Saturday 25 May 2013

PM Lee Hsien Loong positive about Asia's prospects: 19th Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia 2013

He is cautiously optimistic global power shifts will be managed well
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 24 May 2013

THE world's balance of power may be undergoing significant change, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is "cautiously optimistic" the transition will be managed wisely and prudently.

He expressed this confidence as he analysed big power relations yesterday at an annual Nikkei conference in Tokyo, on the future of Asia.

"Asia's future is bright," he said. "Countries are striving for growth and prosperity, to improve the lives of their people.

But there are also risks.

Referring to the fears of China's rise, the possibility of miscalculation in the complex US-China relationship and the many disputes brewing between Asian countries, Mr Lee urged nations not to view international relations through an "us versus them" lens.

Speaking at one point to a Japanese participant who said he supported a hypothetical plan by China's neighbours to encircle it, Mr Lee said: "I would be very careful about saying, 'Let's make a friendship amongst all the countries which are frightened of China'. I don't think that is a constructive and helpful approach.

"I think, let's all make friends and develop constructive relations with one another in a multi-dimensional way."

In his wide-ranging speech followed by a dialogue, Mr Lee spoke on the major powers in Asia, but zeroed in on the role of the United States, China, Japan and Asean in keeping the peace.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the US prefer stable ties with China and understand that containing China is both impossible and unwise, he said.

China, on its part, also knows that asserting itself too vigorously is not in its own interest.

"By demonstrating its benign purposes through its actions and its restraint, China will reassure other countries, and enhance its own security," he said.

Citing China's territorial disputes with Japan and a few South-east Asian countries, he added: "What you gain on the Senkakus and the South China Sea, but you lose in terms of your broader reputation and standing in the world, you have to make that calculation very carefully."

Turning to Japan, Mr Lee said it should forge good relations with America as well as China.

He said Japan's strained ties with China had looked positive as recently as 2006, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, then serving his first stint as PM, visited China and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reciprocated a year later.

"Events since... have set relations back, but they have not fundamentally changed either the interests or the strategic situation of China or Japan," he said.

While it was important that Japan's relations with the US were good, he said, he hoped it was not for the wrong reason; that is, because its ties with other Asian countries were bad.

Mr Lee encouraged Japan to engage Asean more while noting that the regional grouping needs to strive towards a more integrated community.

Asean, however, does not derive its influence from raw power. It comes from the forums it hosts, at which Asian powers can congregate, talk and seek cooperation.

"We are non-threatening. We want to be friends with all parties and around this neutral fulcrum, the other major powers can all participate, whether it's China, Japan, Russia or America," he said.

After the conference, PM Abe hosted Mr Lee and other visiting dignitaries to dinner.

Mr Lee last attended the annual conference in 2005.

Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew usually attends it but its organisers told The Straits Times that the elder Mr Lee declined this year, citing doctors' advice not to travel abroad.

PM Lee returns to Singapore today, ending a four-day official visit to Japan.

'I saw them digging up the WWII graves'
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 24 May 2013

THE scene is etched in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's memory - at age 10, he witnessed the uncovering of a mass grave of those killed in the Japanese Occupation.

"I remember the day because I saw them coming to dig up the graves. It was next to my school," said Mr Lee.

"There was a big outcry."

The year was 1962, when multiple mass graves were found in various parts of Singapore, including Siglap and Bukit Timah. He was studying at Nanyang Primary School, off Bukit Timah Road.

Mr Lee recounted the scene and other personal memories of World War II yesterday at the Nikkei Conference in Tokyo, to make the point that each generation's view of the war was shaped by what they remembered. Those born after the war would have heard stories or, in the case of the mass graves, seen chilling evidence of suffering.

"We know from our parents what it was like," he said.

"If my father had been taken away, he would not have come back and I would not be here today. My uncle - my mother's brother - was taken away, and never came back. So these memories mean something."

But his children's generation would naturally be further removed from such memories while those from his parents' would carry them for life, he added.

Mr Lee raised the issue of the shadow cast by history when he was asked about rising nationalist sentiment in Japan and a desire among some Japanese to amend its pacifist Constitution.

He said it was the prerogative of any country to change its Constitution, but added that governments had the responsibility to "make the wisest choice".

Europe, he noted, had achieved reconciliation but not parts of Asia. In Asia, Singapore had chosen to move on more than China or South Korea had, he said.

Mr Lee urged all sides to look to the future: "If you reopen old subjects, whether it's comfort women, whether it's aggression, whether there's an apology or no apology, well, it's your prerogative to do so but you have to consider whether this will be helpful in the context of the relations with other Asian countries."

MFA calls Chinese media report a 'gross distortion' of PM Lee's remarks about China's territorial disputes and relations with its neighbours

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