SM Teo Chee Hean at the FutureChina Global Forum 2022

SM Teo Chee Hean | 7 October 2022

Transcript of Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean's fireside chat at the FutureChina Global Forum 2022 on 7 October 2022.


Robin Hu, Asia Vice-Chairman and Operating Partner, Temasek: Thank you Senior Minister for making time for this dialogue organised by Business China. 

If I may start the dialogue on a sober note: As the saying goes, “the government’s biggest enemy is not the opposition but inflation”. Inflation is raging across the world. The Singapore inflation last year was a mere 2.3%, and in August, it went up to 7.46%. Former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says he does not think the US is in a recession right now, but he thinks there is a 75% chance there will be one in twelve to eighteen months’ time. So the question is, is Singapore prepared for a recession? And what is your advice to the audience here who are looking after their own businesses?

Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean: We are not used to the idea of inflation. I recall that as a young armed forces officer, I was delighted when I took up a loan for the first property that I owned, that I had this tremendous privilege of having a 5% interest rate as a government concessionary loan for my housing loan. I said, “I am so fortunate to be working in the government sector and having this 5% concessionary loan interest rate.“

We have come through a period of exceptionally low interest rates for a very long time. Some of it is structural, because of the growth and expansion of China, the manufacturing hub of the world, which was able to produce for the world goods at a very low cost, and this kept inflation in check.

We also had periods where to combat the financial crises in America and Europe, there was a huge injection of liquidity into the markets which resulted in very, very low interest rates.

We have seen a combination of these two things, interacting at one point or another for the last few years. Then we had COVID in the last two to three years, which depressed the price of fossil fuels. Oil went down to something like US$40 a barrel, much lower than where the normal clearing level should be. These factors have now all changed, particularly with China now almost reaching the limits of its own low-cost production capability. New geographies for low-cost production have to be found elsewhere. China is moving up the value chain and looking for higher value-added production, and China's working age population has also plateaued, so we are into a new phase there.

Also, there has to be a readjustment from the very large injections of liquidity into the global financial system. Now, after overcoming COVID, we have seen oil (prices) go from US$40 a barrel to US$80 a barrel towards end of last year, closer to where most people think the clearing price of oil should be in a normally functioning global economy. And then it went up to US$120, US$160, and I think it is about US$100 now. We have seen the price of oil go up by two and a half to three times over the last two years. All these have put tremendous pressures on us.

The combination of inflation, high interest rates and some weaknesses in the economy will affect us. There is not just a risk of recession, but there is also a risk of stagflation, and a period of uncertain growth, perhaps low growth and high interest rates for a while. So we have to prepare for that.

For us in Singapore, because of our financial prudence, we have considerable resilience and a lot of dry powder to take us through. So in a number of different levels, we have been able to deal with it. We allowed the Singapore dollar to appreciate, and that has helped considerably to dampen imported inflation. 

We have done a number of other things – the property developers here may not be very happy – but we have this thing called the TDSR, the Total Debt Servicing Ratio, which now we begin to see the wisdom of. As interest rates go up, the (borrowers and) lenders are cushioned, but we also cushion ourselves from systemic risks in the banking system. At individual and family levels, we are making sure that through this difficult period, we are supporting families. A typical 4-room HDB flat dweller will get $700 in utility credits this year, which is quite substantial. It is about three to four months’ worth of utilities paid for.

For businesses, DPM Lawrence Wong has announced at the Budget this year that for the Enterprise Financing Scheme, the maximum loan has gone up from S$5 million to S$10 million, and the government will take 70% of the risk.

On the employment front, we are also encouraging employers to employ workers with the Jobs Growth Initiative, and helping employers make sure that the lowest wage workers do get a decent wage, by providing wage support for companies that increase the wages of their workers this year.

These are some of the ways in which we are dealing with it from a systemic level, from the company level, and also from the individual-family level. It is quite a comprehensive package. We were able to do this because we have been financially prudent over many, many years, and we have the dry powder to deal with it.

Mr Hu: While we cannot will the possible recession and inflation away, it is heartening to know that the government has a series of solutions and tools in place for us as a nation and to alleviate the pressures that the business community may feel.

But if I may just ask – Central Banks around the world are raising interest rates to manage inflation – the Fed in particular. It comes at a cost, of course, not least of which would be pain to the household, as well as impact on economic growth and possibly employment as well. Are you sanguine that central banks and governments around the world, particularly the “big guys”, can find the right balance to stop sliding the world into a recession?

