The COVID-19 pandemic is far from being quelled even with the availability of vaccines as new variants of the virus are worrying and further mutations will surely emerge, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.
“Until a large part of the population is vaccinated, we need strong public health measures everywhere to keep people safe,” Loong said in a special address to the World Economic Forum’s virtual Davos Agenda Summit.
He also noted that governments will “come under more pressure to adopt protectionist and nativist positions.”
Loong said it is critical that vaccines are rolled out quickly all over the world, but even with vaccines, the pandemic is far from over.
He further said globalisation was under pressure even before the pandemic, while initial reactions to the crisis seemed to herald its demise, as countries scrambled to secure vital equipment.
“But, it has also reminded us that our fates are intertwined, and we need to work together. From vaccine multilateralism initiatives to reopening supply chains, this collaboration restarted,” he said.
He said various countries have introduced extraordinary measures to support economies, but these cannot last indefinitely and hoped that the vaccine rollout will allow restrictions to be lifted and economies to rebound.
“We’re entering a new phase. The pandemic has exposed businesses and jobs that won’t remain viable. They have to be let go to allow better jobs and businesses to take their place. Hard decisions will need to be taken,” he said.
“To resume growth, we have to look beyond a return to the status quo. We must look ahead. The framework for international cooperation needs to be strengthened. We need a standardised, robust systems to verify the tests and vaccinations. This will be essential to reopen borders,” Loong said.
He also called for working together to strengthen international organizations.
On the digital economy, Loong said its sustained growth necessitates the development of new e-trade regulations.
“Singapore has concluded digital economy agreements with like-minded countries. We hope this is just the beginning. Countries should work together to shape the digital economy globally,” he said.
On US-China relations, the Singapore leader said both countries have adopted more assertive and uncompromising positions, but it is not too late to “reset the tone of their interactions”, particularly with the new administration in the US.
“The strategic landscape has changed significantly, as a result of the emergence of China. Concessions made to China when it was small remain, but these need to be reconsidered and recalibrated,” he said.
But China’s influence in the world has also grown and it needs to take a “greater responsibility for providing global public goods”, Loong added.
For the US, it is a very difficult adjustment as after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was the world’s only “hyperpower”, he said.
“China has now emerged, with the US viewing it as a challenger — almost a threat. If it sees China as a threat, that’s going to be a very big problem,” he added.
“It’s not going to go away or collapse like the Soviet Union,” he cautioned.
“So, you need to work together. If you cannot work together, then you cannot solve problems, and it will become an all-round adversarial relationship. This will result in long-term problems and challenges. This will not benefit either country or other countries,” Loong said.
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