We should not assume that the next 50 years will be the same as the last 50, where we had a secure and stable economic order underpinning our peace and prosperity, which allowed us to progress together through interdependence, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in his opening address to students at the Pre-University Seminar 2022.
Will there be an international rule of law for small states to exist?
Can states rely on international rules for a fair trading order?
The paralysis of the World Trade Organisation Dispute Settlement Mechanism has raised the question of whether states can again rely on international rules for a fair trading order, Mr Chan said.
Turning inwards and protectionist!
To secure national interests, some countries have turned to protectionist actions, inward-looking behaviour, and beggar-thy-neighbour policies, Mr Chan said.
“When countries are not invested in and dependent on one another’s growth and well-being, it deepens divisions and can even lead to conflict.”
Economic resilience comes from greater connectivity, not isolation.
“Ironically, economic resilience will come from greater connectivity and diversity rather than isolation and exclusivity.”
Adding to the complexities is the issue of climate change which is a real and existential threat to many small city states like us, Mr Chan said.
We also cannot ignore the changing face of societies around the world, the rising inequality and the ugliness of xenophobia, amplifies by more polarising voices, he added.
“We must therefore strengthen our social fabric to safeguard against such divisive forces.”
Mr Chan said that the rapid advancement of technology means we are no longer limited and defined by our physical geography in the way we live and work together.
The next lap of digital transformation and advances in artificial intelligence have presented Singapore with ‘significant opportunities that we can swiftly seize’.
“If Singapore does this well, it will unshackle Singapore from the tyranny of geography, allow us to transcend our limitations of size, to connect with the world as our hinterland and markets in new ways; and allow us to compete on the basis of our speed of evolution, rather than our relative resource endowment,” he said.