Sunday, 29 September 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

National Statement by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27 September 2019

Leaders have a duty to youth to act on climate change: PM Lee
It is about their futures during their lifetimes, he tells world leaders at UN General Assembly
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2019

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on world leaders to act on climate change, saying that they owe young people a responsibility to do so.

It is an issue the young are seized with, "and rightfully so, because it is about their futures during their lifetimes", he said in a speech yesterday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

PM Lee was among several leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who have highlighted the issue this week as leaders from 193 countries gathered here to discuss important global challenges.

It was PM Lee's first address at the UN General Assembly since becoming prime minister in 2004.

And in presenting Singapore's national statement to the UN, he also dwelt on multilateralism and championing the rules-based international system, which he said was essential for dealing with "wicked" problems, such as climate change and eradicating poverty.

These problems cannot be solved by a single country alone, he said, calling on the UN members to support the multilateral approach and "push harder against the tide" of isolationist and protectionist sentiments.

"A rules-based multilateral system is still far preferable to any other way to secure peace and prosperity, and to solve global problems," he said.

One such challenge is climate change. PM Lee acknowledged the hundreds of thousands of young people who demonstrated peacefully all over the world last week, including in Singapore at Hong Lim Park, to demand action from governments to slow the warming of the earth and the rising of the seas.

"We owe them a responsibility to act, and they deserve our full support," he said. "It is the responsibility of our generation to leave future generations with a habitable planet, both through mitigation and adaptation."

In Singapore, where climate change is an existential issue, significant measures have been rolled out to reduce emissions, he noted.

PM Lee had outlined them on Monday at the UN Climate Action Summit. These range from a carbon tax, the first in South-east Asia, to working with the UN to offer technical assistance to other countries.

Singapore will also collaborate with partners to better understand climate change and its impact through research and institutions such as the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre. The centre, set up in 1993, is headquartered in Singapore.

Using a variety of data sources including satellite imagery and computer models, it supports national meteorological centres in the region in predicting weather and the climate as well as to monitor and assess land and forest fires, plus the occurrence of transboundary smoke haze for South-east Asia.

But most importantly, he said, "we have to inculcate in our populations the mindset that each one of us has a responsibility to live sustainably and in harmony with the environment".

While Singapore will do its part to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels, the key threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change, it is under no illusion that the target will be easy to achieve, he added.

"Even if we do make it, the problem will not be completely solved, because that will only slow down the rise in sea levels, but will not stop it. But we must try our best, and over time, all countries will have to do more to mitigate climate change," PM Lee said.

Multilateralism not an option but a necessity: PM Lee
Nations need to work together on complex problems like climate change
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 28 Sep 2019

The strategic balance of the world is shifting and countries are now less keen on globalisation and multilateralism, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a gathering of world leaders in New York.

Yet, this rules-based order and cooperative approach is not an option but a necessity, he told the United Nations General Assembly.

PM Lee called on his fellow leaders to push harder against the tide of isolationism and adapt multilateralism for today's world, given the necessity of working together to deal with complex global problems like climate change.

For small countries especially, multilateral institutions, systems and laws are critical because they impose responsibilities on all countries and create a stable environment for all, he said.

But the tide is turning against multilateralism.

Nationalist, isolationist and protectionist sentiments have intensified in many countries, giving rise to inward-looking policies, he said.

"More countries are keen to enhance their international roles and are competing fiercely for influence. At the same time, the global consensus on the benefits of globalisation has eroded and support for multilateralism has declined."

The Prime Minister traced how developed countries progressed in the last 70 years because they opened up their markets and benefited from access to other new markets for their industrial products, such as aircraft and machine tools.

Many developing countries in Africa and Latin America are making the same journey now, but at a time when there is a strong pushback against an open, integrated global economy, he noted.

"If global markets become less open, and conditions for trade and investment become more uncertain and disorderly, their progress will become much harder," he said, adding that it was very difficult for any country to develop and progress on its own.

PM Lee acknowledged that there were serious weaknesses in post-war multilateral institutions, citing the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The WTO has found it increasingly difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements because any deal requires full consensus among its 164 member countries, which have hugely diverse interests and philosophies, he said.

"But the solution should be to reform these institutions, rather than to bypass or dispense with them," said the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, in the absence of reform, countries have started drawing up new regional mechanisms and frameworks for cooperation.

He gave such examples as the Asean-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a reworked version of the mega trade deal that the United States quit in 2017.

