Small island states have to ‘advocate for our collective interests’, says Singapore PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at Apec Haus in Port Moresby on Nov 17, 2018.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

PORT MORESBY, 19 NOVEMBER 2018 (THE STRAITS TIMES) – Small island states share many common interests and concerns, and thus have to “make common cause together”, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Lee made this point during a dialogue between Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders and leaders from Pacific Island states on Saturday.

Singapore and the Pacific Island states are fellow small island nations with shared concerns such as defence, climate change and having to adapt to the changing external environment, he added.

While many Pacific Island countries are not part of the 21-member Apec grouping, the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat is an observer, and leaders and ministers from its countries are in Papua New Guinea this week for meetings with Apec leaders.

Noting the value of Saturday’s forum, Lee said the need for small countries to work together and “advocate for our collective interests” was why Singapore set up the Forum of Small States at the United Nations in 1992.

He added that the Republic regularly attends the annual leaders summit by the Pacific Islands Forum, which comprises 18 members including Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Singapore is also a member of the Small Island Developing States grouping.

Building relationships with Pacific Island states also provides opportunities for Singapore to share its developmental experience,  Lee said, noting that nearly 5,000 officials from these states have visited the Republic over the years.

The Republic shares its experience via the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which provides training courses for officials from other nations in areas such as economic development and e-commerce.

Lee said he was very happy to welcome the continued participation of the Pacific Island states in the programme, adding: “We have picked up ideas from you too.”

The theme of Saturday’s dialogue, “Partnering for an Inclusive Digital Future”, is timely, he said, as digital linkages can overcome geographical limits and facilitate economic growth without a lot of natural resources or space.

“However, to harvest the full benefits of the digital economy, we need to continue investing in infrastructure and educate our people so that we can connect together,” he added.

Lee had earlier attended the welcome ceremony for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, and took part in a dialogue between APEC leaders and businessmen from the grouping’s 21 economies.

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