International order imperfect, but by far the best bet for small states: PM Lee

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SINGAPORE: The world order is imperfect, but still the best choice for small states looking to secure their place in the world, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (September 23).

During a reception for the Forum of Small States during the ongoing United Nations (UN) General Assembly, he noted that small states depend on the multilateral rules-based system for security and survival.

“This international order is imperfect, but it is by far our best bet,” Mr Lee said in a recorded video message. “If we fall back to a world where ‘power is right’, small states would find it impossible to survive and even large countries will not benefit.”

The Small States Forum is an informal grouping of more than 100 small countries founded by Singapore in 1992. Mr Lee last addressed the Forum publicly when he hosted a reception for members in 2019.

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This year, the group is commemorating its 30th anniversary amid heightened geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainty, he said, noting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine undermines the rules-based order, rising food and oil prices and supply chain disruptions poverty continues to worsen.

“Small states face huge challenges. Our external environment has become more restless and dangerous,” said Mr. Lee.

Tensions between the United States and China are increasing the risk of superpower conflict and climate change, new pathogens and cyber threats are putting the safety, security and well-being of people around the world at risk, he added.

“These uncertainties and threats can pose great dangers to the economies, societies and survival of small states like us. We are vulnerable by nature, with very little buffer against shocks.

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“But small states are certainly not without freedom of choice. What we lack in size, we can make up for through agility, ingenuity and cooperation,” said Mr. Lee, pointing out that small states can be effective at the UN by supporting and enforcing the multilateral rules-based system.

They must actively participate to strengthen this system, the prime minister said, stressing the need to “maintain as level playing field as possible, to protect the interests of small states”.

They also need to work together on specific interests such as sustainable development, climate change, cybersecurity and other emerging issues such as ocean and space governance, he noted.

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“We can work on this through both existing and new international instruments. We must participate in shaping the international agenda,” said Mr. Lee.

“The concerns and interests of small states must be taken into account from the start. Small states often lack the resources and capacity to participate effectively in the full range of international issues.”

Lee called the Forum of Small States a “valuable platform for informal exchange and mutual support”, noting that many members make significant contributions to the UN, with representation on key bodies such as the UN Security Council.

“We must support each other’s candidacy for the UN elections,” he added. “It is vital that small states always have a voice in the main organs of the UN system.”

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