Monday, 23 January 2017

Dialogue with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the EDB Society's Pioneering the Future Series Forum

Singapore will do well if it grows by 2-3% a year over next decade: PM
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Singapore will have done well if it continues to grow the economy by 2 per cent to 3 per cent a year over the next 10 years, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The economy, which grew by 1.8 per cent last year based on advance estimates, is on a "steady path" as a whole, he said at a dialogue organised by the EDB Society and The Straits Times.

Mr Lee sought to put the low rate of growth in perspective in reply to a question about the slowing domestic economy. He said Singapore is in a different phase now compared with when it saw annual growth of 5 per cent to 6 per cent, as the workforce was expanding rapidly then and the economy still transforming. Also, the years of double-digit growth after the 2008 global financial crisis were "exceptional", and growth has since come down to a stable level.

For this year, Mr Lee hopes the economy will pick up speed, saying there is a chance this will happen after the economy expanded in the fourth quarter of last year, aided by a rebound in manufacturing.

Investments are still coming in, and jobs are available, he added.

Mr Lee was also asked about Singapore's relations with China, new US President Donald Trump and political succession.

He noted the Republic had a broad and substantial relationship with China. While there will be differences in views from time to time, "we must be able to manage them without affecting the overall relationship", he said.

Turning towards local politics, he said the search for Singapore's next prime minister is progressing.

Separately, he told the BBC that Singapore would sign a free trade deal with Britain after it exits the European Union.

PM: Search for next leader progressing
Team of next-generation leaders is in place and they will choose a peer from among them to lead Singapore, he says
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Singapore's younger ministers will not be publicly given report cards by the Prime Minister on how they are doing in their jobs.

And while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has his views on who his successor should be, he reiterated yesterday that the next generation of ministers will choose their own leader.

Responding to a question about his involvement in selecting Singapore's next prime minister during a dialogue at The Arts House, Mr Lee said the search is progressing.

"I am not sure that I want to do what (founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) used to do in the old days. He used to give report cards publicly for the ministers and I have not generally been doing that," he said, to laughter from the audience.

Those identified as potential candidates include Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Education Ministers Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

At the dialogue yesterday organised by the Economic Development Board Society and The Straits Times, Mr Lee said the team of next-generation leaders is in place - it was reinforced in 2011, and again last year.

The younger leaders have been given portfolios and responsibilities where they can demonstrate mastery and gain confidence, he added.

He noted that previous prime ministers were chosen by their peers.

Singapore's second prime minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, was chosen by his peers at a meeting after the 1984 General Election, while the process was the same for himself, decided over lunch, Mr Lee said.

He added with a laugh: "I imagine the next time round, somebody will host lunch."

On the subject of race, Mr Lee said that Singapore could learn a lesson from the divisive election in the US last year: Race still matters.

Though different races have been brought together in Singapore, this is not a natural state of affairs, he said.

"You will always need that framework, that scaffolding, to hold it together," he said, adding that these included the right laws and correct social norms.

"As Mr Lee Kuan Yew used to say, you have cream and milk, you stir it up, it is homogenised, but it is not combined together indissolubly.

"You leave it out a while, it separates out. We have to make sure that our races don't separate out," said Mr Lee.

Maverick mindset needed in public sector more than ever
By Cheong Suk-Wai, Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

In an age of disruption, the second wind for the Singapore economy will come if its people are innovative and enterprising enough to compete with the world's best, such as start-ups in Silicon Valley.

That was a view held by some among the audience of 400 at a dialogue with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at The Arts House yesterday, moderated by The Straits Times' editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang.

But what more, EDB Society member Johan Wong asked, could the Government do to boost entrepreneurship, when mid-career people wanting to strike out on their own were bogged down by family and financial commitments?

PM Lee noted this was "an old question" that had been raised when he chaired an economic committee after the 1985 recession.

"Then the proposal was what we should do is, 'Encourage us and if we fail, you look after us.' But the whole idea of entrepreneurship is that you dare to take risks. If we remove the risk, then you are not an entrepreneur," he said to laughter.

Genuine entrepreneurs, Mr Lee noted, go for broke - because they are still broke. But as Singapore was now "not broke", people had become so "settled" in life that they were more careful about taking risks. However, "if you don't take risks, you are going to go nowhere".

Being chary of trying new things, he felt, stemmed from the fear others would "look askance" at them or hold them responsible for flubbing.

Some in the audience noted that officials these days seemed keener not to "rock the boat" than pioneers like Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and Hon Sui Sen. "They were... mavericks who could push and make things happen," Mr Lee said.

