Leaders need to speak out against unilateralism and advocate international cooperation: ESM

SINGAPORE – The greatest challenge facing humanity now is an increasingly divided world, and it is important its leaders take a stand against unilateralism and destructive rivalries, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told an audience of former and current United Nations officials, political leaders and academics on Friday (Nov 6).

Drawing reference to the sharpening US-China rivalry, he noted that both countries saw each other as their most significant long-term security threat and warned if the two nations played a “negative sum game”, the world would suffer.

“No country wants to be lorded over by another country, nor does it want to be trampled like the grass beneath two warring elephants,” said Mr Goh in a virtual speech at this year’s Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity.

“Concerned leaders and opinion-makers should therefore speak out against unilateralism and destructive rivalry, and advocate multilateralism, rule of law, constructive international conduct and cooperation.”

Mr Goh added that such international cooperation is especially important now, given the threats posed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He noted that both Singapore and other like-minded countries such as South Korea have stepped up efforts to strengthen multilateralism amid the pandemic.

This includes preserving global connectivity and working together to make sure there will be fair and equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines when they become available.

While the pandemic has laid bare the tendencies of some countries to look inward in times of crisis, Mr Goh held up the work of the World Health Organisation (WHO)in mobilising global resources and medical knowledge to help countries deal with the coronavirus.

More, however, can be done, said Mr Goh, urging countries around the world to revitalise the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, reform the UN Security Council and continue giving the WHO their fullest support.

He also suggested the World Trade Organisation address new economic realities and incorporate new areas of economic activity, such as the digital economy, and that the Paris Agreement, which addresses climate change and its negative impacts, be implemented.

“We must reinvigorate multilateral institutions to rectify the structural flaws in our system and respond effectively to the challenges of the future,” he said.

The annual Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity sees global leaders participating in discussions about international peace, stability and security issues through global cooperation.

In its 15th edition, the forum’s participants included UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, his predecessor Ban Ki-moon and former US President Bill Clinton.

In a video message at the forum, Mr Guterres said that cooperation between nations is fundamental to addressing challenges for the world, like extending universal health coverage, delivering on sustainable development goals and preventing disasters and crises of all kinds.

In the same vein, Mr Ban said that the world can swiftly overcome the pandemic only when humans and countries all decide to “work together.”

“After all, cooperation between humans and between countries is not a matter of choice but a necessity. Restoring the spirit of multilateral cooperation is essential to overcome the crisis,” he said.

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