SM Teo: I cannot predict what central banks are going to do. Central banks and central bank governors have a way of speaking in elliptical terms. If you look at some of the stressors that they have faced, for example, in the UK, they were on a tightening schedule, and then with the trauma that they faced on the fiscal side, the Bank of England suddenly had to go on a big bond buying spree, and basically said it would do all it takes to stabilise the Pound.

In all these uncertainties, the central bankers are aware of the tools that they have available. We hope that they will work together. I never completely believed in “central bank independence”, because there has to be coordination between the fiscal side and the monetary side;  if the fiscal side and the monetary side has a wall between them, and they do not know what each other are doing, and have to guess from the actual actions that are taken, it will result in a lot less coordination than otherwise possible.

I do hope that the central bankers plus the Finance Ministers will both act responsibly. We can guarantee that for Singapore, but I am not in a position to guarantee that for any other country.

Mr Hu: It is reassuring to know that Singapore will do the right thing and thank you for that sharing. I do hope the media present today will not put a wrong headline tomorrow. If I may just continue on the rather sober note, on the still raging Russia-Ukraine war that's happening right now. This war has triggered both an energy and food crisis globally, and perhaps the worst thing about this war is that it is not ending. What will it take for this war to end, and on what terms?

SM Teo: This must be something going through the minds of all the major leaders in Europe, President Zelensky, President Putin, President Biden. Wars eventually do end, and there are several ways in which they end – one side is defeated, the other side is defeated, both get exhausted, both feel they have achieved their aims, both feel they cannot achieve their aims and therefore they negotiate. There are various conditions under which wars would eventually end.

Wars eventually end, but inevitably result in a lot of damage. My own sense is that there has not been enough thinking about where we want to be, beyond the tactical issues of how you fight the war. There is a need to think about what the configuration will be like, with Europe, with Russia, and in the world at the end of the war. If we start to think about that a little bit more, for the medium-term at least, and what are the interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, we will be able to better find a way of coming to a landing point in the war.

Right now, most of the focus is on fighting the war – what weapons, what artillery systems, what HIMARS systems, which are more effective. But these are all tactical. There needs to be more strategic thinking of where we want to be, and where we want to see Europe, Ukraine’s place in Europe, Russian’s place in Europe; then it will be clearer to see where a landing point will be.

Mr Hu: And three months, six months, twelve months, frozen conflict?

SM Teo: The war in Afghanistan went on for twenty years. Who knows? We hope good sense prevails.

Mr Hu: Yes, but the world was rather taken aback by how inept the Russian military operation has been. I think the magnitude of the surprise was met by how strong the Ukrainian resolve has been as well. Are you surprised by this? And how seriously should we take Putin’s repeated threat that he’s going to do the “nuke” thing?

SM Teo: I was surprised that the Ukrainians were able to put a stop to the Russian advance, and all credit to the Ukrainian people and their fighting spirit. But when one analyses the Russian Armed Forces and its development over the last ten, fifteen years, the Russian Armed Forces went through a period where their material standard and material quality deteriorated since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, so a period of at least ten, twelve, fifteen years where they under-invested, or they did not invest, and the quality of the equipment and training went down.

In the last half a dozen years at least, maybe a little bit more, they have invested more in the armed forces, developed new weapon, upgraded their weapons.

But in any armed forces, particularly one of that size, you can have a relatively sharp top of the pyramid. It will be quite good and quite effective. But when you start to employ a much larger proportion of the armed forces, you will get into that part of the Russian Armed Forces which may not have had the same level of re-equipping, training and leadership as the sharp end.  When we see the Russian Armed Forces in Syria for example, you see the sharp end, but when you see them being employed en masse on multiple fronts as in Ukraine, you will see the middle part of the Russian Armed Forces. That relative weakness in the middle part of the Russian Armed Forces was exposed in the war in Ukraine.

Mr Hu: From Ukraine to Taiwan. At a recent interview in response to a question raised on whether the US will deploy troops to defend Taiwan, President Biden gave a resounding and clear response, “Yes, we will.”  Now this is the fourth time that he said so, although each time, the State Department put out a statement very quickly to say that the US policy toward China has not changed. What might be a plausible explanation to this – is Strategic Ambiguity turning into Strategic Unambiguity?

SM Teo: I am obviously not in a position to jump into President Biden's mind to know what he is thinking. But I will look at the US-China relationship, particularly on Taiwan. People are always asking the question – what are the parallels between the war in Ukraine and any possible situation in Taiwan. You can analyse this on several levels.