Today, such a maverick mindset was needed in the public sector more than ever, he noted. But it is not so easy to push for change as things had become "more settled".

Mr Lee said there continues to be "a lot of trial and innovation" in shaping policies, such as in developing the city, economic policy, the healthcare system, and housing, but "we have to be more willing to do it across the board". This is where ministers and permanent secretaries would do well to give officers the confidence that they will be supported if they try new things with good judgment and the best of intentions, even if things do not turn out well.

"Very often in such situations, we have an outcry," he noted. "The officers in question are berated, disciplined, hung, drawn and quartered - I only exaggerate slightly."

"We must have the gumption and the confidence to stand up and say, 'In this case he did wrong, I've taken disciplinary action. That case was not wrong, I will defend him,' " he added.

Singapore-China ties 'are broad and substantial'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Singapore has a very broad and substantial relationship with China that cuts across businesses, people and both governments, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

These ties continue, and a Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation - the highest-level forum between Singapore and China - will meet next month, he added yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who co-chairs the council with Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, will travel to Chongqing for the meeting, Mr Lee said.

Singapore is embarking on its third government-to-government project with China in Chongqing, after those in Tianjin and Suzhou, and there are business projects all over the country, he noted.

Mr Lee was replying to a question on Singapore's ties with China at a dialogue organised by the EDB Society and The Straits Times. Businessmen are concerned ties are under strain, after incidents such as Hong Kong Customs' seizure of nine Singapore Armed Forces armoured vehicles.

Mr Lee noted that the Singapore Government has reiterated the multifaceted ties between both countries, most recently at the latest Parliament sitting last week.

Singapore welcomes China's engagement in the region and its growing influence, he said.

But he acknowledged that there are certain issues that have to be managed, such as the South China Sea, where China has overlapping territorial claims with four ASEAN members: Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Singapore is currently chairing ASEAN-China engagement and dialogue relations, and helping work towards an ASEAN-China code of conduct on the South China Sea.

"In relations between countries, you must always expect from time to time differences of views, otherwise it would be unnatural. And we must be able to manage them without affecting the overall relationship," he added. The Government's concern is to maintain a relationship that is positive, sustainable and protects national interests in the long term - with China and with others, he said.

Mr Lee noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping had, in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said "countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are all equal members of the international community" that are "entitled to participate in decision-making, enjoy rights and fulfil obligations on an equal basis".

Mr Lee said: "That is a good basis, especially for small countries."

Forging good US-Russia ties 'not a simple matter'
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Good relations between new United States President Donald Trump and his Russian and Chinese counterparts will help the countries in establishing constructive ties.

This, in turn, would be a positive development for the world and also Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday in response to questions about Mr Trump during a dialogue.

While Mr Trump has expressed confidence in working well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Lee said establishing a good relationship will not be easy.

He noted that previous US presidents have tried to do so, for instance by signalling a reset in relations. But despite their good intentions in doing so, they were stymied as the interests of both countries are not completely aligned, leading to difficulties in producing a win-win outcome.

"I hope Mr Trump will be able to do better, but it is not a simple matter," he said at the dialogue, hours before Mr Trump's inauguration as the 45th US president.

When asked if he was concerned about the US' commitment to the ASEAN region, Mr Lee said Singapore will have to look at the priorities and policies of the new US administration after it settles in.

But he noted that Singapore is familiar with US secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, as he was a former chief executive of ExxonMobil, which is heavily invested on Jurong Island.

Also, the US has many investments, projects, friends and interests in the region. "That is something which any US administration would have to pay attention to," Mr Lee said.

PM gets EDB Society award for playing 'pivotal' role in positioning Singapore for future
The Straits Times, 21 Jan 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being presented with the Distinguished Fellow of the EDB Society award by society president Lee Suan Hiang (centre) and Economic Development Board managing director Yeoh Keat Chuan at a dialogue held by the society and The Straits Times at The Arts House yesterday.

From the moment he entered politics in 1984, PM Lee has played key roles in "propelling" Singapore's economy on various fronts, from ensuring high standards of governance to championing science, technology and the environment, the EDB Society said. For these contributions and his leadership, the society bestowed the award on him.

In its citation, the society said PM Lee had "always inspired and backed the EDB's 'dare to dream' and 'dare to do' approach" to attract investors who would create jobs here. As chairman of the Economic Committee in the 1985 recession, he empowered EDB to pioneer "exciting" initiatives such as growing the creative industry and making Singapore a global city.

"He has been pivotal in positioning Singapore as a digital capital in Asia", advocating for it "to be on the right side of technological disruption", the society said.

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