Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Remarks at the Forum of Small States Reception, 21 September 2023

22 September 2023




Minister: Thank you (Permanent Representative) Burhan (Gafoor). Let me again repeat his welcome to all of you for joining us. To get so many of you in one place is already a major achievement. So, thank you for being here.


We have all emerged from the worst of the COVID pandemic. You do not see many people with masks, which is quite different from last year and the year before that, when we had to do things virtually. But the world remains a troubled place; the conflict in Ukraine continues, no imminent prospect of peace seems to be available. Yet, we are also facing planetary level challenges, climate change continues. We are behind schedule in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are also natural disasters, earthquakes in Morocco, Turkey earlier on, as well as the floods in Libya. If you add the natural disasters and the man-made disasters, our hands are full.


If you want to add even more excitement, there is the whole digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution. I think generative AI has captured popular imagination, but many people may not realise that just behind the curtain are, in my view, AI agents with the ability to negotiate and transact with each other and with human beings. That is going to have a profound impact on our societies, politics and economies. If you come back to the war in Ukraine, there are autonomous weapon systems, sometimes with no human finger on the trigger. That is already a reality, and that has got a profound impact on war and peace.


We are all small states here, and I just want to add that we are the majority in the United Nations (UN). There are 108 countries who constitute the Forum of Small States (FOSS). We are here to make common cause, to reaffirm our shared commitment to multilateralism and to international law, because in a sense, for small states, that is the only game in town. We have, by definition and by necessity, to subscribe to and to operate on the basis of multilateralism and a rule-based international order.


Therefore, we need to amplify our voice, and we need to help shape international norms, including technical standards, in order to have a level playing field and leave no country behind. And to do all that, while protecting the global commons.


I believe we have a generational opportunity to do so. Three days ago, we had the SDG Summit, where we discussed how we need to accelerate, to get that sense of urgency for the fulfillment of SDG goals. Unfortunately, I think you all know, we are behind time. Earlier today, at the Summit of the Future Preparatory Meeting, Member States discussed how we could breathe new life into the multilateral system, to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, and to deal with the challenges of tomorrow while dealing with the problems of today.


There are all these interconnected issues and we need to make common cause and work together. Many of these initiatives, including the SDG Summit Political Declaration and the Summit of the Future, are facilitated by the Permanent Representatives (PRs) of FOSS Member States. I know we try to get together once a year, but I want to report to our Foreign Ministers here that our PRs work very hard year after year. They get the real work done. We also use FOSS as a clearing house for information, insights, capacity building, and empowering and enabling each of our respective delegations.


At the same time, we are also discussing the Global Digital Compact facilitated by the PRs of FOSS Members, Rwanda and Sweden. Digital technology will gain greater prominence in the future. This is one opportunity for us, although we are small, to connect ourselves globally, and to make a difference. To reshape the norms, so that we will not be left behind.


On the part of Singapore, we are committed to maintaining FOSS as a platform for small states to help each other prepare for the future. Last year, we launched a Digital FOSS, aimed at providing a space for us to exchange ideas on our respective digital transformation journeys and to build a common digital future, including through building a Global Digital Compact.


On this note, let me again thank all of you for being here. Thank you for empowering your Permanent Representatives to do what they do best. Let us toast to the future of small states – may we always preserve our strategic autonomy, our collective voice, and protect and nurture the future for our people.


Thank you all very much. I wish you all the very best.



Photo Caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman at the Forum of Small States Reception, 21 September 2023


Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore


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