PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A Segment of the Joint Press Conference with New Zealand PM Christopher Luxon (Apr 2024)

Transcript of remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Q&A segment during the joint press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on 15 April 2024. The Q&A segment begins at the 14:13 timestamp in the video.


Channel News Asia: Given that there will be discussions to elevate the Enhanced Partnership next year, what are some areas that will be looked into and what will this partnership look like?

PM Lee Hsien Loong: We have been stepping up our cooperation with New Zealand ever since we launched the Enhanced Partnership five years ago, for example by adding new pillars to reflect the expansion of our cooperation into the green economy and our supply chains. But we think that there is scope for us to do even more, and therefore, we have decided that next year we are going to substantially elevate the enhanced partnership, because it is the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. And we are looking for new areas — I mentioned a few of them just now, it has to do with the green economy, sustainability, cooperation on low-carbon activities, cooperation on CCS (carbon capture and storage), on supply chains for essential foods, for example. These are just some of the areas. There is also defence cooperation, and there is possibility to do more, and we will see if we can work on that.

Newshub: Both of you spoke of our countries’ close security and defence ties. Given the recent escalation in the Middle East as well as the rising tensions in the Asia Pacific region, how close do you think we are to a World War and what can small nations like us do?

PM Lee: I do not think we are close to a world war; I think it is a very troubled world, and in particular, it is a very troubled Middle East. The war in Gaza continues to have repercussions more widely, particularly in the Middle East, but actually with impact on opinions and on politics in countries around the world. Certainly in Europe and America, and in this part of the world too — people are seized with it, they are very upset by what is happening, they have very strong feelings about it.

So what can we do as small countries? We cannot solve the problems in the Middle East. Nothing is going to solve the problems in the Middle East within the foreseeable future. They can be managed, you can try and calm things down, and you can get people back on track about talking about peace, maybe. And even that is going to be very hard given what has happened on October 7, and post-October 7.

But if you do not try to do that, then you are saying the only way is the way of the sword, and I think that is going to lead to calamity for everybody. So if you do not want a calamity for your own people, then you have to make some very painful decisions and you need very strong and courageous leadership to guide your population forward to a less dangerous place.

Small countries, we have to take stands, we have to explain our stance, our attitudes — what we consider right, what we consider wrong, what we think will be helpful towards promoting a bit more appreciation, understanding of the path forward, to developing a global consensus on the direction to go. That means working bilaterally, that means working together at international forums — ASEAN, regionally, and the UN when the matter is debated or voted. And we have stands which we have to take, and which have to be clear. Because there are principles at stake, there are humanitarian considerations at stake, and there are vital national interests for us at stake. And our vital national interests is an international order which is orderly, which has got a certain system in it, which enables countries big and small to live and coexist together; if possible, prosper together. And where there is a basis to decide things objectively and not just based on the law of the jungle and ‘might is right’.

Television New Zealand: Given the struggles that we are seeing in this region, and given the economic slowdown that we are seeing in China. How important is it for countries like Singapore and New Zealand to have a diverse trading base, and not be too reliant on one country such as, perhaps China?

PM Lee: We would like to do business wherever the business is, and China is a very big market; so to say that you do not want to do business in China, well you have to have a very stout heart to make such a decision. But at the same time, we would all like to enhance our cooperation and our trade with other partners as well, and for this part of the world, I think that means having an open region — one with connections to America, to Europe, to India, to Australia and New Zealand. And to develop those ties so that you are able to cooperate omnidirectionally, and if there are ups and downs in one place, you cannot help being affected by them, but you may hopefully not be swamped by them.

That is what we are trying to do. We do it bilaterally: we have the Enhanced Partnership between us, we have the FTA between us which has stood and held — it was the first one we ever concluded, and I think it was your second one. We also have other regional arrangements: we have the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is now a reality; we have got the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is now also a reality and New Zealand is part of that; and we have got the Digital Economy Partnership agreements – New Zealand is in, Singapore is in and we have a couple of other countries – and there is a queue of participants wanting to come in.

And I think that is the way we should work, so that you have overlapping groups and they each contribute something. And it is not quite as good as having one whole cloth – everybody free trading with everybody else – but short of that impossible ideal, we are not bad.

The Straits Times: In a similar vein, how should small countries like Singapore and New Zealand respond in an era of increasing deglobalisation. For example, with how New Zealand is considering joining AUKUS as well as negotiating a new type of partnership with NATO. How will this affect Singapore and countries in the region?

PM Lee: Well, there is the economic aspect and there is a security strategic aspect. The economic aspect for a small country is: other countries can deglobalise, we cannot. There is no hope. I mean, if Singapore has to make all the chips for ourselves, we will never make chips. If New Zealand has to eat all the food which it produces, it will not make a living either.

So we have got to trade; we have got to do business. And I cannot always do it multilaterally with 200 countries in the world, but I can find partners and do more together with the partners. And that is what we are doing between Singapore and New Zealand and with other partners as well.

On the security side, I think different countries will have different postures — you must take as a reality that this is the way the world is. Not everybody is best friends forever with everybody else. Some get along, some are at odds, some are not at war but neither do they trust one another. And we have to work our relations with as many of them as possible on a stable basis. There will be security partnerships, there will be alliances, there will be treaty obligations, and in some cases, different countries are in different positions. New Zealand is a member of ANZUS. Some parts of that agreement are fully active, some parts are not. Australia is a member of ANZUS too, but they decided they also needed AUKUS, and they have therefore an additional layer with America, and they have also brought in the UK.

Singapore is not in ANZUS, we are not in AUKUS, we are not a treaty partner of the United States. You are, through ANZUS, and so are the Australians — we are not. We are what is called a major security cooperation partner of the US. This is a technical term. We are the only one of its kind in the world. That means we do a lot of security cooperation with the US — security in terms of counterterrorism, for example anti-extremism, but also in terms of defence cooperation, in terms of defence purchases, training. But we are cooperation partners, not treaty partners, not treaty allies. And there is a fundamental difference.

Therefore, we can cooperate with them in many different ways, but push comes to shove, there is no treaty obligation — if America is attacked, we go to America’s defence; if we are attacked, America comes to our defence. That is not where we are, that is not where we stand, and I think where we stand is the right place for Singapore to be. New Zealand is in a slightly different position, and you will no doubt be assessing how in the light of the changes in the strategic environment, you want to adjust and improve that position, but that is really for New Zealand to decide.