Keynote Speech by ESM Goh Chok Tong at the 15th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, 6 November 2020

Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong delivered a Keynote Speech virtually at the 15th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity under the theme “Reinventing Multilateral Cooperation: Pandemic and Humane Security” on 6 November 2020.  The full text of ESM’s speech is appended.







Good morning to all of you in Jeju.


  1. I want to pose three simple questions to this forum.
    • What is the greatest challenge facing us today?
    • What kind of world do we want for our children?
    • What is the best way to overcome the great challenges of our times and bring about the world we want?

To me, the greatest challenge facing us is an increasingly divided world.

  1. Three disruptive structural forces are stressing the world. First is the retreat from globalisation in many advanced countries. Second, the sharpening US-China strategic rivalry. Third, the ongoing digital revolution.


  1. What kind of world do we want? We want an interconnected world which is prosperous, peaceful, secure and sustainable.


  1. To get there, we have to play a positive sum game and not a negative sum game. However, the US and China see each other as their most significant long-term security threat. The US sees China’s rise as a threat and has embarked on a new approach to safeguard American interests. On the other hand, China believes that the US is trying to contain its legitimate rise and aspiration to become great again. If both countries play a negative sum game, the world suffers.


  1. No country wants to be lorded over by another country, nor does it want to be trampled like the grass beneath two warring elephants. Concerned leaders and opinion-makers should therefore speak out against unilateralism and destructive rivalry, and advocate multilateralism, rule of law, constructive international conduct and cooperation.


  1. Given the threat of COVID-19 to humane security, the need for multilateral cooperation is greater now more than ever.


  1. Singapore, with other like-minded countries like the ROK, has stepped up its efforts to strengthen multilateralism amid COVID-19.


  1. First, we are committed to preserving global connectivity.
  2. Second, we support “vaccine multilateralism”, with fair and equitable global access to vaccines.


  1. COVID-19 has shown up the lack of political global leadership and countries’ tendencies to look inwards in times of crisis.


  1. Fortunately, there is the WHO which mobilises global resources and medical knowledge to help countries deal with the pandemic. But the WHO is just one part of our overall multilateral system.


  1. We must reinvigorate multilateral institutions to rectify the structural flaws in our system and respond effectively to the challenges of the future. Let me suggest four areas we can work on.


  • . First, revitalise the UN General Assembly and reform the Security Council so that the UN becomes more open, inclusive and representative. A rules-based multilateral system with the UN at its heart is our best hope to build and sustain good global governance.


  1. Second, continue giving the WHO our fullest support so that we can protect the lives and livelihoods of our people. There will be a time to review and improve WHO processes, but for now, let us focus on overcoming the pandemic.


  1. Third, update the WTO rulebook to address new economic realities and incorporate new areas of economic activity such as the digital economy. It is critical that the WTO has a Director-General who can galvanise members to work together to refresh our multilateral trading system.


  • Fourth, implement the Paris Agreement. It remains our best chance to limit global warming, and to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable populations and landmasses.


  1. COVID-19 is not the first and will not be the last global crisis. It teaches us that no country can wall itself from the fires outside it. Countries must cooperate to tackle common challenges together even as they compete in a rules-based multilateral world. We need strong political, financial and tangible commitments from all countries. We must resolve to secure a better world for ourselves and our children.

Thank you.



Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore