Singapore’s prime minister made an impassioned plea on Monday for open markets and warned “political pressures” were driving countries apart, in a swipe at rising protectionism at the start of a gathering of world leaders. Dignitaries including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and US Vice President Mike Pence are attending this week’s summit in the city-state against the backdrop of a months-long trade dispute between Beijing and Washington.
Some of the leaders are expected to announce major progress on a massive China-backed trade deal that excludes the US, in a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s increasingly unilateralism approach to international commerce. Trump is skipping the annual summit — which was regularly attended by his predecessor Barack Obama — in a sign of how far he has withdrawn from attempts to shape the global rules of trade and raising new questions about Washington’s commitment to Asia.
Addressing a business forum ahead of this week’s main meetings, Lee Hsien called for Southeast Asian companies to invest more in each others’ markets and be more open to foreign competition. “The more integrated and open our markets are, and the more conducive our rules and business environments to foreign investment, the larger the pie will grow, and the more we will all benefit,” he said.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “has great potential, but fully realizing it depends on whether we choose to become more integrated, and work resolutely towards this goal in a world where multilateralism is fraying under political pressures”.