Did Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong really “hit out” at China? Wrong for PM Lee to give a bigger picture of things happening around the world?
The world will find ways to cope if the United States shifts towards trade protectionism, but having America out of the picture will be a “big minus”.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this in a wide-ranging Q&A session at the APEC CEO Summit on Friday (Nov 18).
Asked about the possibility of US President-elect Donald Trump pulling back from free trade, Mr Lee noted that the US is the biggest and most open market in the world, and has been the “engine” pushing for free trade for many decades. And while there will still be opportunities to promote growth in Europe and Asia without the participation of the US, the world will be “missing out” on a huge opportunity.
“It’s not only missing out on the positive, but risking a very big negative in terms of destabilising the global trading and strategic system,” Mr Lee said.
To assuage people’s fear of globalisation, he said governments need to pour in investments and implement programmes that cannot be “boondoggled”, so citizens – especially the young – feel that this is the way forward.
On the other hand, Mr Lee noted China’s One Belt, One Road initiative to promote regional connectivity. He said this is the “right way” for China to engage with the world, as it connects the country to its neighbours and boosts economic integration.
But he warned that in this “new world”, there is “no country which is the middle kingdom”.
“Nowadays, however strong an economy is, not all roads will lead only there. There will be other links between countries in Asia, with America, with Europe, and China will fit into this global network,” Mr Lee said.
The Prime Minister also outlined Singapore’s plans to remain relevant and continue to be a business-friendly country.
“I’ll make two complementary, almost contradictory points. One, you must have stability. When somebody makes an investment, he’s committing to you for 20, 30, 40 years. He comes in on certain expectations. You must make it quite clear right at the start what those expectations should be, and you have to honour your word, over many terms of government,” said Mr Lee.
But he added that while regulations need to be stable, they must also keep up with the times, especially in light of disruptive innovations like Airbnb and Uber.
“We are looking for ways where you can have a sandbox, where you have a restricted environment within which people can try new things and I can try new rules. And depending on what works, then I open up the sandbox, and it becomes the new rule for the whole system,” Mr Lee said.