Speech by President Halimah Yacob at Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021 Opening Plenary

20 April 2021

Your Excellency President Xi Jinping

Vice President Wang Qishan

Fellow Leaders

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


I am pleased to join you at this year’s Annual Conference, as the Boao Forum for Asia celebrates its 20th anniversary. This year’s Conference focuses on strengthening global governance amid a world in flux – which is both timely and pressing.


For over a year now, the world has been contending with COVID-19. In addition to the loss of lives and livelihoods, the pandemic has exacerbated ongoing challenges to globalisation and the multilateral order. There has been stronger pushback against free trade, increased bifurcation of technology, disruptions to global supply chains, and rising socioeconomic inequality. Tensions on the global stage have also been brought to the fore.


But every dark cloud has a silver lining.  Although this journey has been difficult, the pandemic has also catalysed opportunities for growth. One instance is the acceleration of digitalisation efforts of many countries, advancing the ongoing digital revolution.


Above all, COVID-19 has given the world a common cause to band together. International cooperation is crucial in surmounting this crisis. Exchanges have continued, with the world adapting to hybrid modes of engagement. Countries have worked together to restore supply chain connectivity, and further advanced free trade. Singapore and our partners issued a Joint Ministerial Statement to maintain supply chain connectivity amid the pandemic. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest free trade agreement, was signed between ASEAN Member States, Australia, China, Japan, the ROK and New Zealand last November. Singapore ratified the RCEP on 9 April, and is the first country to do so.


Over the past year, the international community has developed unprecedented and innovative forms of multilateral cooperation, including the establishment of the WHO-led Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and the COVID-19 Global Vaccines Access (COVAX) Facility. Singapore was an early supporter of the COVAX Facility and has contributed to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which supports low and lower-middle income countries’ access to COVID-19 vaccines. More can be done to achieve better global governance and stronger international cooperation. Another example is the safe reopening of borders, a necessary condition for the recovery of the global economy. Even as bilateral efforts in this regard are underway, we should consider how multilateral institutions, including the WHO, can play a role in setting robust standards and providing a science-based framework to guide the safe reopening of borders.


The COVID-19 pandemic is a defining challenge of our time, but it will not be the last. Long-term transboundary threats remain, including climate change and terrorism. I hope that the international community will be able to learn the lesson that this pandemic has given us – that global governance is ultimately in our common interest – and come to a renewed consensus on the advancement of an open, inclusive and rules-based multilateral system that is fit for purpose in a post-COVID-19 world. This will put us in good stead to tackle the challenges ahead, and forge a brighter future for our people.


Thank you.

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