Thursday 22 May 2014

PM Lee's interview with Nikkei Inc

S'pore can learn from Japan on managing ageing issue: PM Lee
Channel NewsAsia, 21 May 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said Singapore can learn from Japan on how to manage the ageing issue.

Mr Lee said the ageing issue is more advanced in Japan, and they have a lot of experience making arrangements for the old people.

"Physical arrangements, appliances for homes, arrangements for nursing, taking care, keeping in touch with old folks who are living on their own, so that if something happens you can go and give them help. These are areas which we can learn a lot from," said Mr Lee.

However, when it comes to population issues, perhaps Japan can take a leaf from Singapore's experience.

"I think that in terms of population overall, we have been grappling with the issues of immigration, of foreign workers and there are difficult issues there. Japan has taken the view that that is too difficult and has been very, very tight on immigration, even on foreign workers. But if you are at some point able to consider that as a politically feasible option, then maybe our experience may be interesting for you to look at," said Mr Lee.

These are among the wide ranging issues that Mr Lee spoke of during an interview with Nikkei Inc last Wednesday (May 14).

Other issues that the Prime Minister touched on include ASEAN growth, progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks and Japan's economy.

The interview was done ahead of Mr Lee's working visit to Tokyo from 21-23 May.

He will be attending the International Conference on "The Future of Asia" organised by Nikkei Inc and the Japan Centre for Economic Research.

He will also deliver the keynote address on "Rising Asia - Messages for the Next 20 Years" to mark the 20th anniversary of the Nikkei International Conference.

Govt's share of social spending 'set to rise'
By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 21 May 2014

AS SINGAPORE ramps up its social spending, the Government's expenditure could rise to as much as a fifth of economic output, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In an interview with Japan's Nikkei media group last Wednesday, Mr Lee said the Government's share of spending is set to rise amid "greater social burdens".

Last year, public spending accounted for 14 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). This share could eventually reach 20 per cent of GDP, Mr Lee said.

But he added that Singapore cannot "be a big government" like in Europe, where government spending makes up some 45 per cent of economic output.

"And whatever it is which we spend, we have to earn because the Government does not have a money machine producing money from heaven," he said.

That means it is "unavoidable" that Singapore will need to "look to our revenues and decide whether we have enough, and if not, where will we be able to raise new revenues".

Asked about a timeframe, Mr Lee said: "For the immediate future we are all right. Over the next five to 10 years, we will have to look at this very seriously."

The Government has been loosening the purse strings recently as it strengthens social safety nets, including in the areas of health care, education and retirement.

Mr Lee's interview came ahead of the President's Address last Friday, in which Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam outlined new strategies of the Government as it begins the second half of its term.

Dr Tan said that public spending will increase over the next decade, but also cautioned that the spending has to be sustainable.

In the interview, PM Lee was also asked about the People's Action Party's (PAP's) strategy to win the next election, which the reporter said was "coming up".

His reply was that the election would not happen for "another 21/2 years". An election must be called by January 2017.

PM Lee added that the PAP's focus is on "doing the right things so that people have reason to vote for the Government, which is doing good for them".

Over the last two years, the Government has been addressing both immediate and long-term issues, Mr Lee noted.

Immediate issues include making sure there is adequate housing supply and improving public transport, he said, while a long-term concern is making sure Singapore can grow its economy and upgrade its workers so they can continue to earn a good living.

Addressing another long-term issue of succession, Mr Lee said Singapore's next leader should be "somebody who can command the confidence of the population, solve their problems and inspire them to do even more".

"We have a good team and I hope from amongst the team, leaders will emerge," he added.


With the election coming up?

... No, not for another 21/2 years.

- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when a Nikkei reporter asked him what his strategy would be, with an election in Singapore "coming up"

Asean-China ties 'multi-faceted', not just about sea spat
Don't let row colour relationship that has many positive aspects: PM Lee
By Fiona Chan, The Straits Times, 21 May 2014

THE growing strain over territorial disputes in the South China Sea is just one aspect of Asean-China relations, and parties must try not to let it colour the whole relationship, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

"There are many other aspects, many of them are very positive," he told Japan media group Nikkei in an interview last Wednesday, ahead of a working trip to Tokyo today and tomorrow.

These include financial assistance, human resource development and trade, said Mr Lee, adding that Asean and China are hoping to enhance their free trade agreement.

"So Asean-China relations are multi-faceted, and South China Sea is one (facet)," he said. "And we will have to try our best to make sure that it does not colour the whole relationship."

Mr Lee also said ongoing discussions between the 10-member grouping and China over a code of conduct in the South China Sea may take some time to finalise.

"I think that many countries would be very cautious about signing on to a set of guidelines which may constrain (their) freedom of action," he said. "It is natural, and therefore it will take some time to get everybody to agree to a code of conduct."

Asean already has a declaration of conduct with China, signed in 2002 to ease tensions in the South China Sea, where some of China's claims overlap with those of Asean members including Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, regional defence ministers meeting in Myanmar for the 8th Asean Defence Ministers' Meeting have also pledged solidarity amid the rising friction in the South China Sea, and called on all parties to adhere to the declaration of conduct.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen yesterday urged all stakeholders to "stand firm on principles" such as respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, adhere to international law, and resolve disputes peacefully.

In a statement, he said Asean must "protect our common interests while not taking sides in territorial disputes".

These remarks come on the heels of escalating tensions in the South China Sea. On Monday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino accused China of violating the declaration of conduct by reclaiming land on the disputed Johnson South Reef.

China has also clashed with Vietnam after moving an oil rig into waters claimed by both countries, sparking anti-China riots in Vietnam last week that left 200 injured and at least two dead.

In the interview with Nikkei, Mr Lee also urged Japan to "establish relations of trust and confidence" with its neighbours, especially China and South Korea.

This would allow the country to play a more active role in keeping stability in Asia, he said.

Finalising the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an ambitious Asia-Pacific trade pact stuck in its final stages by disagreements including between Japan and the United States, will also give Japan a fuller role in the regional economy and boost its own economic revitalisation, Mr Lee added. "I hope we will be able to wrap it up this year, otherwise, we will miss the American timetable and we may be into a new president," he said.

Mr Lee is in Japan this week to attend the International Conference on the Future of Asia and meet senior Japanese government and business leaders.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the conference, organised by Japanese media group Nikkei and the Japan Centre for Economic Research, Mr Lee will deliver the keynote address at the event tomorrow. He will speak on the conference's theme, "Rising Asia - Messages for the Next 20 Years".

Mr Lee will be accompanied on the trip by his wife Ho Ching and officials.

During his absence, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will be the acting Prime Minister.

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