Sunday, 12 April 2015

PM Lee's dialogue at the inaugural Singapore Forum 2015

Non-economic issues may affect Asia's growth: PM
He cites rising nationalism, territorial disputes and terrorism as concerns
By Tham Yuen-c, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2015

ASIA'S economies are on an upward trend, having weathered the recent global financial crisis much better than expected, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

But whether the region continues to prosper will depend on how the countries work through some of the non-economic issues on the horizon.

PM Lee, who made the comments at the inaugural Singapore Forum, highlighted the trend of rising nationalism, territorial disputes and terrorism as areas of concern for Asia.

"We don't always think about them, but unless those things work out right, all these things about growth and prosperity will be based on a lot of presumptions which may or may not come true," he said during a dialogue with 250 political and business leaders, moderated by Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee.

The two-day forum is a platform for Asia's policymakers and opinion leaders to discuss challenges facing the region.

Kicking off the forum last night, PM Lee said Asia had come some way from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, when it seemed like it was "the end of Asia".

From the lessons learnt, Asian economies also emerged relatively unscathed from the 2008 global financial crisis, he said.

Still, continued economic growth and prosperity in the region also depends on other non-economic factors.

While acknowledging that each country has its own problems to deal with, PM Lee said policymakers had to take their minds off day-to-day preoccupations and also take a longer term view.

One area to watch is the trend of rising nationalism, which is evident not just in Asia but also in Europe, he said.

While nationalist sentiments can have a positive effect, such as in giving people pride and pushing them to do well, taken to extremes, these can also cause them to turn inward and spark conflict between nations, he warned.

Mr Lee said that such sentiments are a result of historical factors, and are also a response to globalisation and uncertainty.

Another area of concern is territorial disputes between countries.

Citing claims by China and Japan over islands in the East China Sea, as well as territorial disputes in the South China Sea, he said that while these disputes have not escalated into wars, they produce tensions that will not disappear.

"No country is going to stand up and say: My claim is less legitimate than yours. My claim is indisputable, your claim is also indisputable. And when two things are indisputable, you have a dispute."

Allowing these tensions to escalate could lead to a "mishap", he said.

The third area of concern for the region, said Mr Lee, is the threat from terrorism.

He said that the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had attracted fighters from all over the world to the war in Syria, including hundreds from Indonesia, dozens from Malaysia and even a couple from Singapore: "They come back, they bring the virus... and ISIS has told those who might be supporting them in countries far away (to) do something in our own place, cause some mayhem."

He urged countries to take the issue seriously, saying that it does not just affect security, but also religious and racial harmony.

PM Lee said that as Singapore is a multiracial society, a terrorist attack will change the tenor of racial relations. "You can heal it over a long time, but the suspicion and fear will be just under the surface. That will be a very dangerous situation. That's why we take it very seriously."

The forum continues today, with former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono giving the keynote address.

Water security 'has always been obsession of Govt'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2015

THE issue of water security has always been an existential one for Singapore, since the first day of its existence as an independent nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last night.

"It has been an obsession of the Government and particularly of my father all his life," he said, referring to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister. "Every drop was pursued. Every place we could build a reservoir, we built one. Every place we could make sure the pipes didn't leak, we focused on that."

Water was a key issue when Singapore negotiated the Separation agreement with Malaysia, as it then depended almost exclusively on Malaysia for water.

There were two bilateral agreements for importing water from Malaysia: The first expired in August 2011, and the second will expire in 2061.

But the Government also consciously priced its water in a way that drove home the importance of water in a country that had none of its own, Mr Lee said during a dialogue at the inaugural Singapore Forum on global affairs.

It was made quite clear to the people that the price of water had to be raised, to a level for them to feel the pain, he added.

"That would cause them to think of water not as an endless resource but something precious to be conserved," he said.

Adjusting the water prices took "a couple of years", Mr Lee said.

He was explaining the principles of Singapore's water prices in response to a question from a senior economist from India, Dr Isher Judge Ahluwalia.

Singapore also began tapping new sources of water, Mr Lee said, citing desalinated seawater and treated used water, commonly known here as Newater.

These processes are costly but they "are where my next drop is going to come from", he added. "In Singapore, the right price is based on 'Where is the next drop coming from?' "

Singaporeans accepted it, "not least because, from time to time, radical and irresponsible people in some of our neighbouring countries will say, 'You know, Singaporeans are not being cooperative, we'll turn the taps off.' "

Singapore's commitment to having financially sustainable water was such that it even borrowed money from the World Bank to build water plants in its early years, said Mr Lee.

The country was not short of cash, he added. "We borrowed because then we could explain to our people that the World Bank requires an 8 per cent internal rate of returns on a project... this water plant has to be financially viable and we have to charge people money properly for the water."

Had an interesting exchange at the Singapore Forum last night. This inaugural Forum coincides with SG50, and promotes...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, April 10, 2015

Resolving disputes peacefully 'in interests of all'
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE takes no position on the merits of territorial claims in the South China Sea, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, but it has an interest in ensuring that disputes are resolved peacefully and in line with international law.

"ASEAN has a role in this, to try and keep the temperature down, tempers down, and prevent this from becoming a violent conflict," he added.

He was replying to Mr Malek Ali of Malaysia's BFM Media, who asked if Singapore would side with its ASEAN neighbours if China were to insist on its nine-dash line. Official Chinese maps depict the line, which encircles nearly all of the South China Sea.

"I think China does insist on its nine-dash line. The other countries also insist on their positions," Mr Lee said.

He added that how each claimant state chooses to handle the issue will tell the world what kind of country it is as well as its standing on the world stage.

Mr Lee was asked for his views on several foreign policy issues at the dialogue opening the Singapore Forum last night, including the prospects for regional integration.

Professor Lee Chung Min of South Korea's Yonsei University asked how the US-China relationship could be managed.

PM Lee said: "We cannot manage the relationship; only America and China can. We can only adapt ourselves to how the relationship is."

He also cited a Chinese phrase that meant a small country was not entitled to a foreign policy. "You have to take the world as it is and react to it. You do not shape the world. We feel that acutely," he said.

But what smaller countries could do was to cooperate on a range of matters regionally, where they have a chance to have their interests represented.

As for the US-China relationship, PM Lee said: "We hope it will be good. That will be easier for us. If they're not, if they're troubled, we will try our best not to have to choose sides. But sometimes, that may not be possible."

Similarly, if China and Japan were not friends, it would be harder for countries in the region to be friends with both, he added.

Asked about China's proposals for a Maritime Silk Road, PM Lee said these were positive moves for China to cooperate with countries in the region, where it is already their biggest trading partner.

Asked about Europe, PM Lee hoped that, despite their preoccupations, European countries and their companies would see the need to have a presence in Asia to succeed globally.

Mr Lee was also asked what the aspiration of countries in the Asia-Pacific should be in the coming decade.

His brief reply: "Peace, prosperity and security."

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