Small states must cooperate: PM Lee, Latest World News - The New Paper

Small states must cooperate: PM Lee

This article is more than 12 months old

Prime Minister says small states must work together to advance common interests and speak with 'louder voice'

If small states do not manage their external relations carefully, their freedom to determine their own destinies could be severely restricted even if they remain sovereign or independent in name, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Such realities are the reason small states must work together to advance their common interests and amplify their influence in the world, PM Lee said on Wednesday at a reception for leaders of small states at Singapore's Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The countries represented are part of the Forum of Small States, an informal grouping started by Singapore almost 30 years ago to make common cause together.

From an initial headcount of 16 states, the club has grown to 107 members, well over half the membership of the United Nations.

PM Lee, who is in New York until today for the UN General Assembly and other meetings, made the case for closer cooperation between small states to the leaders and ministers from around 40 countries.

The club has grown over the years, he said, because the fundamental realities and vulnerabilities of small states have not changed.

"Our economies are smaller and more exposed to fluctuations in the global economy. More importantly, our margin of error is much narrower than for big states, which can absorb multiple hits," he added.

"If there is a war, we lack the strategic depth to defend ourselves. If we suffer an extreme weather event, we can take years to rebuild and recover."

For instance, rising sea levels threaten the very existence of island states, said PM Lee.

He cited Hurricane Dorian - which devastated Bahamas earlier this month, killing over 50 people and leaving 1,500 missing - as a grim reminder of this vulnerability.

Few small states have also survived long in history.

"Unlike larger and more powerful countries, we do not set the agenda or decide the mega-trends. If Singapore disappears tomorrow, the world will continue on probably just fine," he said.


However, small states also have their own advantages that they can seize on.

For one thing, they can respond more nimbly and adapt more easily to changing circumstances, said PM Lee.

"Our sense of insecurity and even paranoia are also constructive as they motivate us to deal more decisively with challenges and threats," he said.

They are also less hampered by regional interests and differences, or multiple levels of government, that bigger countries must grapple with.

But small states must work together to have more influence in the world and advance their shared interests, he said, pointing to this as the reason for their strong commitment to the UN.

"We look forward to working with all of you fellow small states to speak with a louder voice, to continue to advocate for a rules-based system, and to find enduring solutions for the challenges that affect all of us," said PM Lee.