Monday 21 September 2015

Singapore Summit 2015 Dialogue with PM Lee

PM to actively push for succession in new Cabinet line-up
Deliberate planning for leadership change key to well-prepared leaders, seamless transition
By Charissa Yong, The Sunday Times, 20 Sep 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has signalled that he plans to move decisively with leadership succession in forming his new Cabinet.

The Government and people do not want to be in a position where the front bench is greying and people ask what happens next, he said.

"That means you have to plan for succession very consciously, deliberately, and push it aggressively," he told 400 policymakers and business leaders at the Singapore Summit at the Marina Bay Sands yesterday.

He recalled how first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had colleagues who said: "But we're still not old, why are you doing this?"

PM Lee, 63, said: "Between me and my colleagues, we all know that we're not old, but we're not getting younger. Therefore we have to push it aggressively, and that's what I'm intending to do when I announce my new Cabinet."

He is expected to name his new Cabinet over the next fortnight.

Leadership renewal was a key message of the People's Action Party in the Sept 11 General Election, and dialogue moderator Piyush Gupta, who is DBS Group's chief executive, asked PM Lee why he seemed to be in a hurry to retire.

Mr Lee replied that he wants to continue the system of having leaders who are well prepared, where the transition is seamless, and everybody is assured Singapore is well taken care of not just for the next five years, but the next 10, 15 years.

And active succession planning is key, even though he and his current team of ministers can keep things going for another five years.

PM Lee was also asked whether he was surprised, relieved or vindicated by the election results, which saw the PAP win 83 out of 89 seats and get 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, a near-10 percentage point swing from the 2011 elections.

He said he was surprised and relieved. But he would not use words like vindicated, as "you only know you're vindicated after 100 years have passed". As for what led to the election outcome, he said the PAP will study it but it was hard to say for sure. But it seemed that voters approved of what the PAP Government had done over its past term and wanted them to continue on the same track, he said.

The opposition's storyline, he noted, was "the Government is doing good; you vote for us, the Government will work even harder". "That's a very dangerous approach and it goes against human nature," he said. "If you have a friend and your friend is nice to you, you're nice to him or her.

"Most Singaporeans agreed with us that the way to build a relationship and develop close bonds for the future was to work with the Government. The Government fully intends to honour that and to work with the people and to engage them in the decisions which we have to make, going forward."

As for whether the results validated the shift to the left in social policies, Mr Lee said he did not see this as "more welfare or less welfare".

Rather, the Government tries to address specific sources of anxiety, such as housing and jobs. But aspirations are hardest to meet, he said, for new ones emerge even as old ones have been fulfilled.

Today at The Singapore Summit 2015, Piyush Gupta asked me a few GE2015 questions, including “Why the hurry to retire?”...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, September 19, 2015

'Growth in region, skills key to economic future'
PM also stresses importance of maintaining a global mindset and essence of Singapore
By Lim Yan Liang, The Sunday Times, 20 Sep 2015

A prosperous region and a people whose skills rise across the board are two key factors that will keep Singapore's economy moving forward in the next 10 to 20 years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We must assume and hope that our neighbours will be making progress towards First World standards," he said at a dialogue during the annual Singapore Summit at Marina Bay Sands. "If they don't, then we are always in a neighbourhood where there are opportunities, but it will be a drag on us."

While Singapore has switched gears now that it is no longer a nascent economy with untapped manpower capacity, it has to stay open and dynamic - not just in terms of borders, but also in terms of mindsets, Mr Lee said.

"When you are no longer a teenager, you are no longer as bouncy as before. But if you stop growing, either in terms of your perspective or in terms of your capabilities, then you decline," he said.

"We have to adapt, we have to evolve, we have to absorb ideas, experiences, talent from many parts of the world but at the same time, there is some essence and spirit of Singapore which is valuable and you don't want to wake up tomorrow and find that that's gone. As long as our own population is stable, I think we can manage that."

Mr Lee noted that Singapore had done an economic review every five to 10 years since 1985, and said perhaps it was time to take a look again. The last report, by the Economic Strategies Committee, was published in February 2010.

He noted that incomes have risen across the board, including at the lower end. And although the income gap has widened in the last 15 years, there have been improvements in the past two to four years.

This is not the case in most other countries where incomes at the lower end have stagnated, he said.

"Whether we can keep it stable depends on how well we are able to upgrade the lower end of the income earners," he said. "To have that kind of society where you can move up in life from the bottom to the top and people don't hold it against you that you don't quite know how to dress the right way or don't have quite the right accent."

One challenge was the new wave of technology, be it robotics or artificial intelligence. While industrialisation in the past meant greater automation of physical labour, newer technologies are seeking to automate intellectual labour.

This means that human beings must be able to keep training themselves in more complex skills. But this is a happy, if not trivial, problem to have compared to being frozen for the next 50 years, he said.

Asked for three words to describe the Singapore he wanted to see in 50 years, he said: resilience, survivability and a uniqueness that Singaporeans are proud of.

