Sunday, 22 October 2017

PM Lee Hsien Loong's interview with CNBC Conversation, 19 October 2017

Next prime minister likely from current Cabinet: PM Lee
Strong team has been assembled, but it will take a while to work out successor, he says
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Singapore's next prime minister is "very likely" to be one of the current Cabinet ministers, but it will take a while to work out who, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The country's next generation of leaders will, in time, have to reach a consensus on who should lead the team, beyond him, PM Lee told US news channel CNBC in an interview released yesterday ahead of his visit to the United States.

He spoke about Singapore's relations with the US and China, the North Korean nuclear threat, political succession and domestic issues during the wide-ranging interview.

PM Lee said he has assembled a strong team of younger ministers, who have to establish themselves among their peers, work out their relationships and assess one another. They will also have to gain the public's confidence and show their calibre, he added.

Asked if he is close to finding the next prime minister, he said: "I think it is very likely that he is in the Cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out."

Political watchers have identified Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, labour chief Chan Chun Sing and Education (Higher Education and Skills) Minister Ong Ye Kung as among front runners for the post.

PM Lee reiterated that he is ready to step down some time after the next general election, but said he has to make sure a successor is ready to take over from him.

This entails building up the next generation of leaders to ensure they can work and carry things forward after he leaves. "They are doing that by being hands-on, by having responsibility for major policies, by taking charge of important, spiky ministries," PM Lee said.

Asked if the next general election - due by early 2021 - could be called in the next two years, he replied: "Yes, of course. Any time."

On whether he will remain behind the scenes after stepping down, he said it is up to the next prime minister.

Singapore PM: Would like to grow 2% to 3% annually to ensure 'quality of life' from CNBC.

Asked what he hopes to achieve on his visit to the US from today to Thursday, PM Lee said Singapore hopes to further develop its deep and multi-faceted relationship with the US, which is based on a strategic congruence of views and close cooperation in areas such as defence.

On relations with China, PM Lee said both countries hope to do more together. While there will always be issues where they do not see eye to eye, there are no basic conflicts in perspectives, he added.

As for North Korea's ongoing nuclear provocations, PM Lee said its actions pose an immediate danger to the region, and could shift the strategic balance in North-east Asia in the longer term as South Korea and Japan mull over nuclear capabilities.

Mr Lee also addressed whether Singapore, as a developed economy, still needs the Government to act as a "nanny". Noting that Singaporeans have very high expectations of the Government and its performance, he said: "If you ask a Singaporean - on one hand, they will say let us do our own thing. On the other hand, whenever an issue comes up, they will ask, 'What is the Government doing about it?'... So, we have to keep that balance."

Asked about life without Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015, PM Lee said: "We miss him, we think of him often, we read his old speeches and we say, 'Well, that is still relevant to us today'... At the same time, we have to build on that and move forward."

And if he were still alive, his advice would be to press on and not look at the rear-view mirror, PM Lee said. "Remember what has happened, understand how you got here, but look forward and press forward."

Singapore-US relationship is deep, very sound: PM Lee
Ties are based on congruence of views, close cooperation over the years, he says in CNBC interview
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Singapore has a deep and multi-faceted relationship with the United States, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes to develop it further on his visit to Washington which begins today.

In an interview with US news channel CNBC released yesterday, he said: "It is a very sound relationship that is based on a basic strategic congruence of views about the world and the region, and deep cooperation over many years, in the economic sphere, trade, investments, in defence and security."

PM Lee also hopes to underline the point that Asia is important to the US, and the US should cultivate its relations and continue to contribute to its peace and stability.

"We have long depended on an America which has got a clear sense of its stakes in the world and how much it depends on the world as well as how much the world and its allies and friends depend on the United States of America, and we hope this will continue," he added.

The official working visit, at President Donald Trump's invitation, comes shortly before Mr Trump's first visit to Asia as president.

CNBC anchor Christine Tan had asked PM Lee how he would describe Mr Trump. He was also asked about the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Singapore's relations with the US and China, and North Korea.

On Mr Trump, he said: "He is confident of himself. There are things which he wants to do, he has a very set view of the world and of people. And we will work with him. He has been elected, he has a mandate from the American voters and he represents the United States of America."

PM Lee also noted every administration has a settling-in process.

"Perhaps the adjustment is bigger in this case because President Trump represented such a radically different rethink to so many things which the American policy intelligentsia had considered to be shared conventional wisdom. But reality and forces of events press down on every president," he said.

