Sunday, 3 April 2016

Divisive politics could grip Singapore too: PM Lee

People here may feel disenfranchised, like in US, if pressures not addressed, says PM
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Sunday Times, 3 Apr 2016

The divisive, populist politics that has gripped the United States and other parts of the world of late could become a Singapore problem too, if people start tofeel similarly disenfranchised, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking to the Singapore media as he wrapped up a week-long working visit to the US, Mr Lee said the mood on the ground in America has soured against the political establishment because citizens no longer feel that current systems are addressing their needs.

"It's because the population feels anxious, feels unsettled, feels angry and doesn't feel that the existing political leadership and process are articulating or addressing those emotions," Mr Lee explained.

"They may be emotional; they may not actually be helping to solve the predicament they are in, but there are real concerns which people have and which the governments have got to try and solve."

Singapore, he said, is not immune to such pressures.

"These are pressures which build up and they could build up in Singapore because, as a developed economy, we face some of the same challenges as they do.

"And if we are unable to address that, people will feel like there is no other avenue to have their concerns seen to, and their feelings spoken for. Then I think we can have a problem," Mr Lee said.

The Prime Minister had similarly raised concerns about the political climate in the US during an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal editorial board.

He said the presidential campaign thus far had put forward the most "extreme menu of choices" he has seen in a US election, and expressed worries that the country could retreat from its leadership position in the world.

He said he is now cautious about the prospects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which was signed in February this year by 12 countries, including Singapore.

"What is very clear is that the mood in America is very troubled. That's why you have candidates expressing very extreme views, because it's not really a solution… it's just that 'I'm very angry, I'm hitting out and I want satisfaction'," Mr Lee said, in reference to some of the rhetoric in the US presidential campaign.

"In that mood, I think it's not easy to make a case why a complicated agreement 1,000 pages long is good for America.

"It's much easier for people to raise anxieties and negatives, and sour the public support."

Mr Lee said it is now unlikely the deal will even be put up for ratification by the US Congress before the presidential election in November, leaving a two-month window in the lame-duck session that follows to get it passed.

"But it's a very short period of time, the congressmen have not focused on this and you will have to make a very big decision as a lame-duck Congress. It's not easy," he said.

When questions turned to Singapore's politics and the upcoming Bukit Batok by-election, Mr Lee would not be drawn on when the polls might be.

"When it happens, you will know," he said with a smile.




DOING WHAT WE NEED TO DO

All the developed countries, America, the Europeans are going through a period of very poor productivity performance. And they are not sure why, they are not sure what to do about it. We are doing all the things which the economists say ought to be done in order to fix it. We haven't seen the results yet but we are doing what we believe are the right things.

In America, there are things which they need to do which they are not able to do, for example, invest in their education system and upgrade it across the board, all the schools... They need to invest in infrastructure but that's not possible to do because it means government money and there's gridlock in Congress, you can't spend the money.

So they are stuck. We are not stuck, we are doing what we need to do. I think it's an act of faith but I think eventually it will show results. ''

- PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on Singapore's efforts to restructure the economy and boost productivity.






Anti-globalisation mood in US holds risks: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Some proposals by US presidential candidates could damage America's standing if implemented, he says
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

The anti-establishment, anti-globalisation groundswell that has fuelled much of the US presidential campaign is a worry for Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he stressed that the United States continues to play a critical leadership role in the world.

Speaking to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in the US this week, Mr Lee made his most extensive remarks yet about the chaotic and divisive election campaign that is under way.

"I do not think you have ever had such an extreme menu of choices as you have in this election, choices which are likely to end up on the ballot paper," he said, noting that the US system tends to curb the power of the president enough such that less-than-ideal candidates are prevented from doing too much harm.

Should that system fail, however, people need only look at wartime Europe to understand the potential outcome, he said.

"In Asia, you can write those off as unstable, immature democracies, but in Europe, before the war, such stress led to very extreme outcomes in Germany, in Italy and in the end, you have a very unhappy result."