At a structural level, the situation between Russia and Ukraine is a totally different situation with regard to Taiwan. Ukraine is recognised as an independent country by members of the United Nations, it is a member of the UN, and all the principles with regard to the UN charter apply to Ukraine – the sanctity of its borders, territorial integrity, non-use of force and so on. That is the structure of the problem between Russia and Ukraine.

And that is the reason why Singapore took a firm position, because sovereignty and territorial integrity are fundamental. Singaporeans will understand why we take that position. This is very important for us. We do not subscribe to the idea that “historical mistakes and crazy decisions” in the past can be used as a reason for armed action today. We do not accept that, and that is why we took a firm decision in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), and we have applied very specific and targeted sanctions; but we have not applied broad-based sanctions in the way that several other countries have done. Ours are very targeted, and very specific.

The situation with regard to Taiwan is different. The member countries in the UN recognise China as a member of the UN, and that Taiwan is a part of China. That has been the settled position in the UN for many, many years, since 1971 when the government sitting in Beijing, the People's Republic of China, took the seat of China at the UN. Before that, the Republic of China, which was sitting in Beijing before 1949 and after that in Taipei, was occupying the seat, including the seat of the Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, as one of the five victorious powers of the Second World War. In 1971, the occupant of the seat changed to the government of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing. That is the situation with regard to Taiwan, and it is a completely different structural issue than between Russia and Ukraine, which is an independent country.

It is important for leaders in the world to recognize that; and the vast majority of countries in the world have a One China Policy. There may be a dozen who recognise Taiwan. So, at that level, it is different.

At the strategic level, whether one wants to fight a war to achieve one's aims, whether one is likely to succeed or not in a war, that is a different matter. That one is a matter of strategy. What your policy is, whether you can achieve your policy aims by fighting a war, whether a war is worth fighting or not, whether it is winnable, whether it is worth the cost , and whether one needs to find other solutions by peaceful means before one goes into fighting – there are some lessons on this to be learned from the Ukraine war. That is another level of lessons to be learnt.

Then there are the tactical lessons to be learned – what weapons to use, the tactics – which the media is very obsessed about because that is of some interest to people. But that is not strategic. That is tactical. So one needs to understand and look at this issue from different layers.

But if you ask me what is the most important lesson to learn from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and how that applies to Taiwan,  it is how did we end up in a situation where we have a war right in the middle of Europe? What were the steps, what were the circumstances that led to this situation where you have an outbreak of this terrible war in the middle of Europe?

Those are the lessons that we need to apply to the situation across the Strait. Analyse what is happening, how can we take steps to avoid ending up in a situation where we have a war. Those are the most important lessons to read across from Russia-Ukraine to the Taiwan situation.

Mr Hu: I just want to follow up on the war, still, because you did mention about fighting a few times. Surely both China and US do not want the war, because it will inflict unacceptable harm to both. Yang Jiechi and Jake Sullivan met, Wang Yi and Tony Blinken met, we hope that President Xi and President Biden will meet in Bali during G20. However, the back channels appeared to have all stopped, and most of the other channels of communication and programmes have also stopped. Are the chances of having a war still very remote in your view?

SM Teo: I do believe, and I do hope that both sides do not want a war. I still believe that. Therefore, both sides should take the necessary steps to avoid one.

The current atmospherics are not at all positive. They are still going on a downward spiral. There are some positive signs – both sides have indicated that the two Presidents may meet. That is positive.

We had some positive signs earlier in Singapore – US Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin and PRC Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe met in Singapore, they talked. It is important to engage, to understand what each other's core concerns are. And then try and see how one can avoid arriving at a situation where you walk into a war, which neither side, I believe, wants today. If we can at least agree, if nothing else, that both sides do not want a war, that already is quite a good beginning.

And then to see, if that is the case, how do you avoid one. What are the areas in which we can at least work together and get on a positive trajectory. There are many things that the US and China need to work on – climate change is an obvious one, but there are other issues. If they can agree at least to avoid the war, take some steps to do so, start working on things which are of common interest, and then slowly from this kind of engagement, begin to rebuild some trust and cooperation, that will be helpful. But the current trajectory, in my view, is not a positive one.

I should add that although all three parties, China, Taiwan and the US, say that they have not changed their positions, actually the position has shifted for all three of them. The previous position has brought us peace for the last fifty, seventy years across the Strait, and the shift in position in all three brings a new level of uncertainty.