The first two will help the country deal with and overcome difficulties such as climate change and global terrorism, while the final quality provides the impetus for Singaporeans to stick around and build a brighter future here.

"If you are not special, and there could be any number of other cities in the world where Singaporeans will be completely comfortable, then what is it that holds them in Singapore and makes them want to keep Singapore going?"

"It has to be something different, and we have to be proud of that. Then we can make it work, and our children, we hope, will feel that yes, I have grown up in a place which I truly appreciate and one day I will help make it work too."

Asked if the Government still had to be paranoid about Singapore's "survivability" after 50 years, he said: "Only the paranoid survive."

"We don't think that we will vanish from the face of the earth tomorrow," he said. "On the other hand, we remember the frogs which don't notice temperatures going up and gradually get boiled swimming around in warm water."

PM Lee Hsien Loong on ...


Well, my father stepped down as prime minister in 1990, so it's 25 years ago and I'm not his successor but his successor's successor. He had a long shadow and he gave us sage advice, even till old age, but he prepared very well for his gradual fading away. One great tribute to him was that on the day he died, the stock market didn't move. People had confidence; they knew that Singapore would carry on.


I was once in Cuba on a study visit in the 1970s and one of their officials came to brief us and explained how they created jobs and put people in different places. And he said that if one day somebody invents a machine which will eliminate all those jobs, we will take the machine and throw it into the deep blue sea.

He was only half facetious but that kind of an approach hasn't led the country anywhere and now Cuba is looking for such machines and upgrading, and trying to modernise its economy. We have to take that approach. Technology will change, the future will be more challenging, but also will open up many more opportunities for us, and let's get ready to seize them.


I haven't had time to watch (the Republican candidates' debates). I've seen some reports about them. They seem like reality shows. It's a theatre, which is a mechanism by which you try to whittle down a dozen candidates to one or two plausible and electable ones. And if they happen to be competent and wise, so much the better.


In Malaysia, there are political uncertainties and race is a very big factor in politics... So it is concerning but not surprising to see that when you have political uncertainties and issues not easily resolved, that it translates into a racial dimension.

In Indonesia, there is a new government which took office last year. There's a nationalist mood in the country, which the government has to reflect on. It's something which, if channelled in the right direction, can lead to pride and drive to take the country forward, but has to be managed carefully so it doesn't become something that is xenophobic, protectionist, assertive and causes friction with others, which leads to a minus for the country itself.

Challenge for China is not stock turmoil but structural reform: PM
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 20 Sep 2015

The turmoil in the Chinese stock and currency markets that has panicked investors worldwide is not the real economic challenge that the Asian giant faces, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Suggesting that the shockwaves created by its market tumble and the unexpected devaluation of the yuan last month were a storm in a teacup, PM Lee said the Chinese stock market is not a vital part of its economy and the crash is not likely to lead to a recession or depression in the real economy.

This is because the biggest players in the Chinese economy, such as the state-owned behemoths which control the most valuable sectors, have only parts of their businesses listed on bourses, he noted.

The real challenge the Chinese leadership faces is how to structurally reform its economy to enable continued growth, he said.

"The question for the Chinese is how can they manage the structural reforms which will enable the economy to grow, not at 8, 9, 10 per cent as it used to, but 6, 7 plus per cent for another decade or so," he said.

"What they need is to have the political pre-conditions so that the leadership can push on these very difficult structural issues, whether it's (reforming) state-owned enterprises, taxes, land - particularly agricultural land - (and) urbanisation."

"These are things where they have big decisions to make and I think they will need to make progress, not necessarily in a military style nationwide, but with experiments, trials and successes, and then progressive implementation."

As for the drastic measures that Beijing took over the summer to stem the stock sell-off - moves which led many international observers to question its competence and control - PM Lee said that he believed the "clumsiness and arbitrariness" stemmed from a lack of experience.

The Chinese authorities do not have the same instruments as the US Federal Reserve, so they found some other ways, he noted.

In recent months, the Chinese authorities have injected billions of dollars into the stock market to prop it up and went so far as to threaten sellers with arrest. "It may be clumsier than necessary because you don't have enough experience, it may be a bit arbitrary, it may also have been that on the way up, the government should have counselled more circumspection and taken more measures to discourage a bubble from forming and the euphoria from going overboard," PM Lee said. "I think these are lessons that they will learn in time."

During the hour-long dialogue at the annual Singapore Summit, PM Lee spoke with moderator Piyush Gupta on topics such as ongoing integration in both ASEAN and Europe. PM Lee said he welcomed China's major initiatives in the region, such as its Silk Road plan to revive the land and sea trading route that winds through South-east Asia, and the new China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which will fund Asian countries for infrastructure building projects.

"I think there will be opportunities for ASEAN (in these initiatives), because the Chinese are putting substance behind slogans," said PM Lee, pointing to the US$40 billion (S$56 billion) fund to connect up the Silk Road, and the US$100 billion in initial lending that the AIIB has. These are ways in which China wants to exercise influence that is constructive, he said, adding: "It will be welcomed by many countries and will help to contribute to the integration and prosperity of the region."

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