No man is an island, and the same is true for nations. America needs to balance its own domestic concerns with its...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, April 1, 2016


Mr Lee is in the US on a working visit that includes attending the 4th Nuclear Security Summit that started in Washington yesterday.

Asked to comment on proposals made by US candidates on the campaign trail, he made clear the damage that could be done to America's standing if some of these were ever implemented.

Take, for instance, the proposal from billionaire Donald Trump that the US enter into a trade war with China by imposing a 40 per cent tariff on imported Chinese goods.

Without citing any candidate by name, Mr Lee said: "It is not possible, because if that is how we work, seriously-entered-into undertakings can be just torn up because the Americans are not happy, we can do it over again, then how do we conclude a new agreement?"

The same goes, he said, for calls in the US for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact to be renegotiated.

Citing the difficult process the 12 economies have had to go through to even reach an agreement, he saw a reopening of talks as impractical: "If you are asking for more, who is going to volunteer to give? Your candidates have to face election, (the) Japanese Prime Minister faces re-election, too."

While Mr Lee said he was "not very optimistic" that the deal agreed to last year by 12 countries, including Singapore, could be ratified by the US this year, he stressed that it is a critical piece of the US' Asia strategy.





South China Sea dispute: US has to build ties first, says PM Lee
By Jeremy Au Yong, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

The maritime disputes in the South China Sea need to be tackled as part of a broader US-China relationship, rather than as a one-dimensional, zero-sum issue, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

To that end, he said the US must first start by building an overall, substantive relationship in the region.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal editorial board in an interview in the United States this week, PM Lee outlined what he thought the US response should be to the South China Sea issue.

"I think there must be no doubt in anybody's mind that America is a Pacific power, that you have an interest in the region, that you would like a peaceful region, but at the same time, you would like international norms and laws to be observed."

It was therefore important, he said, for the US to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal and ratify the decades-old United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

"Without the interest in a broad range of mutual cooperation, America is just another country which has some claim or some assertion," he said. And once the relationship is built, the US would be better placed to deal with the South China Sea.

"You are in a position to say, 'I am here, I have an overall relationship with China, we have issues, we have cooperation, but we also have things which we need to discuss'."

Washington and Beijing have been at odds on the matter for years, with the US frequently chiding China over what it sees as its bullying of countries in the region. China, in turn, accuses the US of having double standards and interfering with Chinese national interests.

And while there have been attempts to stress the broader cooperation between the two sides, thorny issues such as cyber security and the South China Sea often overshadow meetings.

During the broad-ranging interview with the US newspaper, Mr Lee was also asked for his views on Chinese politics and President Xi Jinping's leadership.

Mr Lee said that though Chinese influence is growing rapidly, the country remains conscious of the issues it has.

"I am not sure that they are feeling triumphant. I think they are feeling anxious that there are so many relationships in the region which are yet to be fully consolidated. They like people to be their friends, but they know that that takes time."

And despite the challenges, he believes the Xi regime is stable.

"I do not think he has a challenger. I think he has a lot of personal popularity... They have problems, but they are working at it. They understand the problems even though they may not be able to overcome them quickly."

He also dismissed the suggestion that the Chinese leader was setting up a cult of personality.

"That is a pejorative, a normative statement, but I think he is putting himself front and centre because he thinks it will help him to get what he needs done, done. And he does have a personality and he is projecting it. You find it strange because several of his predecessors did not have any personalities publicly projected."












PM Lee on other regional concerns
In a wide-ranging interview with The Wall Street Journal in New York this week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was also asked about terrorism, and politics in Malaysia and Thailand. Here are some of his responses.


ON RADICALISATION IN SINGAPORE

It is a very serious problem. The community, our Muslims, are on our side. The religious leaders understand and are quite unambiguous in their stance.

But you will have people who have had something gone wrong with their world, or they may be at a teen age or have had some life crisis and they get radicalised.

