Transcript of Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs H.E. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the 18th Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers Meeting, 2 Nov 2018

02 Nov 2018

               It is a special privilege to be here on such an auspicious occasion when South Africa is celebrating the centenary of the great Nelson Mandela. More than anything else, Mr Nelson Mandela represented moral leadership, something perhaps in great demand in the world right now.

               Speaking of Mr Mandela - I am sorry but I cannot resist the urge to quote - in 1995 when he visited India, Mr Mandela said and I quote, “The natural urge of the facts of history and geography should broaden itself to include the concept of an Indian Ocean for social and economic cooperation and other peaceful endeavours.” And now, 23 years later, we celebrate the 18th anniversary of IORA. I think we should pay attention to the first sentence – “The facts of history and geography”. I want to use this opportunity to look at three facets of history and geography specifically unique to those of us littoral states of the Indian Ocean. The three facets are - Technology, Colonisation and Trade.


               The reason why we are all around this table speaking English, and most of us, if not all of us, have a colonial history, is because the industrial revolution began 250 years ago in England and subsequently in Europe. Because they were the early adopters of new technology, this translated to enormous economic advantage and in turn, military advantage, which led to the ability to colonise almost all of us. Colonisation also represented, in a sense, world trade, except, and I say at risk of being politically incorrect, somewhat unequal economic trade arrangements. I say all this not to engage in blame, but to note that the facts of history and geography should remain as salient points to inform us as we contemplate the present set of circumstances and the future.



Technological Revolution


               At this point in time, the challenge is that there is a new technological revolution - primarily in the digital space, but also coming quite rapidly in the energy space. In particular, the opportunities that the global energy provides, and the threats that a carbon intensive economy pose to us in terms of climate change - its impact on our climate, our economy, and our national security. The first point on technology is to recognise that  if we are not to repeat the mistakes of the last two centuries, all of us as national leaders, we have an obligation to make sure our people are equipped with the necessary education and skills to participate fully in harvesting the fruits of this new industrial, technological, and digital revolution.


               Secondly, we need to make sure we also invest in our infrastructure, in particularly our digital infrastructure. It used to be about trade routes, trains and ships. It still is, but we should be paying equal attention to the fibre optics submarine cables that span the Indian Ocean and transmit bits, bytes and ideas across the seas.



Multilateral Rules-Based System and Trade


               When we move and contemplate the new international political arrangements and trade, I thinkwe need to reaffirm the need for a multilateral rules-based system, and the primacy of the United Nations where all of us, large and small, have an equal voice, have the right to advance our national interests, but also need to work with each other. Whether it is climate change or new economic arrangements, we need to believe in a rules-based multilateral system, because the alternative is “might is right”, and that military strength prevails. For the rest of us, the weak will have to suffer what we must. So, I believe one of the key roles of IORA is to represent all of our interests to make sure that even in this day and age, with protectionism, unilateralism and the exercise of national strength by superpowers and emerging superpowers, we need to stand up and say we believe in a multilateral, rules-based system.


               Similarly, for trade, there is a large elliptical dimension to it. For a long time, those of us who have been champions of free trade have made the mistake of assuming that our citizens automatically understood what it meant, understood the implications, and would support it. But I think we need to remember that ultimately free trade has to create jobs, has to increase the living standards of our population, and that means that free trade begins at home - preparing our population with skills and trainings, restructuring our economies so that there are jobs for the future, not present, and trading with one another, not in neo-colonial unequal economic arrangements, but as equals in a rules-based multilateral trading arrangement.



Singapore in the Indian Ocean


               I come from a tiny city state in the heart of Southeast Asia. Singapore is unique because free trade constitutes three times of our GDP. So when we make arguments for free trade, this is our lifeblood. But I also acknowledge that we, in negotiating the terms of these free trade agreements, need to make sure it addresses the political needs for jobs and increase standards of living for people everywhere.



Singapore as ASEAN Chair


               Singapore is the chair of ASEAN, on the rotating basis, for the 7th time this year, and I just wanted to share with you that our themes are innovation and resilience.


               Resilience because disasters, accidents, unintended consequences occur from time to time, and we need the resilience to deal with these challenges. Within ASEAN, we have found that by facing these common challenges together, we can be stronger.


               Innovation because it reflects our belief that we are on the cusp of a new revolution, and we do not want to be left behind and repeat the mistakes of the past.


               Hence, ASEAN has embarked on a single-minded focus to integrate our economies to pursue opportunities in smart cities, networks of smart cities, agreements on e-commerce, and expanding opportunities in the digital space. I think the lessons and the projects that we have in ASEAN would also have some similarities across the Indian Ocean.



Singapore’s commitment to IORA


               Finally, I wanted to reaffirm Singapore’s strong support for IORA and we are glad that IORA’s processes, under the leadership of the Secretary-General Dr Nokwe Nomvuyo Nontsikelelo, have made good progress and we want to reaffirm the need to stay focusedon IORA’s core objectives, strengthen our organisations, and our processes.


               We also are glad to have hosted Dr. Nokwe, whom I believe paid a study visit to the APEC secretariat in July 2018. We hope you will come again and we will continue to explore further ways to work with the IORA Secretariat to expand its ability to serve all the members in this room. Singapore also remains committed to supporting IORA’s goals, we believe that capacity building is especially important and Singapore would be happy to share our experiences - for instance, we conducted the second port management course in January 2018. It was well attended by 19 port officials from 13 IORA member states. We will also be launching a course on tourism management and destination marketing in December 2018 also for IORA members.





               So let me conclude, the Indian Ocean has always been a vital artery of trade, of culture, and of technology. Ithas also been a portal for colonisation, but it is now an opportunity for us to achieve collective peace and prosperity by cooperating with one another as equals in a multilateral rules-based open system. So while we continue to work towards enhancing stability and growth in our region, we should press on with economic cooperation whilst addressing the needs of our national populations.


               We will promote a rules-based international order, and we will strengthen IORA’s processes and organisations. On this note, let me thank you for this opportunity to address this conference on this very auspicious occasion.


               Thank you all very much.







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