Sunday, 14 December 2014

General Election not necessarily when people expect it: PM Lee Hsien Loong at 2014 ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit

Elections will be called when the timing is right: PM
Meanwhile, PAP activists are reaching out to diverse groups, he says
By Tham Yuen-c, In Busan, South Korea, The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that he would consider a range of factors in deciding when to call the next General Election (GE).

These include local issues, the state of preparation of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), and global developments.

"If a major crisis is coming up then we have to clear that... It also depends on other agenda (items) which we are busy with," he said.

There will also be the SG50 celebrations next year to mark Singapore's Golden Jubilee of Independence.

"We will have to take all this into account and make soundings and choose the right moment, not necessarily when everybody is expecting it," he added, in remarks that suggest the polls may not be round the corner yet.

Mr Lee, the PAP secretary-general, was responding to questions from Singapore reporters at the end of his trip to attend the ASEAN-Republic of Korea commemorative summit here, a week after his remarks at the PAP rally on Sunday prompted speculation that a GE could be called soon.

But his remarks yesterday indicated that the PAP is still midway through its preparations.

"We always find the best moment to call the election but, as I said, it is not due till January 2017," he said.

"It's two years and a bit at the maximum, and we're working hard preparing for it. When we're ready we will call (it), as soon as we're ready," he added.

Mr Lee said PAP members were in good spirits, with old stalwarts "still as determined to fight as ever", and many younger members who have decided to participate.

"If you want Singapore to do well, you have to do something about it... not just typing on a feedback forum or some blog, but... making things happen. I think we have that spirit in the party."

Mr Lee also said party activists were doing more to reach out to groups that did not take part in traditional grassroots activities.

He cited how in recent years, they had been meeting people from animal welfare, environmental and arts groups "much more than before".

"We have to be there with all these different groups and connecting with them in their language on issues which are important to them."

Many MPs and ministers are also engaging different segments of the community, he added, citing clan and Chinese cultural groups.

"Our society is strong when you have criss-crossing, overlapping networks; somehow or other you are part of this community and part of Singapore," he said.

As for who will be the next chief of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Mr Lee said it would be made known "before the end of next year".

NTUC chief Lim Swee Say has said that he will step down as labour chief when he turns 62, which will be in July 2016.

Mr Lim, however, added that he would continue as an MP of East Coast GRC and wanted to contest there in the next election.

PM Lee said a number of young ministers have been involved with the NTUC, getting an understanding of the union movement and how important it was.

Citing four Cabinet ministers - Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Mr Heng Swee Keat and Mr Lawrence Wong - he said they have kept up their ties with the labour movement.

"We have some ideas on developing and strengthening NTUC, and you will know within a few months," he added.

Speaking to Singapore media, PM Lee also touched on talks for an air services agreement between Singapore and South Korea.

There has been no breakthrough in the talks, he said.

As sea levels rise, airport to expand on higher ground
PM Lee cites move as part of action to ease impact of climate change
By Tham Yuen-c, In Busan, South Korea, The Straits Times, 13 Dec 2014

THE upcoming expansion of Changi Airport will take place on higher ground to guard against rising sea levels, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The reclaimed land on which it will stand will be built up to provide a buffer that will withstand more than the projected 18-inch (46cm) rise in sea levels in the next 100 years, he told Singapore reporters.

Mr Lee cited the move when elaborating on what Singapore will do to mitigate the threat of climate change, a key point of his address earlier in the day at the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit.

As a low-lying island state, Singapore takes climate change seriously and will do its part to ease its impact, he told leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations and South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the summit in Busan.

Mr Lee urged all sides to work together to tackle this threat as well as diseases, natural disasters and terrorism. These "non-traditional security issues" required a global response, he said.

Hence, for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris next year, when 196 nations will meet to sign an agreement, Mr Lee wants ASEAN and South Korea to join hands in advancing negotiations at the meeting.

