Keynote speech at the 15th ASEAN & Asia Forum: Building Resilience in a Prolonged Polycrisis

I took a day off from the election campaign trail to be in Singapore, at the invitation of Professor Simon Tay, to deliver a keynote speech at Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA)’s 15th ASEAN and Asia Forum.

The forum’s theme was “Rebuilding Resilience in a Prolonged Polycrisis”.

The term “polycrisis” was first used by Adam Tooze and later adopted by World Economic Forum and many others to describe the perfect storm the world is in: we are dealing with a series of simultaneous crises of pandemic and health, geopolitics and war, financial instability, debts and inflation, and an ever present climate crisis.

This polycrisis won’t go away in the next year, the next five years, or even the next decades. The question now is, are these prolonged crises or the new constant?

If these “crises” are going to be the “constant” over the next two decades, we should acknowledge that we have entered a new era with these characteristics as the key features that we must boldly tackle.

The last world order had begun with the fall of Berlin Wall in November 1989, frayed since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and declared dead upon Covid-19’s arrival, and buried on 24 February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

With its unfettered capitalism and corporate profits over the legitimate interests of other stakeholders such as workers and the climate and the environment, the last world order was far from perfect, and not missed by many.

The new era that we are embarking on requires collaboration between private and public sectors to solve societal problems with innovation, and collaboration between nations rather than a race to the bottom that benefits only the mobile global capital and not the ordinary people.

To inoculate our societies against extremism, populism, and chaos, we must build a resilient middle class society in our respective nations. When most ordinary people feel that there will be upward mobility for themselves or at least their children, the world would be a more secure place for all.

This is my first-ever meeting with Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, the new ASEAN Secretary-General. I am also delighted to reconnect with another keynote speaker Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Health Minister, whom I last met in 2018.

Very happy to see Professor Wang Gungwu in good health too. He is 93 years old and still as sharp as ever.

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