Mr Hu: So a new position is evolving. Do you have a view on where that new position may land, or will it spin back to the current position?

SM Teo: That is something for wise leaders to take a decision on. We tried to play a role. We were involved in trying to bring the two sides of the Strait together in the Wang-Koo talks in 1993, which led to the 1992 Consensus. We encouraged both sides with the “Three Links” (三通) and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and we hosted the historic Xi-Ma meeting when they called each other very politely Mr Xi and Mr Ma here in Singapore. So we have tried. We see what we can do to bridge the differences across the Strait, and to bring both sides closer together. There must be a will, there must be wisdom from both sides to want to do that, and there must be a will and wisdom in the leadership between China and the US to want to maintain peace and cooperation. That is beyond our control.

Mr Hu: On the US-China contestation, in 2020, you mentioned that a backslide to protectionism and decoupling between countries is not inevitable. Yet economic decoupling has been seen in increased export controls, trade restrictions, tougher FDI screening in multiple regimes, capital market auditing, even outbound FDI screening, all designed for China. Are you now more accepting of a decoupled world as inevitable, instead of a multi-polar one?

SM Teo: I hope that will not happen, because the development of the world, the history of the countries, at least in this part of the world, has shown that globalisation has brought tremendous benefits to the world. One of the biggest beneficiaries is China. And the US has benefitted too.  The US would not have sold as many beans, as much beef, or as many Boeings if there was no globalisation. And the European Union too. Globalisation has brought tremendous growth, wealth and prosperity to hundreds of millions of people all over the world, particularly in our part of the world. I hope that countries, leaders, governments would see the good aspects of it.

I can totally understand why countries would want supply chain security. Singapore wants supply chain security. We do not want to buy our key resources only from just one source. We do not want to buy chickens from just one source. We do not want to buy rice from just one source. It is completely understandable to want diversity and to want supply chain resilience. But it is one thing to say, “I don’t want to buy only from you”, to move to the point of “I don’t want to buy from you at all”. That is a totally different thing. Our policy has always been one of diversity. Supply chain resilience is a sensible policy for any country, big or small.

That is positive because it means that there will be a greater number of places where goods and services are produced, and in fact, more integration and more trade, and more inter-dependence. Dependence, especially total dependence, is a very dangerous position for any country or any company to be in. But inter-dependence is something which is positive, and something which should be encouraged.

Mr Hu: If I may turn to the topic of “small nation diplomacy”, for which Singapore is very much admired for. Singapore hosted the 1993 Wang-Koo Cross Strait Summit, the 2015 Xi Jinping-Ma Ying Jeou Meeting and the 2018 Trump-Kim Summit. Why is Singapore so successful in staying relevant to both superpowers, but equally importantly, able to avoid being caught up in their contestation?

SM Teo: We have said that we do not choose sides. But people sometimes misunderstand that by not choosing sides, we do not have a view. That is not true. We have a view – on any particular issue, we choose principles. The Russia-Ukraine war is one example where we acted on principle, and not because we chose one side or another side. Sometimes when we choose a principle and we act in that way, people get annoyed with us or people praise us, because they think we are either against them, or we are their best buds. But neither is true in the case of Singapore, because we choose principles.

By choosing principles, we become consistent, and we become reliable. We have tried to do that consistently over a period of time, whether it has to do with sovereignty, territorial integrity, regional integration, free trade, or international global order and respect for that. We have always acted consistently in that manner.

At the same time, we have always wanted small countries to have a voice. Because we do not think it is a fair democratic world if, say, the G20 or G7 makes all the decisions, and the rest of us, little ones, have no choice but to accept it. At least listen to us please.

For the G20, Singapore made a small contribution by convening a group called the 3G (Global Governance Group), which makes its views known to the G20 and hopes that the G20 will take into account when deciding our fate, when we do not have a vote at G20.

We also convened, with our like-minded friends at the UN, the Forum of Small States (FOSS). PM addressed them this year virtually, but if he goes to UNGA, he usually  has a meeting with them. This year, FOSS has 108 members. So small states do want to have a voice, they have a legitimate right to be heard, and we should organise ourselves in a way that that voice is heard.

Small states do have agency, and they can apply moral force, and global public opinion as well. It is not just the western media who can apply global public opinion. Small states do have a voice and agency. 