"(Such cooperation) will help to ensure a stable and peaceful region that continues to prosper for the benefit of our people," he said.

Sea levels are rising as global warming causes polar ice caps to melt, and scientists have warned that large swathes of coastal areas could be swallowed up by the end of the century.

This poses an immediate threat to coastal populations in ASEAN countries, said Mr Lee.

Singapore has taken action, he told the reporters, saying standards for reclamation and new buildings have been raised to ensure land surfaces are higher.

The minimum level for newly reclaimed land has gone up since 2011 to 2.25m above the highest recorded tide level. Before that, it was 1.25m.

Does this mean Singapore will be raised by 1m? "If the sea levels rise by 1m, which is more than what people presently expect, I think over 100 years, there are quite a lot of things we can do," said Mr Lee after the summit.

He also said the ongoing review of the free trade agreement between Singapore and South Korea had not made a lot of progress. "There are vested interests involved and I hope the Koreans will come together and decide what's in their national interest," he added.

Next year, which marks 40 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and South Korea, President Tony Tan Keng Yam will make a state visit to the country.

"I think it's good that we work towards having substantive content to that visit, and not just a ceremonial occasion," Mr Lee said.

Singapore eyes trade boost, air deal with Seoul
Both sides stand to benefit further, says PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-c, In Busan, South Korea, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE and South Korea enjoy very good ties and have made progress cooperating in medical technology, research development and business, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But both countries could benefit even more from a boost to their 2006 bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) and an air services agreement that is in the works, Mr Lee added, as he pushed for progress on both fronts during his meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

On the FTA, he urged officials of both countries to "take an aggressive look" at a review he and Ms Park agreed on when they met last December, the Prime Minister's press secretary Chang Li Lin told reporters. He said he hoped the FTA would make a "quantum leap" to be in line with the trade agreements that each had signed separately with other nations, Ms Chang added.

Last year, trade between South Korea and Singapore reached $50.9 billion, and the year before, it was $52.7 billion.

The two leaders also talked about an air services agreement which they had discussed in October last year and again, last December. Both expressed the hope that there will be progress, said Ms Chang.

The agreement would provide for more flights to be added between Singapore and South Korea, to cater to the increasing two-way flow of travellers and to strengthen the position of Singapore and Seoul as aviation hubs.

The two leaders' meeting preceded the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan to celebrate 25 years of relations between ASEAN and South Korea. During their talks, Mr Lee noted that Singapore and South Korea had collaborated successfully in many areas.

Many South Korean companies, for instance, are involved in infrastructure projects in Singapore, and academic institutions of both countries also have exchange programmes, he said, adding that he had a meeting with 23 Singapore students who were on exchange programmes in Busan.

He also said he looked forward to marking 40 years of diplomatic ties between their countries next year, when President Tony Tan Keng Yam would make a state visit to South Korea.

Ms Park, in her speech, said she looked forward to further cooperation between South Korea's "creative economy" and Singapore's "knowledge-based" one. She added: "As we look ahead to the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties, we can expect to further promote links (between the two economies)."

Earlier yesterday, Mr Lee was made an honorary citizen of Seoul in a ceremony at Seoul City Hall.

In his address, he pointed out the similarities between South Korea's capital and Singapore, saying both were densely populated cities embracing diversity and sharing similar challenges in housing, transport and an ageing population.

He said he was happy the people and officials of both cities were visiting each other often and that people-to-people ties were growing stronger.

While in Seoul, he also met the city's mayor, Mr Park Won Soon, whom he invited to Singapore.

President Park, Mr Lee, and other ASEAN leaders are in Busan for the two-day commemorative summit ending today.They will take stock of the cooperation between ASEAN and South Korea, and discuss the future direction of ties among the nations.

Mr Lee said yesterday that the partnership between the regional bloc and South Korea has been "fruitful". ASEAN and South Korea have "both made a lot of progress during that period" and he expressed the hope that the summit can "give our relationship another significant boost".

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