Monday 22 September 2014

Singapore Summit 2014 Dialogue with PM Lee

Worries: ISIS threat, Asian stability
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

The rise of a group of jihadists in Syria and Iraq, and growing nationalism in Asia, are two things that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thinks about before he goes to bed.

The first worries him because the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is not a problem just for the Middle East, while the second threatens peace and stability in Asia, he said.

He was responding to questions at The Singapore Summit dialogue.

ISIS, which has captured large swathes of territory and committed atrocities such as beheadings, has fighters from the United States, Europe and South-east Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.

"What is it which has possessed people who want to go and do such things in a faraway land? If they destroy their own lives, that is one thing. If they come back, and bring back trouble to our societies, that is more difficult to contain, so we have to worry about it," he said.

Even though governments can take measures to weaken ISIS, "you can't fundamentally change the texture of the society and the people there. When you are gone, the problem will come back", he said.

"What we can do in our own homes is to watch the security, confidence and trust-building between different communities and make sure... the Muslims have leaders who will stand up and say that ISIS is not Islam, that it is evil, and we repudiate them and condemn them. Fortunately in Singapore, we have got religious leaders who have said that and said that emphatically."

Occasionally, some people are led astray, and Singapore has been lucky to discover them early. But some slip through: "We have a couple in Syria and Iraq, including a woman with teenage children... And the children are part of this. So it is something to be taken in absolute seriousness."

On his other worry, Mr Lee noted that there was rising nationalism, such as in China, Japan and some South-east Asian countries: "You can see it in the territorial disputes... in the tone it has taken in national debates, in an exaggerated and often very harsh and nasty way in the Internet discourse."

He said it was important to have peace and stability if the region was to prosper. This can only happen with good relations between major powers, and space for others like Singapore to survive and grow.

On building trust in the region, where some countries distrust China over its maritime claims, he said that words would not solve the problem: "It has to play out in the way China acts, in the way regional countries respond and the interaction between them because it is not just China, it is also the other claimant states which have to take measured, reasoned, reasonable, proper views and approaches consistent with international law."

Income gap issue needs 'real solutions'
Redistributing wealth, equipping people with right skills among the measures, says PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

INCOME inequality has become the fashionable thing to talk about at cocktails, in articles and even books. But the the way to deal with the growing gap between rich and poor is through real and concrete solutions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Among them are equipping people with skills that are in demand in the economy, and redistributing wealth so that everyone has what former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew called "chips to play with".

These are among the measures that individual governments can take, PM Lee said, adding: "The income inequality will be there, but in absolute terms, we can improve lives for nearly everybody in the society, provided they work and are prepared to make the effort."

He made these remarks in a dialogue at The Singapore Summit, where he was asked questions ranging from Singapore's growth model and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to Scotland's quest for independence.

The annual conference, organised by government agencies, brings together chief executives and financial leaders. Themes this year included sustainable growth, Asia's economic integration and the global energy market.

On inequality, he was asked how Asian governments can arrest the trend caused by rapid growth.

To this, he said inequality was not the result of rapid growth. There was inequality in Europe, the United States and Japan, where growth has slowed.

Rather, globalisation and technological advancements were what contributed to the trend.

Workers now had to compete with hundreds of millions of lower-paid workers joining the global economy from China and India. And technology has seen jobs automated - with robots and computers taking over tasks of skilled workers.

Acknowledging that income inequality caused social tensions and unhappiness, and that solutions were needed, he cautioned against "theoretical solutions", such as having a global wealth or income tax.

What governments can do is to help people get skills that are in demand - not just for those with a university education, but those who are technically inclined.

Singapore has also taken other measures: public housing and home ownership, and providing good subsidised education and high quality health care to all.

"And therefore, we level up and we enable a greater sense of equity and justice in the system," he said.

To another question, he said the process of reinventing Singapore so it can stay competitive was neverending. The country had to find ways to move ahead despite the resource constraints it faces.

"What we need to do is to reuse and exploit over again the spaces we already have: higher, deeper, smarter, better integrated, better designed with urban planning, with economic renewal," he explained.

"It is really the renewal of your people and their skills and to be able to engage them... to operate in a consistent and aligned direction, and not all pulling in different directions. Lots of smart guys, results zero, which happens in a lot of countries. But (this) must not happen in Singapore."

Asked why there were those here who were not satisfied despite having much of what many others in the world would want, he said he had accepted this as the human condition: "That wherever you are, (you would) like to be better, and wherever you are not sometimes appears to be better."

He added: "I think we are at a good level by international standards. But I would be very saddened if we concluded that we are unable to improve because we have reached perfection. That is the surest way to go downhill... No society is static and reaches a level of perfection. We will always want to have that passion to improve. But you should also have some of the Buddhist acceptance that resources are finite and desires are unlimited."

