Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Rising global discontent will affect stability, security: PM Lee at PAP Conference 2016

It will be harder to prosper together, and Singapore must keep watch over impact of trend
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2016

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 cooperate, he said.

It will also be harder to prosper together in this new climate, where countries are turning inward and 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 their biennial party conference.

He called on members to understand what the trend means for Singapore and to help ensure the PAP remains a party with strong support from all segments of society.

"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," he said.

Mr Lee, who is PAP 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.

"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," he said. "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 big and small cooperate and compete under rules that are fair to all, giving small countries "a right to their place in the sun".

Today, countries are flexing their muscles and becoming increasingly assertive.

"Nobody can tell how relations between the big powers will develop," said Mr Lee. "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.

"We ourselves must remain open, because if we close up like other countries, our people will be finished," he said.

Besides understanding the global climate, Mr Lee spelt out two other ways for the ruling party to prepare for the next general election, which must be held by April 2021.

First, the party must strive to improve the lives of Singaporeans.

He cited two ways of doing so: By equipping Singaporeans with the skills to take care of themselves through schools and training programmes, and by strengthening social safety nets.

Second, the PAP must remain a strong, national party that reaches out to all segments of society and represents them. It must also stay focused on serving the people, and provide strong leadership, he said.

"Politics is the same everywhere. It is people, it is trust, it is knowing you care for me," he added.

"Unless we have this deep in our DNA, we will not be able to hold our position in Singapore."

PM Lee: Singapore better equipped to face headwinds
Unemployment low and better jobs being created, but there can be no let-up in skills upgrading
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2016

Singapore is in a much better situation than other developed countries facing slowing growth and an uncertain economic outlook, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Unemployment is low, including among youth, and incomes are rising even for lower- and middle- income families, Mr Lee told 2,500 People's Action Party (PAP) members at the biennial party conference yesterday.

"We are still creating more jobs than there are Singaporeans to fill them, and we are creating better jobs for the future," said Mr Lee, who is the PAP secretary-general.

But there can be no let-up given the difficulties ahead, he added, citing how, even as a good education system enables young people to compete for good jobs, skills have to be continually upgraded as jobs change.

"Change is happening fast, and it is going to get even faster," he said.

And while other governments are tight on money and cutting social safety nets, Singapore is strengthening its support system to reassure its citizens of help, while being careful with its spending, he added.

Mr Lee's comments come against a backdrop of economic restructuring and slower growth. Singapore's economy is forecast to grow at 1 per cent to 1.5 per cent this year, down from 2 per cent last year.

Retrenchment numbers for this year, which reached an estimated 11,890 over the first nine months, are also expected to be higher than last year's 13,440.

Given the uncertain international environment, the Government will have to strive hard to keep improving the lives of Singaporeans, especially in the areas of education, skills upgrading and social support, said Mr Lee.

Students are doing well, he noted, pointing to the country's good showing in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study released last week in which Singapore students came out on top in both subjects.

"It is a great boost to our reputation with investors but also a great reassurance to us, to our people. We can look after ourselves, we have the skills and knowledge, we are competitive and we can take jobs," he said.

Youth unemployment has also been kept low, unlike in other economies such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong or those in Europe.

As the nature of work changes through technological advancements, workers can also find help to learn new skills through schemes such as professional conversion programmes, the Career Support Programme, and Place-and-Train and Adapt and Grow initiatives, said Mr Lee.

He cited crane operators as a group that have found their jobs changing. While each crane operator used to sit in a crane cabin, they can now monitor several semi-automatic cranes from an office.

If the system one day becomes so advanced that operators are no longer needed to monitor the cranes, they will have to retrain for new jobs.

More will be done to strengthen social safety nets as the population ages, Mr Lee said. The Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life lower healthcare costs, and CPF Life and Silver Support make retirement easier on the elderly.

Infrastructure such as hospitals, social service centres, parks, the new mega-port in Tuas and better public transport are being developed too. Housing Board towns are also being upgraded and built, so that couples can own homes and start their families.

Housing is a big issue in other major cities, especially for young people, Mr Lee said, adding that being able to have a home when people start a family helps to foster a sense of nationhood and unity.

"It is one way we make this a home for all Singaporeans," he said.

PM Lee on...


On both the extreme left and extreme right, the extreme parties are strengthening, gaining support. They can't govern, they offer no workable alternative but the voters still support them - doesn't matter, bring the house down.

Today, there is a referendum in Italy. If the outcome goes against Prime Minister (Matteo) Renzi, who is a reformist, he has said he will resign. (If he does) Italy will be back with no government and there will be uncertainty and confusion again.

Austria is also voting for its president today. And it looks possible that the person who will win will be Mr Norbert Hofer, who is an extreme right-wing candidate. If he does, he will be the first extreme-right head of state in the EU.

The Netherlands will be going to the polls in March, France in May and Germany in September.

In France, people don't expect (National Front leader) Marine Le Pen to win. In Germany, people don't expect (Chancellor) Angela Merkel to lose. But still, people expect that, whoever wins in France and Germany, the result of the elections will be a more divided country.

And if by some chance Le Pen wins or Merkel loses, then it is a radically different Europe and a profoundly different world.

These are changes which affect not just individual countries but also the whole international order and the whole international environment, the world which we live in.


We worked very hard for it. Twelve countries spent six years negotiating the TPP, including the US and Singapore.