What small states do can catalyse changes. One example is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – it started off as the Pacific Four (P4):  Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile, who were like-minded and felt that we should do something to bridge the economies across the Pacific. The P4, like a little train, chug by chug, became the TPP. People bought into the idea and said yes. Sometimes it is easier for small countries to get something going. As a small country, one can have agency, one can work together with other small countries and do so. That is one of the key reasons why ASEAN is important. ASEAN has convening power.

Mr Hu: China is probably facing its worst economic woes in about thirty years: inflation, unemployment, local governments, budget deficits, mortgage defaults, entrepreneurs fleeing the country for fear of being targeted. Many MNCs are also disillusioned with China and are investing elsewhere. Reducing China exposure appears to be a boardroom priority. On top of that, the zero-Covid policy is eroding the positive goodwill of both people and the international community. Many capital owners and investors are now regarding China as un-investable. Do you see merit in this assessment?

SM Teo: China is the second-largest economy in the world, and anybody who does business would be unwise to ignore the second-largest economy in the world. China is also growing. There is a huge middle class growing, more sophisticated in its needs, more sophisticated in its wants. It will present a very good market for a very long time to come.

China is also becoming a major source of technology and ideas. It is not just copying things from others. It is producing new ideas, new concepts, and in some ways at the forefront of some of them, because it did not have the legacy of the past. If you had a reasonably working infrastructure system, then you tend to want to just continue with it and make incremental improvements. But if you did not have a system working, then you have the opportunity to build a completely new one that is way ahead of the current system. So China still presents many opportunities for the future.

China has demonstrated over the last thirty, forty years - since the opening-up in 1978 – and showed an ability to persist with opening up and reform and to take sensible decisions to do so. Not for any other reason, but in the interest of the Chinese people and the interest of the development of their own country. Businessmen would be unwise to ignore the second largest market in the world.

One of the major issues that China is facing today is dealing with Covid. I do not fully understand why China has not moved from its zero-Covid situation. With higher percentages of vaccination and with sufficient stockpiles of therapeutics, China will be in a position to open up, perhaps after the 20th Party Congress on 16 October. But that is a decision for China to take.

China must have been watching what happened in Hong Kong. At the end of last year, Hong Kong was one of the few locations that had a relatively naive Covid population. In fact, Hong Kong had a fatality rate per million population, of about one-fifth of ours at the end of last year. But by the middle of this year, Hong Kong had a fatality rate of about five times ours - something like 1,200, 1,300 per million, versus our 200 plus, 300 per million, in a very short space of time.

China, too, has a largely Covid-naive population. You can do the math and do an extrapolation, assuming the same conditions apply in China on opening up as in Hong Kong. The Chinese have the doctors; they have the medical statisticians. They have sensible politicians and the political will to want to make things work. I think that they will, at the appropriate time, make the right decisions to open up. But there are risks in opening up. Every country will face risks in opening up, and you just have to prepare for it: vaccinations, your healthcare system, therapeutics, and also preparing your people psychologically for it.

Mr Hu: Thank you. As we approach the end of this dialogue, I do want to bring the spotlight back to Singapore politics. Senior Minister, you have been in policy for thirty years, and in that period of time, you have been a pillar of strength and a constant presence of assurance in politics. My dad is ninety-six, and you are his favourite politician.

SM Teo: May he live forever.

Mr Hu: The fourth-generation leadership, while gaining experience, maturity, and confidence, remains work-in-progress. In mentoring the 4G leadership, for which you have played a key role behind the scenes, how do you impart the nuances and subtlety that are required to deal with our neighbours and the big powers?

SM Teo: You talk about the last thirty years as though I came ready-made – that I had white hair, all the wrinkles, and bags under my eyes thirty years ago as I have now. The bags, the wrinkles and the white hair accumulated over thirty years, along with all the experiences and a lot of knocks along the way. 

When I came into politics, I was thirty-seven, thirty-eight – very, very young – and I am sure that many of my older colleagues were wondering what did this young punk know, what experience did he have. One learns along the way. One learns from the hard knocks of politics; from one’s seniors and peers; how to work together with one’s colleagues; but most importantly, how to work together with our fellow Singaporeans, and to build that trust and to build that bond. That is the most important thing.

I have now worked with my younger colleagues for many years. I have watched them at close range, what they do, how they make decisions. Of course, we discuss this in Cabinet and in other meetings. I can see the qualities that they have. The most important quality is that your heart is in the right place. If you want to be in public service, your happiness comes from other people's happiness; your satisfaction comes from seeing other people satisfied and happy. That is the essence of the right person being in public service. I can see that my colleagues have their hearts in the right place, and that is what they want to do. That is very important.

