World needs to cooperate to defeat Covid-19: Vivian tells UN

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Foreign Minister tells UN General Assembly that no nation is safe until all are safe together

Warning that protectionism and unilateral action will ultimately be self-defeating, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told the 75th United Nations General Assembly that no nation, large or small, will be safe unless all are safe together.

"What we need now is vaccine multilateralism," he stressed. "We need greater international cooperation to ensure equitable and universal access to Covid-19 vaccines."

Speaking early yesterday morning via video link to the General Assembly, which for the first time has had to go almost completely virtual due to the pandemic, Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation and the UN needed reform.

But he warned that the multilateral system is "confronted by nationalism, xenophobia, the rejection of free trade and global economic integration, and the bifurcation of technology and supply chains".

And while these were pre-existing trends, the pandemic has accelerated and intensified them, he said, stressing that the world needs to defeat Covid-19 together.

"What we need now is more global cooperation, not less," he said.

"We have to ensure that medical supplies and scientific collaboration can continue to flow across borders, and we need to intensify our exchange of information and infection protocols, if we hope to resume some semblance of a 'normal' life, including the resumption of international travel, and to do all this safely."

He added: "We should also consider ways to tackle the inequalities which Covid-19 has exposed and in some cases exacerbated. We need to build more equitable societies."

Ensuring an open trading system is key to rebuilding efforts, Dr Balakrishnan urged.

"No country can be completely self-sufficient. It is in the interest of all countries that we uphold and strengthen supply chain connectivity. In fact, seeking more markets and diversifying our sources of supply will build resilience," he said.


The minister acknowledged that the path to the post-Covid-19 "new normal" will not be linear.

"At each stage of the way, all countries need to balance the public health concerns with economic and social concerns, and make trade-offs based on their unique national circumstances," he said.

But continued international cooperation is key to overcoming the devastating impact of the pandemic and to rebuilding, he stressed.

And as the world rebuilds, it must also continue to enhance resilience to meet challenges posed by the digital revolution, cyber-security threats, climate change and transboundary pollution.

"It is… critical to collectively develop a trusted, open and inclusive cyberspace underpinned by international law and norms of responsible state behaviour," he said.