The growing mood of anxiety and discontent, and the ground gained by extreme political parties in many developed countries will impact not just the world economy, but global security and stability, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
There will be major consequences for small, open countries such as Singapore that have relied on open trade and making friends, and sought opportunities to co-operate, he said.
It will also be harder to prosper together in this new climate, where countries becoming more protectionist, seeing others' gains as their loss, he added.
Mr Lee gave this reading of recent trends in a speech to 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at its biennial party conference.
He called on members to understand what the trend means for Singapore and to help ensure the PAP retains strong support from all segments of society.
He said: "The external world is changing... in a very fundamental way not advantageous to us. We have to watch this, we have to know how this is going to impact us over the next few years."
Mr Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general, noted that voters around the world are unhappy that the benefits of growth are not reaching them and feel threatened that immigrants are competing for their jobs.
He cited the recent United States election, the Brexit vote and the rise of extreme parties in Europe as examples of voters' weariness of trade and wariness of immigrants.
He said: "This looks like the trend now. I do not know how far it will go, but I do not like the direction the trend is going.
"If more countries turn this way, the world is going to change, and change for the worse."
Singapore prospered in the past 50 years by working hard, but it was fortunate to have a favourable external environment - a peaceful Asia and an international order where countries co-operate and compete under rules that are fair to all, giving small countries "a right to their place in the sun".
Today, countries are getting more assertive.
"Nobody can tell how relations between the big powers will develop. If US-China relations grow tense, Singapore is going to be in a very difficult spot, because we regard both the US and China as our friends and do not want to have to choose between them."
Meanwhile, obstacles to trade are increasing and Singapore's exports - a key pillar of its economy - are not growing by very much either.
But Singapore has to accept the world as it is, not as it wishes it to be, said Mr Lee.
He said: "We ourselves must remain open, because if we close up like other countries, our people will be finished."
This article was first published on Dec 5, 2016.
Get The New Paper for more stories.