We all negotiated hard and all 12 were satisfied, we signed, this is a good deal.

Now, America has a new president, and President-elect Trump has declared that he believes the TPP is bad deal for the US, and that he is going to pull the US out of the TPP.

Without the US, there is no TPP. We have to accept the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

We still hope that one day we will have a regional trade deal which will include the US, Singapore, Japan and the other big countries. 

But it is a long way off and, meanwhile, we have to make the best of this situation.

We have to continue to pursue trade liberalisation with others in the region. For example, we have another set of initials, the RCEP, it means the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a different group. We have Japan, South Korea, China, the Asean countries, India, Australia, New Zealand.

So we can't get the TPP (but) we have another free trade agreement. Not the same, but let's make the best we can of this.

PAP must remain a strong, national party for Singapore to stay united and successful: PM Lee at PAP conference 2016
PAP 'must continue to bring people together'
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2016

For Singapore to stay successful, the People's Action Party (PAP) must continue to be a strong national party that brings people together and takes the country forward in an increasingly fragmented world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

In order to do so, the party must continue to reach out to as well as represent all segments of society.

"It works both ways. If our society is united, then it is easier for the PAP to represent a broad mass of Singaporeans," Mr Lee told PAP members at the biennial party conference.

"Conversely, if the PAP government pursues policies that benefit Singaporeans across the board, that bring Singaporeans closer together, then our society can remain united."

This will not be easy. Around the world, the opposite is happening, Mr Lee noted: Societies are fragmenting and people are splitting up into narrow groups, unable to find common ground on issues such as immigration and religion.

Extreme political groups are getting stronger and pressure groups are growing, "a vicious cycle leaving societies divided".

"It becomes us versus them. The politics becomes dysfunctional, the legislatures gridlocked and governments paralysed," said Mr Lee, pointing to how the United States had, more than once, been forced to shut down its federal government.

And Singapore, too, is growing more diverse, with people championing diverse causes and views.

"It makes for a vibrant civil society. Such diversities can be a strength, but only if we do not let them divide us," he said.

"We are here today because, from the very start, the PAP put forward a vision of a multi-racial society, and we committed ourselves to ensuring that no segment is left behind."

Singaporeans understood and supported this vision, which remains unchanged even now.

Mr Lee also spelled out two other things the party had to do to stay strong and win future elections: Serve the people and never take voters for granted, and provide strong leadership for Singapore.

"We count it a privilege to serve. We cannot be like political parties in some other countries, where people join a party for the spoils - because you enter politics, you get payoffs, you get contracts, you get deals, you are on the inside track, you get personal benefits, sometimes huge ones.

"Here, if you join the PAP, you expect hard work - and tough speeches," he added to laughter. "But we must never slacken. We cannot afford to take voters for granted."

As for leadership, the party must have not just a capable team at the helm today, but also a deep bench with an eye on the future.

This is why younger leaders have been active, taking on more ministry responsibilities and party activities, to progressively take over from Mr Lee and his older colleagues.

In his speech, Mr Lee cited Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin and his team as a model for soldiering on.

The PAP wrested the single seat vacated by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong in the 2011 General Election by 114 votes. It had been held by Mr Chiam since 1984.

Mr Sitoh, who contested there unsuccessfully twice before, retained the seat convincingly last year after having fought extra hard, knowing he would lose unless he worked.

Mr Lee said all PAP candidates had to have this "Potong Pasir Spirit", especially as the world enters a period of greater uncertainty.

He also held up Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai and his team for winning the May by-election called after Mr David Ong resigned due to an extra-marital affair.

"It was an important result because what was at stake was not just one seat in Parliament. Bukit Batok showed that the PAP can win a by-election," said Mr Lee.

"Voters appreciated what Murali brought - good character, personal integrity and no other agenda besides a dedication to serve voters."

Familiar faces re-elected to PAP central exec committee
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2016

People's Action Party (PAP) cadres yesterday re-elected 12 familiar faces, most of them senior Cabinet ministers, to the party's highest decision-making body.

Besides the 12 nominees for the central executive committee (CEC) with the highest number of votes, two other members who received the 13th- and 14th-highest votes at the party's biennial conference were co-opted into the CEC, as is party practice, for a two-year term.

They are Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin - who was among the top 12 at the 2014 conference - and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is not in the outgoing CEC.

The 14 CEC members remain largely unchanged from the outgoing slate. The only new name is Dr Balakrishnan, who replaces Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who had either the 13th- or 14th-highest vote in 2014, emerged among the top 12 this round.

The members were elected by secret ballot by some 2,000 cadres from a list of 17 nominees.

The other CEC members, in no particular order of the votes they received, are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and Cabinet ministers Khaw Boon Wan, Yaacob Ibrahim, Lim Swee Say, K. Shanmugam, Gan Kim Yong, Chan Chun Sing, Grace Fu and Heng Swee Keat.

The Straits Times understands that the other nominees were National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Education Ministers Ng Chee Meng (Schools) and Ong Ye Kung (Higher Education and Skills). Dr Ng Eng Hen was not on the ballot.

Before the results were announced, PM Lee told party members he was happy that several younger leaders had been elected into the CEC two years back.

"I hope this time more of them will be elected into the CEC, and they will progressively take over from me and my older colleagues."

The PAP is expected to co-opt up to four more members into the CEC in the coming weeks.

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