Visit by Senior Minister of State Sim Ann to Salzburg, Austria, 26 to 28 July 2023

28 July 2023

Senior Minister of State (SMS), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Development, Sim Ann visited Salzburg, Austria, from 26 to 28 July 2023 to attend the Salzburg Summit.
SMS Sim spoke on the ‘Global Policy’ panel, where she highlighted the need for countries to uphold the principles of the UN Charter and international law amidst challenging geo-political developments. She advocated greater dialogue and cooperation amongst major powers in tackling global issues and maintaining international stability, and the important role that Asia and Europe play in promoting such interactions. She also emphasised the opportunities and need for greater cooperation between Europe and our region. SMS Sim’s remarks are appended.
During her visit, SMS Sim met European Commissioner for Budget and Administration, and patron of the Salzburg Summit, Johannes Hahn, and had good discussions on the EU and ASEAN. SMS Sim also had a separate meeting with President of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, Harald Mahrer, and exchanged views on regional developments.
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28 JULY 2023

Your Excellency, President Maia Sandu
Commissioner Johannes Hahn
Fellow Panelists
Ladies and Gentlemen
    1. Good morning, and thank you for the warm welcome. I thank Commissioner Hahn for giving me the opportunity to speak here today, and share with everyone the perspective of a small Southeast Asian state 10,000 km away from Salzburg.

    2. Despite our great geographical distance apart, I am sure all will agree with me that we are living in times of great uncertainty. Just when we thought we were leaving the worst of the pandemic behind and returning to some form of normalcy, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year presented a major geo-political challenge with profound global repercussions. Singapore took a principled position when we condemned Russia’s actions and imposed unilateral sanctions to constrain Russia’s ability to wage war. As a small nation, we cannot accept a world order based on “might is right”. The sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter and international law. More than 500 days after the invasion, we are still no closer to a resolution.

    3. Another key source of global uncertainty relates to the ongoing tensions between the US and China, which is the most consequential relationship in the world. When they get along and agree on major issues, the world benefits from a more stable global environment. However, tensions and a trust deficit have heightened the risks of bifurcation, which has deep global implications on technology and the economy. The multilateral trading system that has underpinned decades of global economic growth is at risk of coming under siege, as protectionist instincts kick in, and industrial policies make a comeback. Fundamentally, there is bipartisan consensus in the US that China is a strategic competitor, and a grave threat to US interests and values. Chinese leaders, on the other hand, are convinced that the US is seeking to “contain, suppress and encircle” China, with the intention to hold back China’s growth and weaken China’s influence on the international stage. Also of deep concern, public opinion of each other has turned unfavourable and there is a fundamental deficit of strategic trust, rooted in incompatible world views and aggravated by domestic political pressures.

    4. The most dangerous flashpoint of all is Taiwan, which is one of the most sensitive issues in the US-China relationship. China considers Taiwan as the most important issue, and its “One China” principle the reddest of its red lines. There is an alternative narrative in the West, however, that frames the Taiwan issue as a broader ideological issue of democracy versus autocracy, despite the fact that most Western countries have officially adopted “One China” policies. The worry is that such a difference in views, especially if they result in moves that are perceived by either side to be changing the status quo, leads to higher cross-strait tensions. Considering the high global trade and dense economic linkages in the Asia-Pacific, miscalculations by any side could result in serious outcomes and negative repercussions for all of us. 

    5. Thankfully, we have seen the US and China take recent active steps to engage each other. There has been a series of high-level visits from the US to China, including by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. Most recently, Blinken and China’s Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi, also met on the sidelines of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta earlier this month. We hope that this positive momentum of high-level engagement will continue, and that both sides will work together to dial down the temperature on relations. The leadership of the US and China is necessary to address global issues such as climate change, global macroeconomic stability, health, and food security. To this end, we – Asia and Europe – must actively encourage both sides to continue engaging each other and restore trust.

    6. The multilateral rules-based order, including the multilateral trading system, is faced with strong headwinds. And yet, we should continue to stand up for this system that has underwritten the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed since the Second World War. It is not perfect, and there are ongoing discussions on how to strengthen the multilateral framework to make it more inclusive, accountable and effective to tackle contemporary challenges. However, it is by far our best option in addressing transnational challenges such as climate change and public health and managing the global commons like our Oceans. And in his opening remarks, Commissioner Hahn talked about the need for European solutions to these dilemmas we are facing. Against this global backdrop, Europe and Asia must build on existing frameworks of cooperation and dialogue to enhance resilience in our regions and increase avenues for collaboration.

    7. Towards that end, the strong cooperation between Singapore and the EU can serve as a template for broader bloc-to-bloc cooperation between Europe and Southeast Asia. The EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, the EU-Singapore Digital Partnership are strategic pathfinders for closer region-to-region cooperation. An early ratification of the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement and the EU-Singapore Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, as well as the recent commencement of negotiations on an EU-Singapore Digital Trade Agreement will further demonstrate the possibilities of deeper cooperation between the EU and Singapore, and more broadly, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

    8. ASEAN and the EU have cooperated well over the years, since the EU became a Dialogue Partner in 1977. We successfully elevated relations to a Strategic Partnership, during Singapore’s country coordinatorship of Dialogue Relations, in December 2020. On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of relations, we held the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit in Brussels last December – the first-ever Leaders’ Summit between the two blocs. This is testament to the growing relations between ASEAN and the EU. ASEAN is poised to be the fourth largest economy in the world by the end of the decade, with a rising urban middle class and a current population of more than 660 million. It is the EU’s third largest trade partner outside of Europe, with trade in goods standing at 271.8 billion Euros last year, and trade in services at 82.4 billion Euros in 2020. We should continue to work together towards the longer-term goal of an ASEAN-EU Free Trade Agreement. Both sides also signed the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement in October last year, the world’s first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement, which will open new markets and facilitate people-to-people flows between both regions.

    9. In conclusion, amidst the challenging geopolitical climate we live in today and the challenging times ahead, we have to be advocates for dialogue and cooperation, and champion greater engagement between Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world. Only by working together can we stand a chance to tackle existing and future transboundary challenges and seize the emerging opportunities before us.

    10. I look forward to continuing the discussion on this panel. Thank you.



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