Transcript of PM Lee Hsien Loong's interview with Xinhua News Agency on 22 Apr 2019.
Xinhua News Agency: 总理阁下将赴北京出席第二届“一带一路”国际合作高峰论坛，中新（重庆）战略性互联互通示范项目是中新政府间的第三个合作项目，请问互联互通对于新加坡乃至区域经济发展有何重要意义，您认为这个项目对于中国与“一带一路”沿线其他国家的合作可以发挥怎样的示范作用?
[Translation: Prime Minister will be attending the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. The China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity is the third Government-to-Government project between the Chinese and Singapore Governments. What do you think is the significance of the connectivity for Singapore and regional economic development? What demonstrative function do you think the project can serve for the cooperation between China and other “Belt and Road” countries?]
PM Lee Hsien Loong: When the Chinese government suggested to us that we do a third G-to-G project between Singapore and China, we thought about it very carefully to find the right concept which would fit in with China’s strategic needs, its priorities, and at the same time be a project where Singapore could make a useful contribution. So after studying various possibilities and exploring different cities, we eventually concluded that we should do this Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI). We chose Chongqing. We decided to make that theme connectivity and connectivity in a broad sense, logistics of course, physical connectivity, but also in terms of financial services, in terms of information technology, in terms of talent, in terms of the exchanges between Singapore and Chongqing. Not just Chongqing, but also the region surrounding Chongqing.
We felt that this made sense because what China needs in this phase is not more physical investments, you have already got many and you have well-mastered the technique of developing new physical investments. But what China has been focusing on has been developments of its western provinces, and also the Belt and Road Initiative. And we felt that in Chongqing, if we could have this connectivity initiative to connect the western part of China to Singapore and through Singapore to Southeast Asia and the world, this would fit in with your priorities and with our contributions.
And so China agreed and that was how the project came about. We think it is very important because as there is a lot of potential in the western provinces of China, but the connectivity is an issue. The costs are high, the physical connections are not so convenient, it takes time, and the overheads hinder economic growth. But if we have this initiative and we are able to cut down on the overheads, save time, make the connections more convenient in both directions, then I think that will make a big difference to Chongqing, to Sichuan, to the other provinces in western China. It can make a very considerable difference also to Singapore, because we have good connections with the coastal cities and provinces, but for the inland cities, we are still in the developing stage.
So that is why it is important to us. One very important element of CCI is the international land-sea transport connectivity, 陆海双向通道. It is a connection from Chongqing, south through Guizhou, through Guangxi to 钦州港, and from there, to Southeast Asia and the world. That way you will save a lot of time because you do not have to go all the way down 扬子江，you do not have to go through the three gorges, which are very busy and all the way out to Shanghai and then double back in order to come to Singapore. But you come straight down by train, you put it onto a container on the ship, and then from the ship it comes to Singapore and then it is off. So that connects Singapore to Chongqing but more than that, it connects the Silk Road Economic Belt and the new Maritime Silk Road. 一带和一路连接起来. That way, I think it will very much fit in with China’s plans. I think therefore we see this as a very ambitious and important initiative. We are very glad that it has the full support of the Chinese government. And we believe it if it works, it will be a service to all the countries in the region and will benefit China as well.
[Translation: Next year is the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Singapore. Singapore has played an important role in Chin'as reform and opening up. Last year, Singapore's late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was awarded the "China Reform Friendship Medal." What do you think of the relationship between China and Singapore in the past 30 years? What are your expectations for the future development of China-Singapore’s "All-round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times"?]
PM Lee: Our relations with China have transformed beyond recognition since we established diplomatic relations in 1990. The trade has grown tremendously; China has become our biggest trading partner. According to Chinese statistics, we are your biggest foreign investor. We are also a major destination for Chinese investments out of China, into the Belt and Road region. In fact, we account for, I think, one quarter of your investments for the whole of the Belt and Road partner countries. So the economic ties have grown tremendously, and the basis of this has been, of course, China’s reform and opening up, and our assessment and perspective that this has been a tremendous boon to China and the world. Therefore, where possible, Singapore will participate in this and make a modest contribution to help the process. And in the process, we also hope to benefit from China’s development and progress. So from that point of view, I think our overall relations have grown tremendously.
We have investments all over China, especially in the coastal regions and the big cities, but increasingly into the inland provinces as well. And the approach we have taken in the government-to-government cooperation has been to focus on a series of strategic projects, which have broader significance.
The first one is the Suzhou Industrial Park, which began in 1994. And then we had the second one, which was the Tianjin Eco-city, which was about I think 15 years later. And then after that, we have the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative – the third one which started about five years ago. And each one has a different focus, the first one in Suzhou focuses on developing township and industrial park, and bringing in investments in order to generate economic activity and development. The Eco-city in Tianjin focuses on developing a green and sustainable urban environment, and one which could be used as a model for developments in other cities in China. And now the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative which I explained just now, fits in with China’s Belt and Road and development plans of the western provinces. So as China’s economy has developed and your needs have changed, the projects have also evolved, and we focus on different areas.
