Excerpts from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s dialogue at the inaugural Singapore forum yesterday
Published: 4:16 AM, April 11, 2015
At the inaugural Singapore forum yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held a dialogue with about 250 Singapore and foreign delegates. Here are excerpts of some of the questions and answers:
Q: What are your thoughts about how best we can manage the emerging US-China relationship?
PM Lee: We cannot manage the relationship, only America and China can. We can only adapt ourselves to how the relationship is … There is a Chinese phrase … it means, literally, ‘small country no foreign policy’. What it means, really, is a small country is not entitled to a foreign policy. Because you have to take the world as it is, and you react to it. You do not shape the world.
We know that acutely (in Singapore). So we take the world as it is, but … through regional cooperation like ASEAN, when we can work together in an Asian-Pacific wide framework like APEC, where we can talk about security issues like the Asia Regional Forum, and at least participate and try our best to make the UN an effective forum … and the UN Security Council — that is not an easy matter, but work through that, then I think there is an environment in which we can manage to find a position, however the relations between America and China will be. We hope it’ll be good, then it is easier for us. If they’re not, if there’s trouble, well, we will try our best not to have to choose sides. But sometimes that may not be possible.
Q: How should governments in this region respond to demands for greater political participation and competition?
I think it depends which government you are. Every country is different. There are certain common trends because the young generation in many countries are exposed to the Internet, they travel … they are exposed to the same challenges and uncertainties of globalisation, and the government has to respond to that. I think one of the ways you have to do this is to try and find young people (and) engage them in the work of the government … of leading the country and identifying the situation.
You need grey hair in the team, but you also need young, vigorous people who are of that generation. In some countries you need changes, liberalisations and reforms which are necessary to adapt the system to the times … Even when you do have the right system, it is necessary for you to keep on adapting it to the needs of the society.
No system will work perfectly without regular tuning and adjustment from time to time, even overhauls. I don’t think there is a single formula which may solve this problem.
Q: In this country, you have made considerable effort to ensure harmony between people of different religions. Are there things that could be relevant to other parts of the world?
I think every society is different, and the context and history are important … We have had racial tensions (and) religious riots before. As a country, we were founded (with) multiracialism as one of the cardinal ideals … We have made many steps to have the basis for sound racial relations and racial harmony … We are very conscious of the need to compromise and to accommodate one another.
In our circumstances, we have to be practical. If you insist on an absolute freedom of speech, it would gravely offend others. When it comes to race and religion, the temperature can go up very, very rapidly. So we accept restraints on what we can say to one another … and we accept those compromises.
We work very hard with the religious leaders, and in the case of JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) terrorism, most importantly, we have to work with Muslim religious leaders so that they help us to solve the problems and they help us to guide the Muslim community along the right path and also help us to set right the terrorists who have gone on the wrong way to try and bring them back … I would not say that we have nothing to worry about, because (Singapore) remains a multi-racial society … that’s why we take this matter very, very seriously.