Sunday 7 June 2015

George Yeo: Much has changed about Govt

By Wong Siew Ying, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2015

FORMER foreign minister George Yeo said the Singapore Government has changed substantially since the 2011 general election.

"You asked, has the Government been changing? Of course. I have never seen the Government change as much as it did in the last four years," he said.

A Cabinet minister for 20 years until the People's Action Party team he led in Aljunied GRC lost to the Workers' Party at that election, Mr Yeo was replying to a question at a business forum organised by Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao last night.

"I am not saying we are perfect, but there are many more things we are doing right and many countries in the world look up to us," he said. "So, we must keep improving, keep adjusting, but, at the same time, maintain a certain sense of proportion."

The forum participant had said Mr Yeo was an advocate of driving change while in government, and cited significant policies which have been rolled out recently, like MediShield Life.

After the dialogue, he declined to elaborate on his comments when asked by reporters.

In the 90-minute dialogue, the questions raised included how small firms can tap on opportunities in Asia and what people can learn from today's younger generation.

Mr Yeo, who launched his new book last month, has recently been in the media spotlight, prompting speculation he may re-enter politics. But in a media interview this week, he said he did not see himself returning to Parliament.

One participant asked if he would consider running for president. Mr Yeo said: "You must ask yourself whether you have the passion for it.

"In 2011, when I was asked this question, I said I am not temperamentally suited for this very important responsibility. It would be a great honour, it would be a fantastic way to serve Singaporeans. But I don't think I am the right person for that."

One Aljunied resident said he felt town councils should be managed by the ruling party, not the opposition. Mr Yeo did not respond to the comment.

No return to parliamentary politics for me, says George Yeo
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 4 Jun 2015

Squashing the prospect of him returning to the rough and tumble of parliamentary politics, former Cabinet Minister George Yeo has said that he has no desire to return to his old stomping ground, as the clock ticks towards the next General Election.

However, he is leaving the door open — albeit just slightly — for a potential run for the presidency.

“My position is the same. I don’t see myself going back into parliamentary politics,” he told TODAY. “For presidential politics, I’ve kept that open but I don’t see myself going into presidential politics either.”

In a wide-ranging interview yesterday (June 3) for a new book of his past speeches and writings — George Yeo on Bonsai, Banyan and the Tao, a 686-page tome that has already sold more than 3,000 copies in two weeks and is into its second print run — Mr Yeo reiterated he does not feel himself temperamentally suited for the role of president.

And if duty called? “One should not engage in self-flattery about duty calling. I think most people who are in politics have a certain ambition, and I don’t see myself having the ambition for presidential politics,” said Mr Yeo, 60, who nevertheless described himself as “a person very given to a sense of duty”.

In the book’s introduction, Mr Yeo had revealed that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had supported his candidacy for president in the lead up to the Presidential Election in Aug 2011. But Mr Yeo bowed out when Dr Tony Tan indicated his willingness to run with the ruling party’s support. “I would only have contested out of duty, not ambition,” he wrote.

Mr Yeo had led the People’s Action Party team that lost Aljunied Group Representation Constituency to the Workers’ Party in the 2011 General Election.

After a 20-year run in Cabinet helming four ministries — he last held the position of Foreign Affairs Minister — Mr Yeo is now chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network, whose head office is in Hong Kong, as well as deputy chairman of Kerry Group.

During the interview held at his office in Great World City, Mr Yeo – who is based in Hong Kong and returns to Singapore every month – said he still keeps in touch with Aljunied grassroots volunteers through meals or jogs. He shares his views when approached, “but as a commoner”, and asks others for their views in turn, he said. “I think for most people I’m a known quantity. I suppose it’s good to be consistent but one should be alive to new situations and be sensitive to changes in society and the larger environment.”

Despite spending most of his time overseas, Mr Yeo continues to keep tabs on happenings in the Republic.

Giving his observations on the “Singapore soul” — a topic he had spoken about in his seminal 1991 speech about pruning the “banyan tree” of the state institutions to allow civil society to grow — Mr Yeo said: “I think we’re going through, in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era …. A certain sense that this is where we were, we’re now in transition, but where we will be is not quite settled. And we’re feeling our way into that future.”

As an example, he brought up the case of teenage blogger Amos Yee who was convicted of posting an obscene image online and posting content intended to hurt the religious feelings of Christians. “People all feel very conflicted by it. You ask yourself, if you’re a parent, how would you feel? If you’re a teenager, how would you feel? He’s obviously very bright, it would be such a sad thing if his life were to be destroyed by some of the things he’s done or said. There should be a reaction but it should not be an overreaction,” said Mr Yeo.

