Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore

05/20/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/20/2024 09:21

Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the 3rd Singapore Pacific High Level Visit, 20 May 2024

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan: Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen - on behalf of Singapore and my colleagues in MFA, let me bid you a very warm welcome. I know you have come a long way - having tried this journey in reverse, I know it is many, many hours and it often feels further than it actually is. Thank you for making the effort and for joining us.

This is our third Singapore-Pacific High-Level Visit. I do not know how many of you were here (previously). The first time (was) in 2012 and the second time (was) in 2017, and now we are (hosting the third run) in 2024.

The truth is we now live in a much more volatile, uncertain and difficult world. If you think about what has happened between 2017 and now - climate change continues to worsen, we had a pandemic that had tremendous economic impact on the Pacific Islands and Singapore as well. The geopolitical situation, the contestation between the superpowers has accentuated, and this has implications on all of us. Although the wars are not in our immediate neighbourhood, the ongoing war in Ukraine and the war in Gaza captures headlines, has emotional resonance in many of our societies, and can also divide and polarise public opinion. In addition, there are also the perennial challenges of economic viability of our nations. This in fact, has been accentuated by the ongoing digital revolution. The point is that all of us have an existential agenda that is very full.

The point I wanted to make today is that Singapore and the Pacific Islands are natural partners. Except for Papua New Guinea, the rest of us are really tiny, and that includes Singapore - tiny, low lying island states. Therefore by definition, we have to make common cause to have a collective commitment to deal with existential challenges as they arise; (and) more importantly, to work together because in this volatile, difficult and fractious world, it is necessary for tiny island states to work together.

I am glad that we have existing multilateral fora, amongst which is the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and I am very glad to note that Singapore has become a Dialogue Partner since 2022. I remember fondly my visit to Cook Islands last year for the PIF (Leaders' Meeting) (PIFLM). We also have got the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), currently chaired by Samoa, and we also have the Forum of Small States (FOSS), which Singapore, together with a group of like-minded countries, founded nearly three decades ago. In addition, we also have increasing collaboration between the PIF and ASEAN - two regional organisations with the Pacific in between.

The last two years have also seen significant progress on the international law front. Together with all of you in the Pacific, we successfully concluded the landmark agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. I am very proud that our Ambassador Rena Lee presided over the successful conclusion of this agreement, which I believe is particularly important for all of us - for small island developing states that depend on the ocean and on the marine biodiversity in the ocean for our livelihoods, for now and for the future. But this agreement needs to enter into force, and I hope as soon as possible. I just want to encourage all of us to get onto the ratification train. In Singapore, we are certainly accelerating our entry onto that train, and I am glad to note that we already have five ratifications to date - three are from the small island developing states: Belize, Palau and Seychelles. I assure you that Singapore will be on that train very, very soon.

I also recall when I attended the 52nd PIFLM in Cook Islands last year. It reflects the region's long-term vision and collective commitment. Some of you may recall at the dinner that I said that people used to say that we are all small island states, but the big difference in the Pacific is that you are now big ocean states. In fact, once you start thinking of the Pacific as the Blue Pacific Continent, and (of) everything in between, including your maritime entitlements in your exclusive economic zones - suddenly, you do not look small at all. In fact, the converse is true, except I would highlight that Singapore, however, remains a small island state. We do not have the large exclusive economic zones that virtually all of you have.

We live at a time of enormous challenge, but also at a time of enormous opportunity. There is so much more that we can do collectively, and I thank you for being part of this journey that we have embarked on for the future. I want to reiterate the programme which we launched last year, the Singapore-Pacific Resilience and Knowledge Sharing (SPARKS) package, will complement your 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. There is also other stuff which I hope you will be able to access during your short visit here, in areas ranging from climate change, urban planning, cybersecurity, international law, port management - in fact, anything at all which you have an interest in. We have made arrangements to pack your programme, but I hope not too tightly packed so that you have enough time to engage in your own curiosity, wander around, poke around in Singapore, and see what catches your eye and what is of interest and relevance.

You may also know that we have had a leadership transition in Singapore last week, and we are making sure that you will meet my new Prime Minister. I believe that has been scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.

So all in all, thank you for being here. Welcome to Singapore. Let us work together and create the best possible future for all our people, and have a wonderful time.

Thank you very much.

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