More complex world situation reinforces need for dialogue to build trust and cooperation: PM Lee

KIGALI – The world is in a new situation whereby the understanding that the major powers will compete with each other but stop short of damaging the peace no longer holds, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (June 25).

Such complex times puts a premium on face-to-face dialogue between government leaders in order to build trust and forge multilateral cooperation, Mr Lee told Singapore reporters at the close of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Today, there are not just competitors but in Europe’s case actual opponents, hostilities and bloodshed, he noted. In Asia, there is also the potential for things to go wrong if matters are not carefully handled, Mr Lee added.

“It’s a new position which the world is in, the period where the US saw China’s emergence as benign, I think it’s past. The period when in Europe, people talked about the post-Cold War peace dividend, that’s also past,” he said.

“And therefore, it’s no longer a situation where in the world, big countries are competing with one another, but basically at peace.”

Responding to a question on how vulnerable small states are in the face of big power rivalry, Mr Lee said competition between the major economies can be good if it is a contest to deepen relationships, such as to do more business or to invest more in emerging economies.

But it will be negative if such rivalries lead to tensions and conflict that generate uncertainty and instability in the world, said Mr Lee. He noted that the Cold War led to regional rivalries in places such as Africa, as well as in South-east Asia.

That is why a major value of meetings like the Chogm, which took place from Friday to Saturday, was being able to meet fellow leaders in-person and to exchange views, said Mr Lee. The summit, usually held every two years, was postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic and was last held in London in 2018.

Mr Lee said he appreciated the chance to catch up with Singapore’s friends in the Commonwealth, including in Africa, the Carribbean and the South Pacific, and to hear firsthand their perspectives and what issues they prioritise.

Such engagements help leaders better understand and trust each other and hopefully leads to greater cooperation, he said.

“If small and medium-sized countries are unable to work with each other in a complex world, then our position in the world will undoubtedly become more dangerous,” Mr Lee said in Mandarin.

While small countries may have limited ability to steer global currents, Mr Lee stressed that they are not without some agency and influence.

He cited two multilateral efforts aimed at safeguarding the interest of small states: the Forum of Small States at the United Nations (UN) established by Singapore in 1992, and the Global Governance Group formed in 2009 that promotes dialogue between Group of 20 (G-20) countries and the broader UN membership.

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