As for the TPP, its remaining 11 members are discussing how to take it forward ahead of next month's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. "We hope we will be able to get somewhere," said PM Lee, adding that the volume of trade between the US and the region is substantial, "and we hope it would still be able to grow".

"These are very big stakes we have in each other and which will continue. We had hoped that with the TPP, that would have given it an extra boost. That was not to be. But we have what we have and we will find other ways to take it forward."

On ties with China, which PM Lee visited last month, he said: "We are forward looking. We are two countries and sovereign countries, so there will always be issues where we do not completely see eye to eye. But fundamentally, there are no basic conflicts in our perspectives and we both wish to do more together bilaterally and in the context of Asean."

Singapore chairs Asean next year, and has been coordinating its dialogue relations with China. "We both want to make the relationship prosper. In fact, there is a lot we are doing together," he said.

Singapore PM: 'It depends on how the US relationship with China develops' from CNBC.

Asked about lessons from issues faced with China last year, PM Lee said: "We understand each other's position clearer now."

He added: "It is clear. But events happen, and then we react to events and then the positions have to be restated, clarified. In the case of the South China Sea, our position has always been that we are not the claimant state. We have no claims. So, we do not take sides on those claims: Who owns which island.

"But we do have an interest in freedom of navigation, in the rule of international law, in the peaceful resolution of disputes, and in Asean having a role in an issue which is this important in our neighbourhood. I think that bears repeating."

Asked if it was getting difficult to manage ties with the US and China, he said this depends on how the US relationship with China develops. "If that stays stable and good, then it is easier for Singapore," he said.

"If there are tensions between America and China, we will be asked to pick a side. It may not be directly, but you will get the message that: We would like you to be with us and are you with us. If not, does that mean you are against us? And that is to put it gently," PM Lee said.

"We hope not to have to pick sides. We have such substantial relations with both," he added.

"We hope we will be able to maintain these relationships."

SIA, Boeing to sign deal during PM's visit to US
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Singapore Airlines (SIA) hopes to sign an agreement with Boeing to buy more planes during the visit to Washington, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview.

He was asked by US news channel CNBC if there were new deals Singapore hoped to do with the United States on the official working visit that begins today.

SIA had in February agreed to place firm orders with Boeing for 20 777-9s and 19 787-10 Dreamliners for additional growth and fleet modernisation. Yesterday, spokesman Nicholas Ionides confirmed that the aircraft order, which was announced as a letter of intent, is expected to be formally signed during the visit.

"More details will be announced after the signing of the purchase agreement with Boeing," he said.

Singapore's PM Lee says 'done deal' for SIA to buy Boeing planes from CNBC.

The letter of intent had included six additional options for each aircraft type, which would enlarge the deal to as many as 51 planes. The proposed order is valued at US$13.8 billion (S$19 billion), based on published list prices. The 777-9s are due for delivery from the 2021-22 financial year, and the 787-10s for delivery from the 2020-21 financial year.

Separately, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that PM Lee will stay at Blair House as a guest of the US government during his visit from today to Oct 26. "The visit will build on Singapore's wide-ranging and robust partnership with the US over the past 51 years."

PM Lee will meet President Donald Trump at the Oval Office on Monday, and be hosted by Mr Trump to a bilateral working lunch together with Cabinet secretaries and key White House officials. He will have separate meetings with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn.

He will also meet key congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi. PM Lee will also meet Singaporeans at the Singapore Embassy, speak at the Economic Club of Washington and have a dialogue at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He is accompanied by Mrs Lee, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S. Iswaran and Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung. Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean will be acting PM in his absence.

North Korea crisis 'poses wider danger to region': PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

North Korea's ongoing nuclear provocations not only pose an immediate danger to the region, but could also shift the strategic balance in North-east Asia and raise tensions in the longer term, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

Pyongyang's recent missile and nuclear tests have prompted South Korea and Japan to look at what they need to do to protect themselves, in particular by developing some form of nuclear capability, he noted in an interview with CNBC.

"If it goes that way, and South Korea and Japan go closer to being a nuclear power or actually cross the threshold, it means a different strategic and security balance in North-east Asia," he said. "More risky, more tense, and the Chinese will be very alarmed. And I do not think it will make for a safer world. There will be implications elsewhere in the world."

