'Good governance', over dogma or ideology, is the key to bringing a better life for our people: Teo Chee Hean

Countries have to work together for the common goal of bringing about a better future, he said.

Kayla Wong | January 07, 2022, 04:31 PM

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Countries should focus on "practical and good governance" based on each country's unique circumstances, rather than "dogma or ideology", Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Thursday, Jan. 6.

Speaking at the annual Regional Outlook Forum organised by research institute and think tank Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, Teo said "good governance" is the "key to bringing better life for our people".

Conducted virtually over two days, the forum attracts scholars, experts and policymakers to discuss global economic and political trends, as well as the region's major challenges.

Teo also brought up "multilateralism" and "partnerships" as two other areas that help to build better lives for the people.

1. Practical and good governance that's not bound by ideology

Teo said each country, with its different set of circumstances and challenges, will have to organise itself and find its own blend of social and economic policies.

For instance, Asean has a young population overall that's projected to grow, but without investing in education and developing their young, these countries would not be able to reap this "demographic dividend", the Coordinating Minister for National Security said.

At the same time, there are growing healthcare and retirement needs of seniors that need to be adequately provided for so these requirements don't strain the budgets of the state, individuals and families.

Issues China and the U.S. have to address

Beyond Southeast Asia, China "needs to address the growing income gap particularly between its rural and urban populations", Teo said.

"China also needs to avoid falling into the middle-income trap before its population ages," he added.

As for the U.S., it "needs to deal with its growing inequality gap, its 'culture wars', and to create sufficient new jobs for another generation of middle-class workers with higher aspirations," he said.

"It also needs to invest significantly to upgrade its basic education and infrastructure."

2. It's hard but countries have to work together

Secondly, instead of acting unilaterally for their own "narrow self-interests", countries need to be guided by "principles which serve the good of the broad community of nations", Teo said.

We live in a much more interconnected world, and should uphold a "rules-based, multilateral system where the rules are set and accepted by the broad community of nations", he further elaborated.

Teo acknowledged that it's hard work, takes time, requires compromise and consensus, and can be imperfect, such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Nevertheless, it's important work that has to be done to "broaden the middle ground for countries to work together and prosper together", he said.

Multilateralism has helped Asean countries grow

Using Asean as an example, he said multilateralism has been key to the region's growth and development.

Member states, despite their diverse culture, history, ethnicity and political systems, were able to "set aside [their] differences" and work together for the common good of the region, he said.

The formation of Asean in 1967 has been "a source of stability and strength" that allowed the regional grouping to grow, which in turn provided a platform to engage the major powers, as well as other countries and regions.

Countries besides Asean states have also benefited by committing to a rules-based multilateral order.

For instance, China's economy grew by five times in real terms in the last twenty years, which had a profound effect on the lives of individuals and families as the country lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty since it first opened up its economy in 1978, Teo explained.

Developed countries, such as the U.S., have benefited as well as they found bigger new markets for their goods in the fast growing developing countries.

Touching on global supply chain issues, Teo said manufacturers may have to move from a "just-in-time" and "lean production" model to a "just-in-case" and "resilient production" paradigm, adding that a more robust global supply chain has to be built.

3. Smaller countries can help shape global order by partnering up

After Covid-19 struck, the G20 was not able to muster the "collective and concerted action" to deal with the pandemic, given the state of relations among several key G20 countries, Teo said.

But this doesn't mean that the world could only depend on the bigger countries to take the initiative.

"Smaller countries have agency to step up and do something for ourselves through partnerships," he said, adding that they can come together with like-minded countries to "help shape the global order".

This was seen in the fruition of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which was signed by 11 countries in 2018, after the U.S. withdrew from its earlier iteration under former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Teo also brought up the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which came into force on Jan. 1 despite India pulling out, as an example of what smaller countries can do when they come together.

Teo ended his speech by reiterating the importance of working together to build a better future, adding that the years since the pandemic struck had shown the people what "a dysfunctional world could look like".

"Let us work together to reclaim the middle ground, and shape the future through building consensus and cooperation, to create a better future for our region and for the world," he said.

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