SINGAPORE – The Republic has much to learn from how the French use arts and culture for the betterment of society, but the country can also be a unique window for France into South-east Asian heritage and culture, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong said on Wednesday (Nov 10).
He met his French counterpart Roselyne Bachelot on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Unesco’s 41st general conference in Paris, and said they both looked forward to exchanges and collaborations among artists and practitioners in both countries to resume.
“We had a lively debate about our respective cultures and heritage, and exchanged insights on how they are appreciated and managed,” Mr Tong said in a Facebook post. “We discussed our common priority to preserve heritage through harnessing technology and innovation.
“(Ms Bachelot and I) both assumed our respective culture portfolios in July last year at the height of the crisis, which continues to grip and challenge the arts sector. So naturally, our conversation gravitated to exchanging ideas on how each of our governments continues to support the arts.”
The meeting came ahead of Mr Tong’s national statement on Thursday to international delegates at the Unesco general conference, where he said the United Nations cultural agency’s work is more critical than ever amid the pandemic.
He added that Singapore will continue to participate “substantively” in Unesco platforms, which seek to ensure universal access to education and preserve cultural and natural heritage.
“Unesco’s work in promoting education, science, information and culture for sustainable development is more relevant than ever,” he said, citing disrupted lives, communities and businesses around the world.
“Singapore hopes to work with you to strengthen Unesco, so that we can overcome these challenges and build a more peaceful and sustainable world.”
Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, is marking its 75th anniversary this year, and all eyes are on the adoption of its final draft for the Recommendations on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, a discussion which Singapore is participating in.
Former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay was re-elected as Unesco director-general for a second mandate, as she hopes to woo back the United States and Israel, which left in 2018 after accusing the agency of anti-Israel bias.
Mr Tong did not directly address this but said the resounding support for Ms Azoulay is testament to her “steady leadership” over the last four years.
After congratulating the organisation’s achievements in building peace since World War II, he said Singapore supports Unesco’s efforts to forge an international consensus on artificial intelligence, one of the focal points of debates this year.
“Singapore has adopted a balanced and pragmatic approach to facilitate innovation and industry development, while ensuring user protection,” he said.
“We look forward to collaborations with Unesco in our collective efforts to promote responsible AI research and use.”
Unesco was founded to promote world peace through softer, more non-conventional means, and Singapore has sought to up its ante in its engagement in recent years, especially on the cultural front.
Last year, its campaign to get hawker culture inscribed on the Unesco intangible heritage list was accepted, and Mr Yeo Kirk Siang of the National Heritage Board, who led the project, became the first Singaporean to be elected to the Unesco intangible cultural heritage evaluation body, which advises the organisation on additions to the list.
Mr Tong said Singapore will also make sure the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the island state’s first world heritage site, continues to be preserved and be an important site for education and research.
Singapore will also keep participating in a range of Unesco initiatives on other fronts, such as the Unesco bioethics programme.
The Unesco general conference is being held from Nov 9 to 24 this year. It meets every two years, and is attended by member states, observers from non-member nations, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations.
Its main duty is to set the programmes and the budget of Unesco.
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