"These regional or plurilateral arrangements may be second best to multilateral ones, but in an imperfect world, they address real needs and help us progress step by step."

The key is to keep these arrangements open and inclusive, for other countries to join when they are ready, he said.

PM Lee also referred to concerns that the US and Chinese economies, locked in a protracted trade war, were heading down a path of decoupling into separate supply chains and economic blocs, forcing the global economy into two camps.

"We need to avoid creating rival economic blocs," he said, and forcing countries to choose sides.

PM Lee's message echoed that of several others, including German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who said that only by working together would countries have a future.

French President Emmanuel Macron also called for a stronger, more pragmatic multilateralism, saying there were no solutions without cooperation.

"The crises we are experiencing are not resolved by nationalist withdrawal," said Mr Macron.

But their sentiments stood at stark odds with that of US President Donald Trump, who said on Tuesday that leaders should look inwards and put their own countries first.

"The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots," Mr Trump said.

Singaporeans have to be prepared for rough weather ahead: PM Lee Hsien Loong
US-China trade tensions likely to persist, but Singapore ready to deal with challenges, he says
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2019

Singaporeans have to be prepared for rough weather ahead for some time to come, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, warning that there was no quick resolution to ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China.

Fresh from a week of meetings with world leaders in New York, where he led Singapore's delegation to the United Nations, PM Lee gave this sobering assessment in an interview with Singapore media on Friday.

Neither the US nor China expects a quick breakthrough in the trade war and this uncertainty is dampening investment, business confidence and consumer spending throughout the world, he said.

"It's one of the factors why our GDP growth this year is lower. We still hope for something positive but (it) will likely be less than 1 per cent," he said. Last month, the official growth forecast for Singapore was cut to between zero growth and 1 per cent for this year.

Singapore's economy grew 0.6 per cent in the first half of this year.

The next 10 years will be more complicated than the last, he said. "They are not temporary issues which can blow away. You sign a document, a US-China trade agreement, and then that's the end of the matter. These are very deep conflicts of interest," he said.

The same was true of action to mitigate climate change. "There is no magic, no 100 per cent safety net. You press this button, you sign this paper and you are safe for 100 years. There is no such solution."

Singaporeans must also be mindful of the trends and problems happening around them to better understand their own situation, said PM Lee, such as, for instance, the impeachment proceedings against US President Donald Trump, which would have an impact on Singapore.

But compared with the other countries in the world, Singapore is better prepared to deal with the challenges ahead, he said.

"We are more united, we are more cohesive, we have more resources, we're better able to train our people and to deliver results and be competitive," he said.

Singapore's leaders must also address practical issues which people are concerned about, working together with them to find solutions so that "people can see that 'I do have a path forward'", he added.

"If we don't tackle the problem and we just explain that it's rough weather, I think that will not cut a lot of ice with Singaporeans. But if we do the best with our own problems in Singapore, people can see things are getting better," he said.

For instance, income inequality in Singapore has "probably improved" in the last 10 years if government measures such as the Workfare Income Supplement for older low-wage workers, MediShield Life and the upcoming CareShield Life disability insurance scheme are taken into account.

PM Lee noted that people are also anxious over the cost of living "because there are things which they feel they need, which are not quite within reach". Singapore tackles these concerns by making sure that good public transport, healthcare and housing are available and affordable, he added.

At a reception attended by 350 Singaporeans in New York on Friday evening, he said the Government's job of providing for these needs had been "not bad".

"If you try to buy a flat in Manhattan, you'll know that housing prices in Singapore are quite reasonable," he said, to laughter.

"How do we cope with all these uncertainties in the world? The answer is to stay together and deal with them as one," he added, noting it was how Singapore had made it thus far. "What now looks like an escalator for 50-something years was not an escalator; it was a very tough climb. So if you look ahead and think it looks tough, just remember, you got here... so I think we can keep on working and we will get there."

While in New York, PM Lee met Mr Trump and signed a memorandum of understanding allowing American forces to use Singapore's air and naval bases for another 15 years, until 2035.

He also spoke on climate change at the UN, and hosted a reception for leaders of the Forum of Small States, a grouping Singapore initiated and which it works with closely.

PM Lee left New York on Friday evening for Armenia, where he will make the first official visit to the Eurasian country by a Singapore prime minister.