At the 45-minute dialogue, he was also asked if countries should allow free movement of labour to spur growth and reduce inequality.

He said Singapore had to manage its population and workforce growth so as not to tax resources and infrastructure.

"If we just open our doors and say everybody can come, free movement of labour, tomorrow, there will be one million people on their way here, maybe more. Some will fly, maybe more will come by boat, and I think it will be a very different Singapore. So, you can't do that," he said.

"We have to grow in a way that is sustainable, and we must be able to manage the inflow in a way that talent can come in and people who can make contributions to Singapore can come in and will be welcome in Singapore. And that is what we are trying to do."



The viability of an independent Scotland

Everybody believed, and we believed, that an independent Singapore was not viable, and it happened to us, and we proved ourselves wrong. So, it may be that you can do the same with Scotland... But if you are looking to the future, you really have to be part of a bigger whole. In Singapore, we tried to do that. We wanted to be part of a bigger whole in Malaysia, and we went for it. It didn't work, and we came out and we accepted this. We have made this work thus far. In Scotland, you are more like Canada next to America, rather than Singapore in the middle of South-east Asia. So, your odds are not as long as ours were in 1965. But why do you want to do that if you can have the advantage of having your cake and eating it too? In Singapore's case, we had no choice and went the other way, and succeeded.

Cyber security

The digital economy is a big part of the solution to improving Singapore. We talk about a smart city, big data, having sensor networks... all these are marvellous things. But you must have systems which are secure. We have had some incidents, data stolen, sometimes from the Government, fortunately not serious ones, sometimes from the private sector. So, it is something that we are taking seriously. We need to upgrade some of our systems. We have got Singpass, which is an ID to access all your government services, and we really need to go on two-factor authentication, because everybody in the world knows that half the passwords in the world are spelled p-a-s-s-w-o-r-d.


Hopes and concerns for Indonesia

For the last 10 years with President (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono, there has been stability and certain basis for ASEAN countries to work together big and small. What we would like to see in the next phase is for that happy state of affairs to continue.

President-elect Jokowi has come in with a very strong mandate, he has got a very clear sense of the needs of the ordinary citizens. He wants to do good for the country. He started off talking about (the) difficult subject (of) reducing subsidies on fuel, which are taking up a quarter of the state's budget and squeezing other urgently needed spending on hospitals, education, infrastructure, and so many other things. We wish him every success...

There are pressures in every society. You asked me about nationalism earlier. I think we have to watch how nationalism develops in Indonesia as well as in other countries. And we have to watch whether the changes which the new President will want to make will help to consolidate and strengthen his position to do more good or not.

Delays in TPP 'could affect US presence in Asia'
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 21 Sep 2014

It is important to press ahead and conclude talks for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he suggested that the United States' economic footprint in the region could be affected by a failure to do so.

The US-led TPP involving 12 economies from the Asia-Pacific, South-east Asia, Australia and Latin America, has significant economic advantages, including for Washington - which says it wants to have a strategic and significant presence in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr Lee said having a presence "is not just battleships and aircraft carriers and aeroplanes. You have to have trade, goods exchanges... interdependence. And the TPP is your way of doing this".

If the US did not do this, it would be "giving the game away", he added.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on negotiations to conclude a TPP free trade deal, which are stalling, and what it would mean for the US in particular, if no agreement is reached.

Noting that promises to reach a deal had been made three years in a row, he said: "I think this is our last chance to fulfil our promise, and if we don't fulfil our promise this year, we will be running into American elections in two years' time, (and) will have further delays of indefinite nature".

For economies involved, the TPP affords advantages, including allowing for regional cumulation.

This means the value-add content of products, which are manufactured in different countries, can be brought together and qualify for benefits like lower tariffs. Hence, a country can enjoy more of the gains from free trade.

Other TPP benefits include electronic commerce and Intellectual Property protection

"It is a major step forward and a major factor that can contribute to stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific. One day, the Chinese may want to join, and before that, the Koreans may also want to join. Then we will have free trade in the Asia-Pacific," he said.

He told the audience that there already were other variations of trade agreements in the region that the US was not party to, adding: "We are all in Asia, interacting and trading with one another. Our trade with China has become the biggest trading partner around the world, bigger than America and bigger even than Europe last year. It hasn't been so for many years, but it is now. It is so for many of the ASEAN countries. Even for Japan, China is the biggest trading partner. Even for South Korea.

"So, you don't promote trade, what are you promoting? What does it mean when you say you are a Pacific power? It just does not make sense."

Lawmakers in the US Congress have different calculations, he said, but added that there may be a fresh opportunity after American mid-term elections. These are scheduled for November.

Talks on the TPP have been delayed by intricate market access negotiations between Japan and the US. Besides Singapore and the US, other members are Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Singapore Summit 2014

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