“Is it possible to somehow manage it in such a way that he will grow up to be an adult who will make a big contribution to society rather than be a problem to society? I think whatever we do, we should always be motivated by a sense of wanting to do good and to save lives, which sometimes means being tough.”

On life after politics, Mr Yeo said he thought he would be in semi-retirement. Instead, he has found himself travelling as much as before. He has also taken on multiple roles: He will become chancellor of Nalanda University in India from July, and was in 2013 appointed by Pope Francis to a Vatican commission. Mr Yeo also sits on the Hong Kong chief executive’s economic development commission.

Asked if there is anything he misses about being in Government, Mr Yeo said it had a “different flavour” from the private sector, where considerations tend to be shorter-term. Being in Government, “it’s a large cause you’re working for, you take a longer term perspective”, he said. “You’re on duty all the time, wherever you are…at a hawker centre, or in a shopping centre or overseas, you’re on call 24/7. So that’s the life of a politician and you must be energised by that and not feel that it’s any imposition.”

With three of his four children residing overseas in various countries, Mr Yeo said he and his wife rely on technology to keep in touch with them. His daughter works in private equity in Singapore, while his three sons are studying in the United States, China and Britain. “The family is far flung so we keep a family Whatsapp account and try to keep each other informed and updated,” he said.

Duty, not impact, drives George Yeo
Approach is to serve when asked to, says former minister
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 5 Jun 2015

He was asked to serve and responded, but former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo demurred at the suggestion that he has had a greater impact on society at large since leaving politics.

He is on the governing board of Nalanda University in India — a project to revive the ancient seat of learning supported by 18 countries — and will become chancellor next month. He is also on a Vatican commission.

“That’s hard to say,” he replied when asked about the impact of his roles on a larger society. “I don’t go out seeking to make an impact. I’m a person very given to a sense of duty, so if you’re asked and you’re in a position to serve, then you should. That’s the approach I take.”

Speaking to TODAY in an interview, Mr Yeo, who is chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network, added that he has less of a direct impact on Singaporeans through his various roles now.

The chancellor appointment with Nalanda University was not one that he had sought, he said. Mr Yeo was quick to explain that the governing board of the university recommended when it met in February for Professor Amartya Sen’s appointment to be renewed. However, it was “quite clear at the time that the government of India preferred a change”, he said.

Harvard professor Sen, who had opposed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the latter’s election, felt this to be a politicisation of the chancellorship, although this was disputed by the Indian government.

Mr Yeo was asked to be one of the three nominees for the chancellor position put up by the governing board for the Indian President’s consideration and was encouraged by Prof Sen to agree to it. “My principal concern was to help ensure continuity … It’s a great honour. When Amartya persuaded me to take this on, I said, ‘You have to help me, you promise to help me.’ So he will stay as a member of the governing board. To me, that’s very important because he has the links with academia. He’s the one who helps attract good professors and students to the university,” said Mr Yeo.

Nalanda University started classes last year with 15 students and 10 professors — a number that will grow steadily — and the master plan for its campus in Bihar is in place, with a tender called, added Mr Yeo.

His work for the Vatican is mainly with the Council for the Economy, which consists of eight cardinals and seven lay Catholics. “I try to do what I can to help,” said Mr Yeo. “Many of the other members are either academics or consultants, accountants or auditors, so my perspective is from government. That’s sometimes useful to the group.”

The council usually meets every three months and Mr Yeo said he would stay at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives, when in Rome.

“We go to the same canteen to eat, to the same table to collect our ham and our fruits. He is extraordinary in his very ordinariness,” he said, calling the appointment a privilege.

Rohingyas’ plight cries out for action, says George Yeo
Tit for tat in South China Sea dispute may unwittingly cause harmful escalation: Former Foreign Minister
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 5 Jun 2015

Immediate humanitarian needs of the boat people in regional waters should be addressed by the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN), but no easy solutions exist for the underlying issues, said former Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo.

Many of the migrants are Rohingyas, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, and boatloads of them have been set adrift after they were believed to have been abandoned by their traffickers with little food or water.

Help in the form of food or education for children should be provided for the lives at stake, said Mr Yeo on Wednesday in an interview for a new book of his past speeches and writings.

Deeper issues that are not easy to resolve include “who has the right to the land, who are the Rohingyas, are they all the same or are there some who are of that land in Arakan, in Rakhine state, for a long time, (and some) who are recent arrivals”, said Mr Yeo. “The underlying cause is a complex one ... It’s for this reason that in Myanmar, political leaders of all stripes do not take a simple position that it’s black and white.”