Their families may be in denial and may not tell us. Or sometimes, the families do tell us, and we act on the problem quickly. ''


ON INVESTIGATIONS INTO ACCOUNTS REPORTEDLY LINKED TO MALAYSIAN PM NAJIB RAZAK

We will have to see where the investigations lead. I think it is premature to say anything about them. Najib is somebody whom we have known a long time and worked with and been able to do business with, and we have a very constructive relationship with him and his government, and we hope that that will continue.


ON WHETHER HE WORRIES ABOUT THE UMNO-LED RULING COALITION LOSING POWER TO THE OPPOSITION

When you have an election, you never know how things will turn out until the ballot boxes open. The basis of politics in Malaysia has always been race, and religion has been a much bigger factor, Islam has become a much bigger factor over the years, and I think that will continue.

I do not know how the next election will turn out. In the last several elections, there have been surprises, but if you do not have a basis for governing Malaysia which will maintain social stability and racial harmony under Malaysian rules, that will mean a lot of uncertainty for them and undoubtedly impact on us.


ON WHETHER HE SEES THAILAND BACKSLIDING AND WHERE HE THINKS THAI POLITICS IS GOING

They are in transition, they are anxiously watching the succession to a new monarch in due course and wondering how the system will work with a new monarch in place, having gotten used to a very dominant and revered figure over the last 60-something years.

It is a country which has a very difficult problem to solve because if you go purely on, how shall we put it, parliamentary democracy rules, like you would in Britain, it probably is not governable because the elite will not feel themselves part of this.

And if you just work on the basis of the elite being in charge and chuck the parliamentary rules out of the window, in this day and age, you will find it very difficult to run a modern economy and society.

How do you find the right balance which is going to be workable in such a society?

You may call it 'backsliding', you can say it is not according to the norms which prevail internationally, but they have got to find a solution which works for Thailand, and that is very hard.





Attended the final Nuclear Security Summit yesterday. The NSS was created to address the threat of nuclear terrorism....
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, April 2, 2016






World stands united against nuclear threat
Leaders at summit cite nuclear terrorism as top threat and vow to join hands in fighting it
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Sunday Times, 3 Apr 2016

World leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington have reaffirmed their commitment to countering nuclear terrorism and proliferation, with the budding nuclear ambitions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group topping the list of concerns.

In a joint communique released after the summit on Friday, the more than 50 leaders highlighted nuclear terrorism as "one of the greatest challenges to international security" and pledged to cooperate to combat it.

"More work remains to be done to prevent non-state actors from obtaining nuclear and other radioactive materials, which could be used for malicious purposes. We commit to fostering a peaceful and stable international environment by reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism and strengthening nuclear security," the communique said.

Speaking at the first plenary session of the day, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that while it was not the most imminent threat - no terror group has yet obtained a nuclear device - it was a "plausible and believable" one. He cited an article published in an ISIS magazine last year which highlighted a scenario where ISIS purchased a nuclear device from the black market to launch a major attack. "It shows their intent, and it is a threat which countries must take seriously."

He also outlined Singapore's efforts to minimise the threat, including stringent border checks. "The things we are going to do, we need to do anyway," he told Singapore media after the summit. "That is to deal with the ideology of extremist groups, deal with the operational aspects of it, to identify the people before they can do anything... The nuclear part of it is something we are working on with other countries so when it comes to tracking the movement of material through Singapore, we have been doing our part."

In his speech at the plenary session, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged nations to further strengthen the global nuclear security architecture. "It is necessary to assess the international nuclear terrorism situation on a regular basis," he said. "We must build international consensus on enhanced nuclear security."

In opening the event, US President Barack Obama warned: "There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they most certainly would use it to kill as many innocent people as possible," he said. "It would change our world."



The summit took place amid growing fears of nuclear terrorism. In the weeks leading up to the summit, it was discovered individuals involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks had filmed a senior manager working at a Belgian nuclear facility.

And though the summit - an initiative of the Obama administration - will likely be the last, the group laid out action plans for organisations like the UN and Interpol.

Said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte: "This summit is not the end of our quest to make the world safe from nuclear terrorism. The five organisations to which we pass the torch today can count on our continued support and commitment."

