Monday, 10 June 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Business China Awards 2019

Singapore will not be seen as a stooge of US or China if it acts on its own interests: PM Lee
By Ng Jun Sen, TODAY, 8 Jun 2019

In order for Singapore to not become a stooge of any one power, it must work on the basis of what is in its own interest, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (June 7) evening.

Mr Lee was answering a question about how smaller nations may act in a world split between the United States and China amid their economic and technological conflict. This was during a fireside chat at the annual Business China awards ceremony held at the Marina Bay Sands.

By acting on its own interests, “there is some chance for us to say that I’m your friend, but I’m also his friend. I’m not (anyone’s) stooge, I represent myself”, Mr Lee said.

But this also hinges on the big powers, too, who must leave room for small countries to befriend more than one side if they do not want to see a world “completely polarised into two camps”, he added.

“That means you don’t force people to take sides, and you don’t say ‘if you are not with me, then you are against me’,” he said in response to the chat's host, Mr Robin Hu, head of sustainability and stewardship at Temasek International, the management arm of state investment firm Temasek Holdings.

Mr Lee added that this would allow regional and international co-operation to develop in such a way that countries can have strong links with China, Europe, Japan and the United States at the same time.

“Those links will also grow with time. If we have many such links, then I think we can maintain a reasonably balanced position with respect to all the powers. If we only have links in one direction, then I think it is very hard to say that we are friends with everybody.”

Mr Hu later asked what Singapore has done right to forge strong links with China.

In reply, Mr Lee said he does not like to look at what the country has done “right” with China, seeing how things could turn out wrong the next day, to the audience’s laughter.

But Singapore has tried to make sure that its relationship with China is based on “reality and candour”, he added.

“We make sure that we are honest with each other, that we recognise what the situation is and that we don’t make believe and just say nice things to one another,” he said.


Mr Lee pointed out how the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had visited Singapore in 1978 as part of a tour to hear the region’s perspectives about China’s struggle with the Soviet Union.

“He made the pitch to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, (who) said, ‘We understand what you are saying, but everyone in South-east Asia sees China as the threat, because there are (armed communist) insurgency movements in all our countries backed by China’.”

After their meeting, Mr Deng stopped supporting the Voice of Malayan Revolution, which was the Communist Party of Malaya’s radio station.

Mr Lee said there was no make-believe in their dealings: “You want my help, I understand why you need my help and I tell you why it is not possible for me to help you. And from that basis, we assess each other accurately… and we move forward on the basis that your interests align with my fundamental interests.”

Mr Lee said China’s interest is that the city-state sees the bigger power as a developing nation that will benefit the world.

“China sees that we are not against them — we have our own independent position, our own foreign policy, majority-Chinese but multiracial, and we take our position as the Republic of Singapore,” he said.

But while all countries will say they would support the needs and interests of small nations to not pick sides, Mr Lee said actions mean more than words.

“We will have to see. It is in the nature of these assurances — you cannot convey conviction just by a statement. It has to be a consistent pattern of actions over time, and people see that you calculate your interests in this way and they can rely on you, there is a certain predictability, not in what you say but what you believe, and also in the processes in which your leadership is elected and your policies are made.”

Many countries are currently being pressured and are asked “to speak up on behalf of what each participant thinks is the right thing to say”, Mr Lee said.

But not Singapore, he added. “We have to say what we think is the right thing to say — which is what Singapore is trying to do.”


Asked by Mr Hu about whether trade tensions will end up splitting the world into two separate tracks of technologies, hence forming "digital iron curtains", Mr Lee answered that this was a possibility.

Such a scenario happened during the Cold War, he said, noting that the Soviet bloc and the Western countries had their own versions of computers, televisions and airplanes.

“There were two different worlds, and the world was a considerable amount poorer for that division and for that failure to integrate and work together.”

After the Cold War, however, countries shared their technologies. Today, China makes up a quarter of both aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing’s total sales, Mr Lee said.

“If you cut the world into two, you will survive, but it will be very painful… It will hurt both sides... it will be at a high cost,” he said.

If the trade and tech war forces a split, will the world see the emergence of regional pacts as a substitute of the “global multilateral construct”, Mr Hu then asked, noting the presence of former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon in the crowd.

Mr Lee said this could also happen.

He said countries will want to make regional schemes, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or to form blocs such as the Association of South-east Asian Nations and the European Union in the absence of multilateralism.

While he hopes that America and China would eventually join the CPTPP, the former needs the political support for it to be possible, while the Chinese side is not ready for it as the treaty’s standards are stringent.

“Hopefully, (these regional schemes) will overlap one another and if we put the patchwork together, overall, it will cover the whole world and there will be no obvious seams or weak points.”

But he warned that these schemes could also end up forming blocs centred around China, America or Europe, for example.

“This would not be a good configuration because tensions will grow and rivalries will grow stronger, and it will lead to friction and trouble.”


Mr Hu then queried about Mr Lee’s take on where China’s economy is headed, as he had recently met with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

Mr Lee believes China is preparing for rough weather, but the US too, noting how the US has had to subsidise its agriculture industry which was hurting from the tariffs.

“But the money (for the farmers) must come from somewhere. The trade war makes both sides poorer, so you have to make do with less.”

He noted that the International Monetary Fund had predicted “dark clouds on the horizon”, which will impact confidence and investment, as well as growth and prosperity.

“Singapore’s growth is down this year, maybe not just because of China, but clearly it is doing significantly slower than last year. Our exports are down, compared to last year. We have to know that it is because the external environment is not as favourable now,” he said.

US-China trade conflict unlikely to be resolved at G-20 meeting: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2019

The upcoming meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Donald Trump at the Group of 20 Summit in Japan this month could provide the leaders an opportunity to turn things in a more positive direction.

