The UAE will host the World Expo in Dubai in nine months’ time. Expo 2020 will provide an important forum for an open dialogue on the world’s most pressing issues, with more than 190 countries taking part. Our world’s unparalleled interconnectedness, brought about by advances in technology over the past 10 years, makes this challenge all the more urgent.
In particular, five trends in the years ahead will dominate the headlines and command global attention.
First is the evolving dynamics between the United States and China. The risk of decoupling the world’s two biggest economies has caused considerable concern around the globe. This goes beyond the simple notion of a war on trade or technology.
Essentially, this belies a lack of shared trust. This economic trend is likely to continue beyond the US presidential elections in 2020, whatever their outcome. It will affect all nations, big as well as small.
We are very worried about such trends in South-East Asia. Neither of us wants to be forced to make invidious decisions. We want to continue working to mutual benefit with the US and China, and we hope that both sides will respect the legitimate interests of each other. Competition, at the same time, can be positive and must not lead to conflict. This can spur innovation and drive change if handled correctly. We hope both sides can find a way forward and understand that they do not need to have a zero-sum relationship.
Second is the global consensus on globalization which is eroding. In many countries around the world, we see protectionist, isolationist and hyper-nationalist sentiments taking root, with significant pushback against an open and interconnected global economy. These nativist sentiments have altered domestic political environments and have given rise to policies that look inward. The result was a culture that was increasingly polarized.
third is technology’s relentless march. A global disruption caused by AI, machine learning and big data is a common cause that unites both developed economies and developing ones. AI will have a pervasive impact across all industries and economic sectors. It will also change how people live, how communities work and how governments operate. We all face the challenge of pre-empting and preparing for the digital revolution.
Third, environmental risks are on the rise. All countries contend with different climate manifestations, such as extreme weather events, food shortages or forced migration. Being littoral states, both the UAE and Singapore feel our vulnerability to rising sea-levels, which continue to climb at an alarming rate.
Fifth, the Middle East’s ever-complicated and ongoing conflicts pose a clear and present danger far beyond its shores.
While the global perspective is overwhelming, it doesn’t need to be grim.
The smaller geographical and demographic scale is often wrongly believed to be a drawback for countries like Singapore and the UAE. On the contrary, these very qualities give us nimbleness and agility to respond effectively to situations rapidly changing. We will quickly adapt and take the initiative to carve a unique niche within the global community for ourselves.
A clear-sighted and pragmatic foreign policy approach will enable us to effectively navigate ongoing transitions. Small countries can maintain our sovereignty in the midst of rising global instability by finding like-minded allies and building coalitions in situations where a coordinated global response may not yet be feasible. A glance at both Singapore’s and UAE’s experiences shows three characteristics that will be key to such an approach.
Let’s stay connected first. Commitment to multilateralism and international law remain key external policy principles for both our countries. Multilateral institutions give us a stake in global commons and a means of defending our national interests and advancing them. Rules-based systems help build a stable environment for all countries irrespective of size.
It is in this spirit that both of our countries are active United Nations participants. The UAE, for example, hosted the June 2019 UN Secretary-General’s Global Preparatory Meeting on Climate Action Summit, which set out ways to accelerate the implementation of the Paris climate change agreement. Singapore, for our part, was fortunate last August to have a UN Convention on Mediation–signed by 46 countries–in Singapore.