will only be positive if we find ways to share the benefits more widely and to reduce the inequality. It is worth remembering that at the beginning or every industrial or technological revolution, there is often a period of widening inequality because the people or the countries who get it first have an enormous advantage. It takes time for these new tools, these new technologies to be democratised, to be commoditised so that a new middle class arises. And then you get a new golden age. We need to do the same with this new revolution. And that is why in Singapore, we have invested heavily in education and skills training for our people, both the young and old, to give everyone an opportunity to maximise opportunities and to harvest new potential from this new digital revolution. We want every Singaporean to have a stake in our growth and to share the success as a nation.

Mr President,

19 Let me conclude by saying that the UN is absolutely essential, more so for small states like Singapore. The UN has been a catalyst for peace and development for more than seventy years. It has given a young state like Singapore, just 52 years old, enormous opportunities for amazing progress over the past five decades. It has made a significant difference to the lives of people around the world. In an environment of increased uncertainties, the case for multilateralism becomes stronger, not weaker. Now more than ever, we need the UN to help us find solutions to difficult, complex, global and local issues. We need to safeguard and strengthen our multilateral, rules-based system so that even the smallest country can survive and thrive as an independent, sovereign nation. We need an open global architecture based on a vision of interdependence in order to secure sustainable prosperity for every single one of us. But most importantly, we need inclusive and fair economic growth to empower all our people to lead good and meaningful lives.

20 Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore