Wednesday, 19 February 2014

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s interview with Caixin (财新 新世纪), 7 Feb 2014

Finding 'yin-yang balance' for Singapore
More must be done to shift from competitiveness to caring for one another: PM
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2014

IN THE balance between competitiveness and care for one another, Singapore needs to do somewhat more to tilt towards the latter, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

This shift is needed as competition gets fiercer and conditions get more challenging for the middle and lower income, he said in an interview with a Chinese weekly magazine.

Every society has its "yin" and "yang" and Singapore has to have the right balance, said Mr Lee.

He described the "yang" as competitiveness which drives society forward, and the "yin" as care, concern and helping one another go through life.

"If you go too much towards competitiveness, you lose that cohesion and sense of being Singaporeans together," he said in the interview, published yesterday as a front-page feature in New Century.

"If we go all the way the other way and say, well, we don't compete, everybody will be first in class, then nobody will be first in class. I think we will all be losers."

Mr Lee drew a contrast between China, which moved from being an iron rice bowl system to a very competitive one, and Singapore.

Singapore has operated a competitive system with "targeted significant social safeguards" on public housing, health care and education, he noted, but it has begun tilting towards social spending.

"That means to give greater help to the low-income groups so that they can increase their earnings and their assets; to keep our society more open so that people who have talent can move up and will not be daunted by the gaps in incomes between the rich and poor," he said.

In his National Day Rally speech last August, Mr Lee outlined more state and community support for individuals, especially those who are vulnerable.

Casting his eye on political changes on the horizon, Mr Lee also said in the interview at the Istana that Singapore will have a greater degree of political competition and participation in the future.

"We ought to accommodate that, because it's good that Singaporeans care about the affairs of the country and which way Singapore is going," he said.

Political structures have to gradually evolve with time, he added. "But whatever we change, we still want a system where you encourage good people to come forward... and you encourage the Government to act in a way which will take the long-term interests of the country at heart. And that's not easy to do."

Singapore's system of leadership transition has been one of continuity and has worked for the country so far, added Mr Lee.

The long period of exposure is a privilege, he said, as it lets leaders learn what their responsibilities are, and allows the electorate to get to know their politicians.

Mr Lee and his predecessor Goh Chok Tong had been in politics for more than 20 and 10 years respectively before they rose to the top job.

Mr Lee said: "There's no surprise, there's no anxiety, but there is a smooth change of gears. We hope to have similar continuity going forward, but I think it would be a very great luxury to have prime ministers, in future, have 10 or 20 years of tutelage. I don't think we can guarantee that all the time."

Important for China to integrate smoothly into international system: PM Lee
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2014

AS CHINA grows in strength, one of its major challenges will be to integrate smoothly into the international order while defending its interests at the same time.

A peaceful integration is important because "China will not be the most powerful country in the world", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview published in China's New Century magazine yesterday.

While China will likely be the world's biggest economy in a decade or two, there are also other very major, powerful and advanced economies, said Mr Lee.

"China has to work with them and there will have to be give and take on both sides," he said, citing the principles of co-existence and mutual cooperation in international relations.

Mr Lee was speaking in the context of China becoming more active in engaging its partners in pursuing and defending its interests.

The balance between that and smooth international integration is "very difficult to strike because China will have a national sense of pride... China is on the verge of arriving, you want to take your place in the sun".

"But at the same time, you want to fit in peacefully and be looked at by other countries with admiration and respect, and not just by other people saying, ah, he is powerful," said Mr Lee.

In the interview at the Istana, he chose not to be drawn into commenting on views that China was being too assertive.

Last November, China surprised the international community when it declared a new air defence identification zone, which covers parts of territories also claimed by Japan and South Korea, in the East China Sea.

China is also locked in a longstanding dispute with Japan over the islands in the East China Sea known as Diaoyu to the Chinese and Senkaku to the Japanese.

Still, despite the current picture of China-Japan relations, their "going to war as a deliberate act is not imaginable", Mr Lee said.

"But frictions are imaginable, accidents can happen, and then consequences from those accidents I think can be very troublesome.

"And both sides will lose from it."

He cited the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in the works as an example of international cooperation which would benefit China.

"It could be major adjustments for some of your companies or industries, but it should mean overall benefit for your economy."

He also highlighted the political and strategic angles for China if it joined the TPP, noting that other partners included Singapore and the United States.

"Trade is never purely trade. Trade is also an expression of who are your friends, who are your allies, whom you intend to work together with over the long term.

"I hope China sees these as friends whom it wants to work together with over the long term."

Negotiations for the 12-member TPP were to have been completed by the end of 2012, and then by the end of last year, but both targets were missed.

Nonetheless, Mr Lee said he was optimistic about being able to close the deal this year.

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