4G leaders ready for general election: PM Lee Hsien Loong
He says they are familiar with the problems, having been in politics for some time
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2019

The People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation political leaders are ready for the upcoming general election and are preparing for the challenges facing Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

"We are ready at any time," he said when asked whether the party leadership was primed for the election, which must be held by April 2021.

Earlier this month, the Elections Department said the committee reviewing Singapore's electoral boundaries had been convened, the first formality on the road to the general election.

PM Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general, was speaking to Singapore reporters after his speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

In the interview, he said Singapore was up for some rough weather ahead and that leaders had to deal with practical problems such as ensuring housing and healthcare affordability.

Singaporeans, he added, must stay together to pull through.

The fourth-generation leaders are familiar with the issues, having been in politics for some time, said PM Lee.

"Before that, many of them have been in the public service for some time. So they are familiar with the problems."

However, there was no amount of preparation that could make anybody 100 per cent ready until they were actually in the hot seat, in charge and making decisions, he added.

"One great advantage they have is that we will all work together to support them and to make sure that they succeed, whether they are old or whether they are young. We want them to succeed. They are the Singapore team," said PM Lee.

"It's not just the team of leaders but really the team of younger ministers as well as these younger Singaporeans whom they've got to form a bond with, and mutual confidence."

He added: "And if we can work together, then we can see through the rough weather ahead... Therefore, let us all get together and support the Singapore team, wear the same badge and we pull in the same direction. We are better off than nearly any other country in the world."

Government on the side of youth concerned about climate change: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 29 Sep 2019

Singapore's Government is on the side of young people concerned about climate change, a problem that will have major consequences for billions of people if not slowed down, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.

"We are on their side, because this is something that is going to happen in their lives and is going to affect them," he told Singapore reporters in an interview at the end of his week-long work trip to New York.

"It is very much something on young people's minds - this demonstration of young people around the world. And even in Singapore, there was quite a big group at Hong Lim Park, and Desmond Lee (Minister for Social and Family Development) went down and chatted with them," he added.

Adapting to and mitigating climate change was a major theme of the Prime Minister's visit, during which he headed Singapore's delegation to the United Nations General Assembly and gave a speech on Singapore's strategy on climate change at the UN Climate Action Summit.

"Today, Singapore is already palpably warmer than what Singapore was 30 to 40 years ago," he said.

Research by the Meteorological Service Singapore earlier this year showed that January, traditionally Singapore's coolest month, is now warmer than a typical July of the 1970s.

"In other words, our coolest months now are hotter than our warmest months 40 years ago, about half my lifetime," said PM Lee.

"But half a lifetime from now, if global warming is not slowed down, the difference will be even sharper and the consequences will be even greater for us," he added.

The whole ecosystem would be drastically changed with implications for disease, water sustainability, food and drought, worsened by the speed of the change, he said.

"If it happens over 300, 400, 500 years, then human society has time to change, and gradually adapt to it... But if it happens within one lifetime, affecting seven to eight billion people, it is not so easy. And therefore we have to work."

Apart from reducing its carbon emissions, Singapore must also encourage others in the global community to work at mitigation and to collectively reduce the impact of human activity on the ecosystem, he added.

PM Lee said it was a pity that the US withdrew from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce global emissions and curb global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels, noting that the participation of the world's largest economy in this effort is important.

But there are other strands of opinion in the US apart from the Trump administration's, the Prime Minister noted, pointing to specific states with their own climate action plans.

He did not elaborate, but California, for instance, has set stricter standards on greenhouse gas emissions from cars even though President Donald Trump is on a drive to roll back federal regulations on emissions.

Said PM Lee: "Quite many of them have aggressive climate plans on emissions reduction, as well as some adaptation (to climate change). And I think they will have some influence on the world. It's not as effective as the United States wholeheartedly participating, but it's not insignificant."

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Forum of Small States (FOSS) Reception on 25 September 2019

PM Lee urges small nations to team up to amplify their influence
He makes case for closer cooperation to leaders and ministers from about 40 countries
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2019

If small states do not manage their external relations carefully, their freedom to determine their own destinies could be severely restricted even if they remain sovereign or independent in name, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Such realities are the reason small states must work together to advance their common interests and amplify their influence in the world, PM Lee said on Wednesday at a reception for leaders of small states at Singapore's Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The countries represented are part of the Forum of Small States (FOSS), an informal grouping started by Singapore almost 30 years ago to make common cause together. From an initial headcount of 16 states, the club has grown to 107 members, well over half the membership of the United Nations.