When he was Foreign Minister, Mr Yeo said he spoke to ministers from Myanmar about the issue. “I can’t claim to know more than they do, because they confront this problem and I don’t think they take any comfort from a lack of resolution.”

Nonetheless, the plight of the Rohingyas cries out for action by Myanmar, Bangladesh and ASEAN, he said.

Mr Yeo also gave his take on relations between a rising China and other countries. China has such a “heavy weight” that it cannot but affect the overall balance, he said.

The initiative to revive the ancient Silk Road, through China’s visions for the New Silk Road and New Maritime Silk Road covering three continents, will help lift billions of lives if there is peace, said Mr Yeo, who is now chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network and who was recently in Kazakhstan for work.

On the dispute about the South China Sea, which is also claimed in parts by four South-east Asian countries, Mr Yeo said China prefers to keep its nine-dash line ambiguous “so there’s room for negotiation”.

For a long time, China’s approach was to keep a low profile, he said. It made countermoves after seeing other claimant states’ actions. “Because of their weight, when they make moves, there was a big move, not a small move,” he said.

“Even on reclamation, others have been reclaiming. China embarked on this later but once China starts, China does it on a big scale. So I think this tit for tat may unwittingly cause harmful escalation. I think it’s good for everybody to take a deep breath and not try to steal a march one way or the other.”

Mr Yeo, who had said at an Institute of Southeast Asian Studies forum on Wednesday that all parties are better off trading and focusing on the benefits of exchange, felt the claims are a bilateral matter between claimants.

“In the end there must be a sense of give and take,” he said. “Each set of bilateral relationships has its own history and peculiarities. I think third parties should try to be helpful.”

China often misunderstood by others: George Yeo
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 4 Jun 2015

The historical basis of the Silk Road was fair exchange and mutual benefit, and China’s intentions for its New Silk Road vision are no different, said Singapore’s former Foreign Minister George Yeo yesterday (June 3) at a public forum.

China does not intend to subordinate the economic strategies of other countries to its own and is misunderstood by others, said Mr Yeo at the forum on Asia and the middle-income trap organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Mr Yeo, who is now chairman and executive director of Kerry Logistics Network, was responding to a question on what China intends to communicate through its New Silk Road at the forum, which was attended by over 150 members of the business and diplomatic community, as well as policy makers and academics. He was in Kazakhstan – through which the New Silk Road cuts – a fortnight ago for a forum and to look at logistics opportunities.

China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua last month published a map showing its visions of a New Silk Road and New Maritime Silk Road that eventually met in Venice in Italy.

Mr Yeo said the historical basis of the Silk Road, the trade and cultural network that linked China, the Indian continent, Persia and parts of Europe that lasted until the 15th century, was “not on the basis that we must be the same, or that my values become yours or your values become mine”. Instead, it was “on the basis that we protect trade and property and there’s a fair exchange, value is added, there’s a positive sum, we all benefit in the process”.

Mr Yeo, who gave a speech about the New Silk Road and its ramifications on the global economy, also took questions on China’s actions in the South China Sea, parts of which are being claimed by other countries including the Philippines and Vietnam.

All parties are better off trading and focusing on the benefits of exchange, he said, noting that the disputed waters have historically not been a barrier separating Southeast Asia from China.

“Let’s hope that good sense will prevail that the greater sense will be on all the benefits of exchange. And if you can recreate the prosperity brought about by the Maritime Silk road, I think all these things will be set in perspective,” he said.

While he is unsure of how things will turn out, he felt it unwise for some countries to call for China to define its nine-dash line that lay claim to parts of the South China Sea. “If they are dash lines, there’s room for negotiation… Sometimes, ambiguity has its advantages,” he said.

While worries about a growing China were inevitable, China’s foreign policy differs from the United States’ “missionary zeal”, instead adopting an approach of “influence by osmosis”, he said. This has led it to be accused by the West of being opportunistic and amoral in its engagement with the Middle East or Africa, he added.

But the differences in foreign policies of the US and China also mean they are not necessarily in conflict, he said.

“It’s not a bad thing because it increases our chances for peace in the world. If there’s conflict between the two, all of us will be torn apart, every family, every company, every city in East Asia. Everyone wants America as a friend, no one wants China as an enemy,” he said.

In his speech, Mr Yeo said the New Silk Road offers huge opportunity. Connectivity is one trend among others that is changing global economic patterns and countries would do well to be part of the flow, and to have a sense of the environment and trends. Entrepreneurship, as well as facilitation and maintenance of social cohesion by governments, are also key for countries to avoid the middle-income trap, he said.

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