But the ongoing trade war between the two countries is unlikely to be resolved with just one meeting, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a dialogue.

"The differences between the two sides have become more sharply defined. The positions have hardened and quite a few of the positions have now been taken publicly, so it is not easy to walk back on them and compromise," he said.

PM Lee said the US is asking for "fundamental changes" to the Chinese economy that go beyond tariffs or trade rules to the heart of the structure of China's economy.

When considered from a broader perspective as a trial of strengths between major powers, that makes it even harder for China to make the changes, he said.

PM Lee gave his views on US-China relations and a range of other issues during the dialogue held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. It was part of the Business China Awards 2019 event.

Business China board director Robin Hu, who moderated the dialogue, asked PM Lee if he saw a bifurcation of the US and Chinese economies as possible, if not likely.

Recounting how the Western countries and Soviet bloc were split in two different worlds during the Cold War, PM Lee said the world "was a considerable amount poorer for that division and for that failure to integrate and work together".

All the countries joined the global system after the Cold War ended, sharing technology and developments, he noted.

Citing how China accounts for one quarter of sales for Boeing and Airbus, he said: "So, if you cut it in two... it will be very painful."

Mr Hu also asked how smaller countries could learn to "orbit around two galaxies" in a bifurcated world and keep both China and the US happy.

PM Lee said countries such as Singapore would have to work on the basis of calculating what is in their own interest and not be seen to be acting on behalf of one power or another.

“Then there is some chance for us to say: Well, I am your friend but I’m also his friend. I’m not his stooge, I’m not his stooge, I represent myself,” PM Lee said.

If big powers such as the US and China hope to have a world that is not "completely polarised" into two camps, they would have to not force smaller countries to take sides, he said.

PM Lee added: "I think that countries are under pressure and are being asked - I wouldn't say to take sides - but to speak up on behalf of what each participant thinks is the right thing to say. And we have to say what we think is the right thing to say, which is what Singapore is currently doing."

Asked what Singapore's leaders - from founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong to himself - have done right to maintain warm relations with China over 30 years, PM Lee said: "I always hesitate to analyse what we have done right because tomorrow, something happens and you are asked what have you done wrong. But I can say what we have tried to do."

Elaborating, he said that Singapore has always tried to make sure that its relationship with China is based on reality and candour.

"We are honest with each other, we recognise what the situation is and we don't make believe and just say nice things to each other."

In addition, it is also important that both countries' fundamental interests are aligned, said PM Lee, adding that this allows both sides to explore areas of cooperation.

The fundamental interest on China's side is that Singapore sees China's development and progress as a good thing for the world, he said.

"China sees that Singapore, we have our own independent position, we have our own foreign policy, we are majority Chinese but we are multiracial and we take our own position as the Republic of Singapore. So, on that basis, we can work together and there is a lot of room to cooperate," he added, citing projects such as the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

While it is important that there is rapport between the leaders of both countries, PM Lee said, there must also be an "understanding of what is the fundamental interest of the countries and how we can work together to further them". "And where interests don't align, to be honest and candid and to adjust."

Next General Election about supporting team that can take Singapore forward: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Crucial for Republic that leadership transition goes smoothly, he says
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2019

At the next general election, Singaporeans will have to identify and support a team that they feel will be able to move the country forward, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He was commenting on the significance of the polls which will have to be held by April 2021, at a dialogue during the Business China Awards gala dinner last night.

"I think it is to show ourselves and show the world that Singapore is united and we understand what our safety, security and prosperity depend on, and are able to identify and support a team to help us move forward and get to where we want to be," PM Lee said.

This is especially so for the next election as the country is preparing for a leadership change and it is crucial that the transition goes well, he said in response to Business China director Robin Hu, who moderated the 45-minute dialogue.

The Prime Minister added it is "absolutely crucial for Singapore" that when he hands over the reins, the next team would be able to take charge and make Singapore work in their own way, just as he and his team were able to.

Asked for his observation of the fourth-generation leadership team, PM Lee noted that they have chosen Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as their leader, to be supported by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing as Mr Heng's deputy. He said he was leaving more and more things to them - speeches, responsibilities and the handling of delicate issues.

"I think they will gain experience and the confidence of the people as they go along," PM Lee said.

He added he was very happy that things had progressed to this stage, but that there was still a way to go.

He highlighted the need to continue reinforcing the team because "you must look for the people beyond (the 4G team) already".

That prompted Mr Hu to remark that the People's Action Party (PAP) must be in the midst of interviewing candidates for the next GE.

Responding, PM Lee said he has personally interviewed "quite a number" of potential candidates who have come before the secretary-general's committee - the final panel which makes the decision before it goes to the party's top central executive committee.

These potential candidates cover a wide range of people of different races, age groups and backgrounds, he said, with both those from the traditional paths and those from more unconventional backgrounds, as well as a good number of women and young people.

Quite a number have been active in the grassroots or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), with passions which they have pursued, PM Lee added.

He also said the party is still looking for candidates with the potential to be ministers, or "to be more than ministers".

"And there we are working very hard, but we still have to get a few more," PM Lee added.

Elaborating on those from unconventional backgrounds, he said they include those who may not have done well in school but have gone on to have careers in NGOs and have spent time overseas.

"You must wait till we unveil them," he quipped to laughter from the audience at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

On when the next general election will be called, PM Lee replied that going by past experience, there have been general elections called less than four years into the term, and some called beyond the five-year mark.

"So, it could be anything in between. And if we haven't started getting excited, then either it is not about to come or we haven't heard the news yet," he said.

He added: "We are preparing for the elections."

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