Friday, 18 October 2019

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Forbes Global CEO Conference 2019 Meeting of Minds dialogue

Singapore guards itself against populist forces by focusing on basic needs: PM Lee Hsien Loong
This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, he says
By Adrian Lim, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

Populism has become an issue in many countries, and Singapore has tried hard to guard itself against this by having a government which focuses on the basic needs of its people, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

This is done through equitable policies on housing, healthcare and education, as well as ensuring Singaporeans have opportunities to upgrade themselves and cope with new demands, PM Lee noted.

"So, in many ways, we have tried to make sure that people have (their) basic needs met, aspirations (are) achievable and a sense that this is theirs. This is their country... they have every reason to be proud of it, they will defend the system."

If this is achieved and Singaporeans feel that the system works for them, they will not vote for a political team which will pull the system down, he said during the 19th Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel.

He added that such a system calls for political leaders with conviction, commitment and a belief that they are doing this for a purpose, rather than to further their own careers and make a fortune, along with a civil service of high quality.

Populism has become an issue in many developed countries, because of a divide between the elite and the masses, he noted. The latter feel the system has not been fair to them, and they are left behind.

PM Lee was speaking during a dialogue moderated by Mr Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.

During the hour-long dialogue, which covered a broad range of topics, including the US-China trade tensions, the political unrest in Hong Kong, and Singapore's role in South-east Asia, he was also asked how the Republic balances immigration and growth.

To secure the country's future, Singaporeans need to have more babies to maintain the core citizen population, he said, adding that the Government is working hard to promote marriage and parenthood.

The resident total fertility rate was 1.14 last year. PM Lee said if the rate can be pushed to 1.3 or 1.4, this is "two-thirds" of what Singapore needs, and the remaining third can be topped up with immigration.

"We have now about 32,000 to 33,000 babies born in Singapore a year, citizens. We bring in about 30,000 permanent residents.

"So, it is almost one to one; but of those permanent residents, we have about 20,000 who become citizens a year.

"So, we are producing more of our own kids than we are having immigrant new citizens. So, I think that is not a bad balance. If I can have a few more of my own kids, I think it would be better," he noted.

In the workforce, there are around 2.1 million to 2.2 million resident workers and about one million non-resident workers - a ratio of about two to one.

PM Lee said there is flexibility to have more or less, depending on the needs of the economy and the business cycles.

These non-resident workers bring vibrancy to Singapore and also contribute in various sectors, such as in the arts and culture, and business and economy, he said. At the same time, the Singaporean core and identity should be retained.

Mr Forbes also asked when the next elections will be held.

"Any time within the next 18 months. So, just keep your eyes peeled," PM Lee replied.

He reiterated that he will hand over the premiership "some time soon after the next election" to his successor, whom he hopes will have time to build up his team and build mutual trust and confidence with the population, to take the country forward and win the subsequent elections.

"I think it is very important to try to plan ahead and to arrange for orderly political succession," he added.

"So that whatever may happen to you personally, the country is assured of a leadership team which is competent, which is experienced, which is in touch with the population and in sync with the times and is in a position to take the country the next step forward with the next generation of Singaporeans."

Singapore hopes situation in Hong Kong will calm down: PM Lee
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2019

Ongoing protests in Hong Kong may be disruptive for businesses there, but companies there have not made the move to Singapore.

Singapore also does not want to see the businesses moving here. Rather, it hopes that the situation in Hong Kong will calm down so that companies can conduct business there peacefully, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He was at the Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Shangri-La Hotel, where he was asked if Singapore has seen a trend of Hong Kong businesses moving here.

During the dialogue, Forbes Media chairman and editor-in-chief Steve Forbes also asked PM Lee about the implications of the Hong Kong protests for Singapore.

"We thrive best in Singapore when the region is stable, when other countries are prospering and we can do business with them," said PM Lee.

He added that he does not see any easy way forward for Hong Kong as the demonstrators' demands "are not demands which are meant to be a programme to solve Hong Kong's problems", but "demands intended to humiliate and bring down the government".

Hong Kong's issues, one of which is the "one country, two systems" policy, need to be progressively tackled, PM Lee said.

Referring to the approach needed to be taken, he said: "As one Hong Konger put it very neatly from China's point of view, they must not only think of one country but remember this is two systems. And from Hong Kong's point of view, you must not only think of two systems, but remember that this is one country."

"And this calls for wisdom and restraint on both sides." 

PM Lee also noted that there was a proposal for Hong Kong's chief executive to be elected, which was debated in 2014 but not passed.

"So they have not had expansion of the suffrage, as was envisioned under the basic law, under the agreement with the British. So that's something else which needs to be dealt with," he said.

But there is no simple solution because Hong Kong is a special administrative region, not a country, he added.

"It has to live and work within that special administrative region framework, which is the basic law. And I think it can be made to work, it is not easy, but if it’s not made to work then, I think it's very difficult to imagine that one country, two systems can continue for another 22 years until 2047."

He also noted that one of the underlying causes of the unhappiness in Hong Kong is social issues such as housing. The Hong Kong government has gone for conservative approaches in tackling these social issues, but the problems have not been significantly improved upon, and it will take time before progress can be made, PM Lee added.

Responding to another question from Mr Forbes on how US-China trade tensions are affecting Singapore, PM Lee said the disputes added another layer of uncertainty and anxiety to the global economy.

"It means that much less prosperity for the two countries, that much less buoyancy for the rest of the world, and that much fewer opportunities for our companies to invest in America and China and export to America, or to invest in America to do business with China," he said.

He noted that these are all win-win opportunities that are the essence of international trade, which has enabled the world to prosper for several decades.

Most countries in Asia have China as their largest trading partner, including America's treaty allies like Japan, Australia and Thailand, he said, adding that they do not want to take sides between the two. And it is not wise to try and force a divide and a choice between the US or China, PM Lee said.

Rather, it is wiser to compete in a friendly manner and have a free trade agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after Washington's withdrawal, he said.

The Chinese may be interested in joining the CPTPP one day, PM Lee noted, pointing out that this would be a win-win outcome for all, with China needing to adhere to more stringent rules which are part of a modern free trade agreement.

"We think that (free trade agreements are) the way for the world to go. America for the time being doesn't think so, but I think many other countries do think so and I hope that they will be able to make progress on this."


We have a modest view of our place in the world. We are the smallest country in South-east Asia, apart from Brunei. We have solved some of the problems which we face in Singapore and found ways which work for ourselves...

We hope that what we have done here may be of some relevance to other countries, and if they may pick up some inspiration or some germ of an idea and develop it and use it in their own circumstances, we are happy for them.

I think for us to say that we will take the leadership role and we will marshal the other countries along would be very presumptuous and not very well received.

But we will work closely with our partners in ASEAN. We work closely with other big countries, other countries in the region, the ASEAN dialogue partners - the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, Australians, New Zealanders - and we would like to prosper with them.

We try our best to contribute constructive ideas by which we can work together.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, when asked if Singapore would take a leadership role in South-east Asia, in guiding the region's growth.



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