They also have the ability and the capability. u can see that increasingly over the last few years. Covid is a very good example. You are thrown into a crisis, you have to make decisions – difficult decisions – in the face of uncertainty. You have to explain to a public that is frightened, confused, and wanting guidance and leadership. I think they have succeeded in doing that quite well. If you ask me, they are up to the task.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s experience has been to let the young leadership team step up and take responsibility. Hold the steering wheel, put your hand on the throttle, and actually feel that machine, that system. You cannot learn how to drive by sitting next to the driver. You actually have to sit in the driving seat and drive to know what it feels like. If you have somebody sitting next to you – who is not a backseat driver, but is there and available for you to ask questions, or to bounce ideas off – then you are a very fortunate person.

You asked me about dealing with neighbours and nuances and bigger powers. I am very fortunate because I have Professor Jayakumar. I talk to him frequently, get ideas from him. He is a wonderful resource and very generous with his sharing. If we are able to maintain this kind of system in the future, then we will be able to maintain the good governance that we have.

We are a small country. Our margin for error is very, very small. If you topple it, can you put it back together? I do not know. But I would not want to take bets on that. Unity and being able to work together are very important for a small country.

The Pew Research Center did a very interesting survey on Covid. Some of you may have read it in the newspapers – Zaobao and the Straits Times carried it a couple of months ago. They surveyed 19 countries. Singapore was one of them. They did not survey China, but they surveyed the US, France, New Zealand, Australia, Korea, JapanThe two questions I found most interesting were these.

They asked: Was your country more united or more divided after Covid? Fascinating question. Singapore was at the bottom of the list, because the one at the top of the list was the one with the highest percentage who said they were the most divided. I will not say which country it was, you can look up this Pew Research Center survey. But we were at the bottom of the list. Something like three-quarters of Singaporeans said that we were more united after Covid than divided. Out of the 19, there were only four or five countries that crossed the 50% mark. We were at 75%. If a football team plays against a very strong opponent, and plays together as a team and works together and beats this very strong opponent, you will feel very good about it, and you come out more united. You can have a team full of stars, but if they do not play together – “I do not want to pass the ball to you because you may score and look better than me”. Then, in the end, they lose and come off the field blaming each other. “Why did you do that?”, “How did you not score when you had the chance?”, “Why did you not pass the ball to me?”. You come out more divided. You can see that is what happened during Covid in some of the countries that ended up on the other end of the list.

The other question that was very interesting was: Is it important for you to be vaccinated to be a good member of society? They did not ask whether or not it is important to be vaccinated to protect yourself from Covid, but asked: Is it important for you to be vaccinated to be a good member of society? Again, Singaporeans were at the top of the list. 72% of Singaporeans thought that it was very important to be vaccinated to be a good member of society. That was the highest of all the countries, and shows the spirit of unity of Singapore.

Did that come about just on the spur of the moment? I think not. That kind of spirit has come about over many, many years, overcoming many crises in the past, working together and developing that trust – not just in government, but in each other – that we will be there for each other in a time of crisis. That comes also in having the right kind of leadership that fosters this kind of feeling. I am confident the next generation of leaders – the 4G – are people who are like that, and who will be able to foster that kind of leadership and community bonding among Singaporeans, to take us on, to face further challenges.

Mr Hu: It is comforting to know that when put behind the wheel, they are up to the task. I am also now very glad to know where my happiness comes from, and that is not too late. Senior Minister, we have come to the end. Are you committing yourself to help mentor the 4G leadership and provide much-needed continuity within the Government after the next General Election?

SM Teo: You see, the secret to continuity does not come from searching the world to find the fountain of eternal life or the fountain of youth. The secret to stability and continuity for a country - and in fact for the companies that you run - is making sure that you have a good succession plan. Even if you are young, start laying down your succession plan for the future, if you want your company to last more than one generation and carry on for two or three generations. That was the wisdom of Mr Lee. He was always looking, and looking, and looking for the new generation, for good people who will come up, come forward, and serve with a heart for the country. That is so also for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Prime Minister Goh before him. For myself, whether I am in government, or not in government, it matters less to me. I know where my heart is. I know that I am committed to serving Singapore and Singaporeans, and I will continue to do so regardless of where I am or what position I am holding in the future.

Mr Hu: Well, we will not have to guess if the answer is yes or no. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. We have come to the end of this dialogue. Please join me in thanking the Senior Minister once more.