Singapore maintains consistent position, even as it recalibrates to remain relevant, says PM Lee [TODAY Online]

Mr Lee cited examples of how the government-to-government projects between Singapore and China evolved over the years

TODAY Online

Singapore skyline

The Republic will maintain a consistent position in its dealings with the major powers, even as it periodically re-calibrates policies to remain relevant, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

In a broad-ranging dialogue session at the closing of the FutureChina Global Forum on Friday (July 14), Mr Lee cited examples of how the government-to-government projects between Singapore and China evolved over the years - from manufacturing to environmental needs to logistics and connectivity - as Beijing’s needs and priorities changed.

“You cannot serve old medicine to a patient who is in a new situation,” Mr Lee told the audience comprising senior officials, business leaders and academics, many of whom are from China or have extensive interests in the mainland. “We work on the basis that the world will progress, countries will prosper and our role will have to change. As they grow more prosperous, capable, and open to the world, what we used to do and what they used to find us useful for will change.”

Yet, Singapore has to maintain a consistent position in its dealings with other countries, including the superpowers like the United States and China.

“I cannot be on one side speaking in English and on another side speaking in Chinese,” Mr Lee added.

On the issue of diplomatic balance, the dialogue’s moderator, Mr Robin Hu, who is a board member of Business China, asked the Prime Minister if he had any advice for Singapore businessmen who wondered if the Republic could have been more circumspect in its comments on China.

There have been murmurings in parts of the local business community of late that Singapore’s position on the South China Sea dispute could displease Beijing and consequently affect the Republic’s economic ties with China.

Mr Lee said in response: “If a government takes a perspective like a businessman does, I think that will be as unsuccessful as the businessman taking the perspective of the government.

“We have to understand that it is our job to make sure that we have stable relations with as many countries as possible.”

He added that businesses should “understand what the government is trying to do and why is it doing things this way”.

Mr Lee, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping last week ahead of the G20 Summit in Germany, said Sino-Singapore ties have “always been on track” and are now moving faster.

He noted how the three government-to-government flagship projects between Singapore and China have evolved with the times, beginning with the Suzhou project focused on township development and attracting investments.

The second bilateral project in Tianjin in north-eastern China was less focussed on attracting investments, and delved into the challenges of creating an eco-friendly city. The third and latest project in Chongqing in south-western China is focused on systems, connectivity and software.

“The focus changed because China’s needs have changed. Singapore’s expertise, we would like to think, has kept up with the times,” Mr Lee noted. “In future, I have no doubt we will need to do new things, otherwise we will be out of business.”

Responding to a question from the audience on whether Singapore can play the role of a middleman in the difficult China-US relations, Mr Lee said Washington and Beijing require no middleman as they already have multiple pre-existing channels of communication.

He stated that the Republic “hopes to be good friends with both (countries)”, adding: “The better China-US ties are, the better chance Singapore has to maintain good relations with both of them.”

He characterised Singapore’s relationship with Washington as one of “friendly cooperation”.

“We are not an ally. But we are a security cooperation partner. We believe that America has a significant role in ensuring the security and stability of the Asia Pacific,” he said, adding that this has been explained to Chinese officials and they appreciate and understand Singapore’s point of view.

“On the other side, we see China as being positive for the region as it grows and prospers. We believe that a China which is poor and unstable can cause a lot of trouble for South-east Asia and for the world,” said Mr Lee.

He pointed out that from Singapore’s perspective, it is far better that China is strong and cooperating with the world, whether in terms of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Belt Road Initiative or in other areas.

“We believe it is good that China grows and prospers and plays its rightful role in the world in a constructive way,” Mr Lee told the audience.

He added: “I do not expect that we will be able to convince everybody in America or everybody in China. But I think that we are taking the right position and at least the foreign policy establishment, they appreciate where we stand.”

Source: TODAY Online

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