PM Lee, who is concluding a week-long working visit to the US, had meetings with leaders on the sidelines of the summit, including Mr Rutte, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Malaysian deputy premier Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. The Prime Minister's Office said the Thai PM has accepted an invitation to deliver the Shangri-La Dialogue keynote speech in Singapore this year.














World leaders meet to tackle nuclear safety
Summit takes place amid heightened threat from North Korea, reports of breaches at Belgium's 2 nuclear plants
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 2 Apr 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong joined leaders from more than 50 countries in the US Capitol for a summit aimed at dealing with the threat of nuclear weapons.

But hours before the meeting took place yesterday, North Korea fired a missile into the sea off its east coast. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the test appeared to involve a ballistic missile.

It took place just hours after leaders from the United States, South Korea and Japan held a trilateral summit in Washington, at which they vowed to ramp up pressure on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and missile tests.

US President Barack Obama, South Korea's President Park Geun Hye and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recommitted their countries to each other's defence and warned they could take further steps to counter threats from Pyongyang.

Mr Obama on Thursday also hosted leaders attending the nuclear summit to a working dinner at the White House. This will be the final summit in a series of four that was initiated by Mr Obama in 2010.

PM Lee has attended every Nuclear Security Summit, in a sign of Singapore's commitment to global nuclear security.

At the end of the meetings, the leaders are expected to release a joint communique outlining steps forward and issue action plans for relevant agencies like the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency and Interpol.

This year's summit is taking place against the backdrop of an increasingly belligerent North Korean regime and the heightened threat of nuclear terrorism.

In the aftermath of the deadly terror attacks in Belgium, new concerns were raised that militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was planning attacks on the country's nuclear installations. It emerged after the attacks that there have been troubling breaches at Belgium's two nuclear plants. For instance, two workers quit in 2012 to join the fighting in Syria.

Despite the global threats, experts have low expectations for this year's meeting, especially given the Russian boycott.

Russia - which possesses one of the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world - decided to sit out the summit, citing a lack of mutual cooperation in working out the agenda.

US officials stressed that Moscow's absence would not unduly impact the summit.

"Russia's decision to not participate... we believe is a missed opportunity for Russia above all. They have benefited enormously from cooperation on nuclear security and non-proliferation in the past," said White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. "All they are doing is isolating themselves in not participating as they have in the past."

PM Lee on Thursday met US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen and Trade Representative Michael Froman. They exchanged views on the global economy and on the prospects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.





My first full day in Washington DC. Had back to back meetings with Janet Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, and...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, March 31, 2016





Close watch on nuclear security
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2016

Singapore's interest in nuclear security may not be immediately obvious - it does not have nuclear weapons nor does it use the energy - but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's presence at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this week is a sign of how seriously the Government views the issue.

PM Lee has made it a point to participate in all four of the nuclear summits, held once every two years.

As he explained after the meeting in The Hague in 2014, nuclear proliferation can have a profound impact on Singapore. First, any nuclear incident on a small, densely populated island like Singapore could potentially be an existential threat.

And second, given the country's status as an international trade hub, its economy can be crippled by a nuclear accident elsewhere.

Beyond Singapore's most direct interests, the discussions this week among the more than 50 world leaders will have implications for the region at large.

Asia is set to become a major player in global nuclear security in the coming years.

A recent article by the Asia Society noted that the region will likely see the highest levels of growth in the use of civilian nuclear energy globally in the coming years, and is also expected to experience the sharpest rise in nuclear weapon capacity.

Finally, the region's geopolitical landscape makes it susceptible to nuclear terrorism.

"Certain parts of the Asian region - South Asia in particular - face the dangerous combination of a significant terrorist threat combined with vulnerable nuclear facilities, making them particularly vulnerable to would-be nuclear terrorists," Harvard nuclear expert Gary Samore told the think-tank.

So, while it is unclear how many, if any, concrete agreements will emerge from the summit, the large contingent of Asian leaders participating - heads of state from China, India, Japan and South Korea are attending - shows the region is paying attention.





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