PM Lee, who is in New York until today for the UN General Assembly and other meetings, made the case for closer cooperation between small states to the leaders and ministers from around 40 countries.

The club has grown over the years, he said, because the fundamental realities and vulnerabilities of small states have not changed.

"Our economies are smaller and more exposed to fluctuations in the global economy. More importantly, our margin of error is much narrower than for big states, which can absorb multiple hits," he added.

"If there is a war, we lack the strategic depth to defend ourselves. If we suffer an extreme weather event, we can take years to rebuild and recover."

For instance, rising sea levels threaten the very existence of island states, said PM Lee.

He cited Hurricane Dorian - which devastated Bahamas earlier this month, killing over 50 people and leaving 1,500 missing - as a grim reminder of this vulnerability.

Few small states have also survived long in history. "Unlike larger and more powerful countries, we do not set the agenda or decide the mega-trends. If Singapore disappears tomorrow, the world will continue on probably just fine," he said.

However, small states also have their own advantages that they can seize on. For one thing, they can respond more nimbly and adapt more easily to changing circumstances, said PM Lee. "Our sense of insecurity and even paranoia are also constructive as they motivate us to deal more decisively with challenges and threats," he said.

They are also less hampered by regional interests and differences, or multiple levels of government, that bigger countries must grapple with.

But small states must work together to have more influence in the world and advance their shared interests, he said, pointing to this as the reason for their strong commitment to the UN.

"Small states can and must make a contribution to the work of the UN because it is in our interest to have a strong UN and a sound and stable multilateral system," he said.

FOSS members chair five of the six main committees of the General Assembly this year, he noted. Many small states have also served on the UN Security Council or hope to do so. "We look forward to working with all of you fellow small states to speak with a louder voice, to continue to advocate for a rules-based system, and to find enduring solutions for the challenges that affect all of us," said PM Lee.

Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria, who is this year's President of the UN General Assembly, said in a speech that small states were a source of stability for the international system. "When we look at current geopolitical calculations, the voice of calm really comes from smaller states," he said.

The reception featured food and drink from Singapore, including pineapple tarts, satay and even Tiger beer, and nations present included island states like Barbados and Vanuatu, as well as Gambia, Moldova and Norway. All have populations of under 10 million.

Earlier in the day, PM Lee met Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley and exchanged views on the warm relations between their countries, said the Prime Minister's Office. They discussed issues of common interest, such as education and civil service training, and reaffirmed their commitment to working together as small island states to address climate change.

Smaller states urge support for rules-based global order
30-member Global Governance Group warns against rise of protectionism, trade conflicts
By Charissa Yong, US Correspondent In New York, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2019

An informal group of 30 smaller states has spoken out against the rise of protectionism and trade conflicts at an annual meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, stressing that an open, predictable, rules-based international order remains important for continued growth, peace and prosperity.

This international order includes the multilateral trading system as embodied by the World Trade Organisation, said the Global Governance Group (3G) in a statement on Wednesday.

The group added that it was important for multilateral forums to be inclusive when seeking to set global standards, and for international organisations to have universal membership.

The 3G was formed in 2009 to influence the Group of 20 (G-20) countries to take into account the interests of smaller countries affected by its decisions, and is regularly represented at its summits.

Its members include Singapore, the group's convenor, as well as Kuwait, Peru and Rwanda.

The coalition held its 12th ministerial meeting in New York on Wednesday, inviting the previous, present and incoming presidents of the G-20 - Argentina, Japan and Saudi Arabia - to discuss the key challenges facing the international community and efforts to address these issues.

During the meeting, Japan - the current G-20 president - briefed the 3G's ministers on the outcome of the June G-20 summit in Osaka, the statement read.

The ministers welcomed the G-20's commitment to pursuing strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, and to significantly reduce marine plastic litter pollution, the statement added.

It added that the 3G ministers also applauded the G-20's resolve to address inequalities, and welcomed its commitment to moving towards achieving sustainable universal health coverage.

The ministers also looked forward to continuing to work with the G-20 under Saudi Arabia's presidency next year, and welcomed its early efforts to reach out to a broad range of countries and groups, including those who were not members of the G-20.

"They encouraged Saudi Arabia to continue the G-20's strong commitment to engage the 3G, as well as other regional and international organisations, in particular the United Nations," according to the statement.

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