Looking forward, I think there is tremendous potential. Certainly on the Belt and Road, we hope to be able to play a constructive part on financial services, on third country investments, on human resources development. It is a project which will take many years to bring to fruition, probably will be one which will never have an ending point. But one which I think Singapore is well-placed to make modest contribution. We also work in terms of regional cooperation. Singapore was the coordinator country for ASEAN-China relations until last year, and we did our best to bring those relations forward and develop deeper ties between ASEAN and China. And more broadly in the region, we are working on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the RCEP. We hope that all these will enable China to integrate constructively and peacefully into the regional economy and into the global trading and strategic system. So, the opportunities are there. The key is China’s overall strategy as it moves forward to develop relations with the other major powers in a constructive, stable, and mutually beneficial way, which adjusts to the changing circumstances and the changing needs of the different countries, and enables this fundamental shift in the global balance to take place in a peaceful and stable manner, which will not lead to tensions or worst, conflict. If that can be done, then I think Singapore-China relations will prosper.
Xinhua: 今年新加坡庆祝开埠200周年，200年前新加坡成为一个自由贸易港，逐渐走上了繁荣和发展之路。当今国际社会出现的一些逆全球化和贸易保护主义的作法， 我想请问总理阁下您对这些问题是怎样看？
[Translation: This year is Singapore’s Bicentennial. Singapore became a free trade port 200 years ago and has gradually embarked on a path of prosperity and development. What do you think of the anti-globalization and trade protectionist practices that have emerged in the international community?]
PM Lee: We follow the developments internationally very closely we are very concerned because Singapore is, of course a very open economy, highly dependent on the global system, highly dependent on external trade – exports as well as imports. So if the global system is under stress or if the international trade is going to be hindered or subject to restrictions, that is bad news for us. But actually, it is not only bad news for us, it is bad news for the whole world because our prosperity for many counties, the technological progress in many countries depends on this global cooperation. And without that, I think all countries are in trouble.
But it is not easy to maintain this global system because the changes needed in the countries are far reaching. The impacts are not always easy to accommodate. And for some portions of the population who are not so well prepared to cope with the changes, it can be very disruptive. Therefore, the political systems are also under stress and leaders are elected or chosen or come to power, will feel that they have to take measures to respond to these domestic political pressures. And that means putting domestic considerations first and the needs of the international system second. But in the long term, doing that may well harm their countries – even the biggest countries. And so, we have a problem because the international system needs to adapt, be adjusted in order to be able to work with this new situation with a very big player coming onto the scene, China, and having a very big influence and impact on the world.
At the same time China has to adjust its strategies and policies because what was acceptable and not controversial when it was much smaller, is now very prominent and very complicated to accommodate because it is so much bigger. And these are external considerations which are important. But the governments have to be able to translate them into terms which their domestic constituencies can understand and accept and make sense to their domestic priorities, so that they say, “Yes, I will do this, and I will accept the domestic change”. And I think that is not easy. I think for China, particularly it may be a more manageable issue because of China’s political system, we have always been able to look beyond the immediate future, the immediate problems and preoccupations in order to plan ahead and consider what is a strategy which will work for China, not over five or 10 years, but over 15, 20, 30 years. And I think this is one of those issues now, where we hope that China will be able to do that and take a lead and encourage other countries also to do that. And therefore work together to strengthen the international systems for the benefit of all the participants.
[Translation: Standing at a new historical starting point, how will Singapore maintain its sustainable economic development? How will Singapore play its part in the regional cooperation and global affairs?]
PM Lee: Maintaining economic growth is a continuing challenge, is a challenge for us, it is a challenge for all developed countries. Even for China, as you become more developed, you will find that the natural rate of economic growth will slow down, now about six per cent. Very different from what it was a decade ago when you could have made ten per cent growth almost effortlessly. For Singapore at our stage, we think if we can maintain two to three per cent growth, that will be a good sustained rate of growth.
What it depends on is firstly, productivity, improvements using new technology, organising ourselves more efficiently, shifting to new industries, new businesses, new sectors, where there is growth, where we have an advantage, where we can make a contribution and be relevant internationally.
Secondly, we have to upgrade our people. So that they are individually productive with their skills and their knowledge in order to do the new jobs which are available. That means training. The students are coming out from schools, polytechnics and universities, and also retraining the workers who may be in their 40s, 50s, maybe even 60s, but who need to learn new jobs, master new jobs, and who need to go back to school again in order to pick up new skills and be able to be productive in different ways. So that you may previously have been a bank teller, and you talk to customers across the counter. But now, because people go to the Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), you have to learn how to manage the ATMs, maybe program the ATM, maybe be a help advisor. So when the person runs into difficulty operating the ATM, he presses ‘help’, and your face comes up on the screen, and you can talk him through and help him make his transaction. So that is another thing which our people must do.
Thirdly, of course, maybe the most difficult problem, and that is to make sure that our population is maintained and we have enough babies so that in the next generation, there are enough Singaporeans to maintain the economy. China is facing this issue now but so is Singapore. We do not have enough babies. And we hope we can encourage parents to marry a bit earlier, have kids a bit earlier, and maybe have one more kid or two more kids. And therefore, overall as a society, we have – in the next generation – a stable population, and one which will maintain its vigour and its forward looking perspective. These are our priorities within Singapore to keep the economy vibrant and growing. Internationally, we try to play a constructive role in ASEAN, in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, in the regional cooperation with China, with the other countries, America, and Europe. We hope that if we keep on making progress on our own problems and keep being able to develop solutions which work well for us, other people will find value in engaging us, take an interest in what we are doing, and perhaps find some of what we do relevant to them in their own circumstances, which they can pick up and apply, and in their own different ways, prosper and be good partners for us in the world.
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