His first detailed comments on the issue since Pyongyang began stepping up nuclear tests this year came as it warned on Thursday that it would unleash an "unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time".

Brinkmanship has been part of the North Korean issue for a long time, he said. "It is part of the game: You make a threat, you posture, you make a risky move, you hope that the other side will then do something to placate you, or to give you some advantage in exchange for good behaviour. Then after some time, it starts again. So, it is not the first time."

The difference this time, he said, is that North Korea has conducted more nuclear tests, and is developing missile technology, including the ability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles. So, the risks are higher. "The danger is not just the immediate alarms but also the longer-term trends, which are set off in North-east Asia, if things persist in this direction," PM Lee said.

"With North Korea going this way, the South Koreans are asking themselves, 'What can we do? The Americans have removed their tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea... Do we ask the Americans to bring them back? Do we... think of developing some capability?' "

He noted that 60 per cent of South Koreans now think they should have some kind of nuclear capability. Likewise, Japan, which has very strong anti-nuclear public sentiment, will be forced to think about the possibilities and what they may need to do to protect themselves.

PM Lee noted that a former Japanese defence minister recently wondered if they "should ask the Americans to bring their nuclear weapons and put them in Japan". "The government said, 'No, we shouldn't'. But these are thoughts which cannot be completely suppressed."

Several commentators have also suggested it might be a good thing for regional security if Tokyo and Seoul had nuclear capabilities.

The North Korean issue will be on the agenda at two regional summits next month, which US President Donald Trump will attend.

"It is very high on the US agenda. President Trump himself is very seized with it. Asean is also focused on this, although Asean's influence in these matters must be limited."

Asked about Mr Trump's comment that "China is the linchpin to solving the North Korean crisis", PM Lee said it has a major role to play. It shares a border, and is a big part of Pyongyang's external trade. "They have influence over North Korea. But I would not say that the North Koreans will do anything that the Chinese want them to do. Big countries know that small countries can be quite obstreperous.

"The Chinese have complex calculations to balance. They are living there with the neighbour. They do not want to destabilise the neighbour," he added. "At the same time, I think they cannot be at all happy with the way things are going with nuclear tests and with missile tests. It must worry them a great deal."

PM Lee not sure if dispute with siblings has been resolved
By Royston Sim, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2017

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is unsure if the dispute with his younger siblings over their late father's house at 38, Oxley Road, has been resolved, saying the matter is "in abeyance" - a state of temporary inactivity.

He also said he has not communicated recently with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, when asked about the matter in a CNBC interview released yesterday.

The family feud had erupted into the public sphere on June 14, when the younger Lee siblings posted a statement on Facebook to say they had lost confidence in their older brother's leadership and feared the use of organs of state against them.

They also made other allegations against him, such as that he used his position as prime minister to influence a ministerial committee looking into options for founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's house.

PM Lee refuted the charges of abuse of power in a two-day Parliament sitting in July.

He said there was no evidence to back up the claims, and that he and the Government had acted properly and with due process.

In a statement issued after the sitting, his siblings said they would stop making further posts against PM Lee for now, provided their wish, and their father's desire, to demolish the Oxley Road house "are not attacked or misrepresented".

They also said they welcomed PM Lee's desire to settle their quarrel in private, and looked forward "to talking without the involvement of lawyers or government agencies".

Asked about relations with his siblings and whether he hopes to reconcile with them, PM Lee told CNBC: "I think they are where they are. Perhaps one day when emotions have subsided, some movement will be possible. These things take time."

As to whether he is sad about the way things have turned out, he said: "Yes, of course."

The interview prompted a response from Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee, who said on Facebook: "Our brother says he is unsure that the feud is solved. Notwithstanding his public statements, Hsien Loong has made no attempt to reach out to us to resolve matters in private."

They also brought up a contempt of court case involving Mr Lee Hsien Yang's son, Mr Li Shengwu, saying the Attorney-General is "busy prosecuting" him for his "private correspondence".

They added that the letters the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) sent to Mr Li had made repeated reference to the family feud.

The High Court had, in August, approved the AGC's application to continue with proceedings against Mr Li over a Facebook post in which he said Singapore "has a pliant court system".

CNBC's Christine Tan interviewed PM Lee Hsien Loong for CNBC Conversation on 19 October 2017
President Donald Trump welcomes PM Lee Hsien Loong to the White House

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