Transcript of DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean's comments on "The Interview" on France 24 on 5 December 2018.
Mark Perelman (France 24): Hello and welcome to “The Interview” here on France 24. My guest today is the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Teo Chee Hean. Thank you very much for being here.
DPM Teo Chee Hean: I am happy to be here Mark.
Mark: Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, I want to begin with the so called trade war between the US and China. We have seen tension. There has been an announcement at the G20 that there would be a pause in this trade war and that within three months there could be an agreement. Do you have hopes that there will indeed be an agreement to calm this tension?
DPM Teo: We welcome this pause. It breaks the cycle of negativity that has been going on for far too long. We hope that during this pause, both sides will take steps to resolve at least some of the more prominent issues, build some trust, and then we hope that that will allow further progress. This trade war doesn’t benefit anyone.
Mark: Your Prime Minister pointed out a few weeks ago that what is happening between the US and China can create really very deep tensions and maybe worse. Is there really a worry in Singapore that if this pause ends up not leading to an agreement there could be more tensions and new frictions?
DPM Teo: It affects us in three ways and I think it affects many countries in similar ways. First of all, our exports may be affected by higher tariffs. That is not good for us – solar panels, electronic products. Second, the disruptions that it causes to the global supply chain – we are very plugged in to the global supply chain and that affects us as well and many other countries. And third, as you point out, where there is this tension between the two biggest countries in the world right now, that causes problems. On the trade front, if it depresses trade and investments overall, that is not good for any of us. If it spills over into other areas of competition, that broadens the issue considerably and I think, it will not be to anyone’s advantage.
Mark: Right, because again to cite your Prime Minister, he said this might force countries in the region, including Singapore, to take sides and when you have good relations with both, like you do, it is a very difficult decision.
DPM Teo: I do not think anybody wants to do that.
Mark: But when you are forced to do so?
DPM Teo: China is a major trading partner of ASEAN and our neighbours. It counts for something like 17 per cent of our trade. But I think the preference for all countries in the world, is to be able to have a constructive relationship, maintain that multilateral trading system and an open trade. That is much better for everyone, including the US and China.
Mark: But isn’t Donald Trump a threat to this multilateral model that has been in place for so many years?
DPM Teo: I would say that there are legitimate issues to be addressed. But these are not issues which only have to do with trade. They also have to do with how we manage our own economies – whether it is managing the internal balances between savings, investments and consumption, whether we are able to spread the benefits of trade widely, whether our people as a whole see technology as a threat or as an opportunity and how we educate them and give them opportunities.
Mark: I understand what you are saying but when the President of the most powerful country in the world threatens and even sometimes slaps tariffs, this is not about your economy, it is about his attitude.
DPM Teo: Well, I can’t speak for him. But we are concerned about the escalations in the tariffs between China and the US and also between the US and other countries because it does affect trade, it does bring into question the multilateral trading system. We hope that these issues can be addressed more constructively.
Mark: You mentioned that it touches trade obviously but also other issues. We have seen tensions in the South China Sea between China and many of its neighbours, also between China and the US. And some are fearing that this could eventually lead to a military clash. How concerned are you about that?
DPM Teo: Among the claimant states, this year has been relatively calm. ASEAN and China have agreed to a single negotiating text or a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea. So we hope to put that forward next year. The Chinese Prime Minister has indicated that we should progress and try and settle the Code of Conduct within three years.
Mark: Is that possible, is that realistic, because it sounds very ambitious?
DPM Teo: Well I think that if there is goodwill, we want to do that. I don’t think anybody really wants to see a clash in the South China Sea. Singapore is not a claimant state but we do want to see that issues get resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law. There is also the other issue of freedom of navigation under international law including UNCLOS, which we have a great interest in this as well. And I believe that all countries will have an interest in that as well, including China, because China is a major trading nation now and what she does in the South China Sea with regard to freedom of navigation will be reflected elsewhere in the world where China has interest in freedom of navigation.
Mark: You’re telling China it should take notice?
