President of the General Assembly


1. It is an honour, a special honour to address the General Assembly on behalf of Singapore, a tiny island city state, sometimes referred to as a tiny red dot. The United Nations is essential for the survival and prosperity, especially for that of small states. We are usually at the receiving end of the decisions and actions of large powers. Fortunately, the General Assembly affirms the principle that all nations large and small, rich or poor, have an equal stake and an equal right to participate in shaping the discourse on global issues.

2. Let me congratulate Ambassador Peter Thomson on his election as President of the 71st General Assembly. We are proud that Fiji, a fellow member of AOSIS[1], SIDS[2] and the Forum of Small States, is occupying this important post.

Greater Global Uncertainty

3. 2016 has been a year of increased uncertainty and volatility. We've seen sluggish growth, poor job creation in the major economies and all these have been accompanied by growing xenophobia and disillusionment with mainstream politics. We've witnessed rising nationalism, populism and protectionism and all these have clouded the political discourse and they have confounded electoral outcomes everywhere. The conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya continue unabated, and with serious repercussions beyond the region, including causing unprecedented flows of refugees.

4. Terrorism remains a clear and present threat to international peace and security. And this has been amplified by social media which has been used so skilfully by ISIS and other terrorist groups to spread radical ideas and promote violent extremism. Southeast Asia, the region where I come from, has also become a fertile recruiting ground for ISIS. In fact we know, that there are more than one thousand men and women, including some Singaporeans, who have gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. These people have been indoctrinated with extremist ideology, trained with combat skills, they have killed - and we know it's always easier to kill the second time around - they will pose a significant risk as they seek to promote violence, overthrow legitimate governments and establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia. Singapore is committed to working with its friends and partners to address the threat of violent extremism and terrorism, by exchanging intelligence and by sharing our own experience with de-radicalisation programmes.

5. Whilst this is going on, we also recall the previous Ebola epidemic and current Zika infections. These are stark reminders that global health remains a concern. We all need to work with the World Health Organisation (WHO), to keep our countries safe whilst remaining open and connected and functioning.

Small States In An Uncertain World

6. In an uncertain world, small states like us will have to work that much harder just in order to stay afloat. Small boats on a rough sea are more likely to be tossed and turned much more than a large tanker with a heavy ballast. For our survival and our prosperity, small states have to stay open and we have to stay connected to the world. But, by definition, our very openness makes us vulnerable to external shocks and threats. Small states like us do not have the option of retreating inwards or opting out of the global system.

7. It is a reality that the world will become more and more interdependent. And in such an environment, no country can succeed on its own, even if you are not an island state like mine. In order to achieve global security and prosperity, we need to work with each other to seek win-win outcomes. Now I realise, inevitably, there will be competition, there will be rivalry between states, especially marked amongst major powers. But I want to make this point, that relations between states need not be a zero-sum game. All countries benefit when there is peace and stability and this is essential for building partnerships and economic cooperation everywhere.

8. Three elements are crucial for the survival and prosperity of small states. First, a rules-based multilateral system, second, international partnership and cooperation and third, sustainable development. Allow me to elaborate.

A Rules-based Multilateral System

9. On the first point, a rules-based multilateral system enables all states to deal with each other in a fair, transparent and predictable manner. The UN represents an international world order based on rules, norms and principles. We reject the notion that might is right. And this is why small states are often the strongest proponents of the UN; the UN for us represents, a rules-based international order which we believe is a precondition for our existence as independent, sovereign states.

International Partnership And Cooperation

10. The second essential element is international partnership and cooperation. Some of the most significant challenges of our time are transnational in nature. Examples include global economic growth, climate change, epidemics, and terrorism. Therein lies the importance of the UN. The successful conclusion of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change last November was a good example of how countries around the world could come together, to solve a problem of the global commons. That the Paris Agreement will likely enter into force less than seven months after it was opened for signature is a confidence booster for the UN system. Singapore is proud to have played our part by participating actively during negotiations and being part of the early wave of countries who deposited our instrument of ratification at the High-level Event on 21 September 2016.

11. A collective voice for small states speaks louder and our collective action is a more effective catalyst for change at the UN and globally.

12. I'm glad to note that under the Chairmanship of Grenada, Nauru and now Maldives, AOSIS played a catalytic role during the climate change negotiations. Similarly, the Forum of Small States or FOSS brings together 107 Member States to exchange ideas and support each other in our common concerns.

13. The Global Governance Group, also known as the 3G, provides a platform for 30 small and medium-sized countries to exchange views on global governance and contribute to the discussions of the G20. The 3G has helped to channel the views of a broad range of countries to the G20 presidency, thereby making the G20 process more inclusive.

Implementation Of The 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda)

14. The third important element for the survival and prosperity of small states is sustainable development.

15. Singapore believes that there are two key prerequisites for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda. First, the rule of law. I made this point earlier that, at the international level, a rules-based system is essential for all states, especially small states, in order for us to cooperate and safeguard our rights. But equally important is the commitment to the rule of law at the domestic level. Without good governance, transparency, strong institutions and a clear legal framework, development can neither be sustainable nor benefit ordinary people.

16. The second prerequisite is international partnerships. The SDGs[3] can only be achieved with collaboration and partnership. Multilateral processes such as the Third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), which will be held in Ecuador in October, are important avenues to help advance the SDGs, especially SDG 11[4]. The New Urban Agenda to be adopted by the Habitat III Conference will highlight the link between urbanisation and sustainable development, and provide a framework for cities and governments around the world, to collaborate and find sustainable solutions.

17. Another important issue that requires cooperation is the sustainable management of our forests, and the prevention of land degradation and the loss of biodiversity, and this is covered by SDG 15[5] of the 2030 Agenda. In Southeast Asia, transboundary haze from forest and peatland fires - started by human beings - have impaired the health of millions of people, compromised the safety of aircraft, damaged the regional economy and accelerated climate change.

18. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has adopted a Roadmap to achieve what we hope will be a haze-free ASEAN by 2020. We need to strengthen partnerships among governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and other important stakeholders in order to address the root of the problem. This is a long-term challenge. It will require sustained attention and continued collaboration amongst countries within and beyond our region.

19. Developing countries need international support and assistance to implement the 2030 Agenda. Singapore is fully committed to helping other developing countries build capacity and enhance human capital. And I say this from a country that only has human resource and human capital. Since 1992, the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) has provided training to over 100,000 officials from other developing countries. Last year, Singapore launched a new Sustainable Development Programme, under which we are working with UN agencies such as UNDP[6], UN-Water and UN-Habitat to support fellow developing countries in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Singapore has also tailored training programmes for SIDS in areas including sustainable development, climate change and public governance.

Mr President,

20. Small states make up more than half of the UN member States. I wanted to quote UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who said on the 20th Anniversary of the FOSS in 2012, "Being small does not mean the absence of big ideas". Secretary-General Ban has been a strong supporter of small states and we thank him for his leadership and support. We should also recognise the important contributions made by Mr Ban for sustainable development and climate change during his two terms as Secretary-General.

21. In conclusion, let me say that small states have made significant contributions, despite our size, to the international community. We've helped to build consensus, we've helped to find solutions on key global issues, including climate change. Small states can play an even greater role, provided we work together. Ultimately, small states need the United Nations to provide a framework for building partnerships, promoting mutual development and securing peace and security within a rules-based multilateral system.

22. Thank you.