DPM Teo: Well I think it’s in its own interest to have freedom of navigation on the seas in the world.
Mark: Singapore was in the headlines back in June when it hosted an unprecedented summit between Donald Trump and the leader of North Korea Kim Jung Un. There’s talk of a potential second summit at the beginning of next year. Is Singapore willing to be the host again?
DPM Teo: Well we have not been asked. We have heard that there are other possible sites being considered and we are happy if the two sides can find a suitable location.
Mark: But you would be happy to play go-between again? I mean, this was an important step.
DPM Teo: We did not play go-between. We served the coffee and the tea. We were happy to be a location for the summit and to bring the temperature down. Because earlier this year there was a risk that there would be a miscalculation on both sides, because the forces were moving, there was an escalatory cycle. And we were glad that the summit in Singapore helped to bring that down.
Mark: Do you think now this war possibility is less important because of that summit?
DPM Teo: I think the temperature certainly has come down. And we are glad to see that because both sides were moving in an escalatory cycle which, there could have been an accident which neither side would have wanted.
Mark: You are in France obviously. There is a strategic partnership between Singapore and France since 2012. What’s in it for Singapore? What is the interest for you?
DPM Teo: Well both of us are quite like-minded countries in terms of trade. There are 2000 French companies in Singapore now, promoting all kinds of French products. From aeroplanes to perfumes and very fine French wines and liquor. But we also look to the future. We see innovation as a critical element for the growth of our two countries. So we have this Year of Innovation this year with 60 over events. We have a Global Innovation Alliance office here in Paris, our first in Europe. And France also has a France technology hub in Singapore. So there are many areas in which we can work together.
Mark: Mark: You are hoping that the French president will soon visit Singapore?
DPM Teo: We have invited him and we hope that he will be able to come next year or the year after. My Prime Minister was honored to be here for Bastille Day this year.
Mark: I want to quickly touch upon the Singapore model. Your party, the People’s Action Party, has been in power since independence back in 1965. There’s supposed to be a changing of the guards, the Prime Minister stepping aside. And elections, they are supposed to take place at the latest in 2021. There is talk that it could take place earlier. Is this a possibility?
DPM Teo: Well the Singapore model is one that’s based on consensus and trying to bring people together. I think all too much in the world today people talk about division when they talk about politics – contention, conflict, argument. But what we try to do in Singapore is to bring people together so that we can achieve stability and also achieve our national goals. I think that is the objective in Singapore politics. We have had two successful and very smooth transitions since independence. Prime Minister Goh was Prime Minister for 14 years. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, already 14 years. And he wants to see this – and I also want to see this – smooth transition take place.
Mark: But you won’t answer about the date.
DPM Teo: No.
Mark: Ok last thing. You are here in France. There is this yellow vest movement. It is about a lot of things but it also touches upon an issue that is probably a global issue - rising inequalities. We’ve seen Trump in the United States. Populous parties in the rise in Europe. Is this also a concern in your country?
DPM Teo: Yes, it is. I think it is a concern in all countries. But I think countries need to do three things. One, we have to make sure that the benefits of globalization are widely spread.
Mark: That’s not the case right?
DPM Teo: So we have to work on it. And I think it can be done. And we should see technology not as a challenge and something that takes away jobs. Skills training, lifelong learning is one of the major things that we are embarking on in Singapore right now to make sure that our people stay employable throughout their lives. And that is also another way of making sure that the benefits of global trade and technology are widely spread.
Mark: So you are not expecting a yellow vest movement in Singapore anytime soon, I imagine.
DPM Teo: Well we talk to our people, our unions and our workers all the time and we try and form a tripartite relationship. We now have a future economy committee and Mr Heng Swee Keat is chairing that. And we are looking sector by sector to see how we can help companies transform. How we can help workers gain new skills and remain employable in each of these sectors and each of the types of jobs that we have in Singapore. That’s critical. You have to do the actual groundwork.
Mark: Ok, thank you very much Mr. Deputy Prime Minister. And thank you very much for watching this interview here on France 24.
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