Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Media Wrap-up in Tokyo, Japan

13 December 2013

Qn: The ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit has just concluded. What are your thoughts on this Summit and the outcome and the joint statement that has been issued out? Are you satisfied with them?

PM: It is a significant milestone. It has been 40 years since ASEAN and Japan have established a regular relationship. I think that in the Summit apart from what we said in the statement, the main thing is what have we achieved. I would say there are two things which are significant. One is that we have substantially completed the Services and Investments Chapters of the AJCEP - the FTA between ASEAN and Japan. These have been negotiated for a long time but I think because this Summit was coming so there was extra impetus to complete it and to be able to resolve the difficult outstanding issues. That is a significant achievement.

The other thing which is significant is more in the nature of a new area - that ASEAN and Japan will now talk about air services liberalization between them. The content of it – how it will be done – I think there will be a lot of discussion but we are discussing this, and it is a good sign. I think Japan put a lot of effort into the Summit. They wanted it to be a success symbolically. They want to be engaged in the region - economic cooperation, but also cooperation in other matters. For example, HADR - humanitarian and disaster relief, and Japan is making some contribution – 300 billion yen – a substantial contribution to financing HADR training and capability building in the ASEAN countries, and they would like have a formal discussion about HADR and other non-traditional security issues next year when Mr. Abe comes for the Shangri-La Dialogue on the sidelines with the relevant Ministers. I think that is good. We encourage Japan to be engaged in the region in many ways and play a constructive role.

Between Singapore and Japan, I had a useful bilateral with Mr. Abe. Our agenda is the same as the last time I met him, which is the Singapore-Japan CEPA review - we would like to have better market access for things which are important to us like chemicals or food products - and also air services liberalization. I think it will take some time but we have stated our points. I am very happy that Mr. Abe is coming to the Shangri-La Dialogue. I invited him the last time I met him in Singapore in July. He thought it over, he has accepted and he has announced it. So I look forward to receiving him in May next year.

Qn: Can you talk a little bit more about the ongoing review on the Japan-Singapore FTA, what is the current state of the review, and what has the Japanese side been saying?

PM: The review has been ongoing for some time. I think we have not made any breakthroughs. From our side, we would like better access to petrochemicals and also for foodstuffs - whether it is milk powder, processed foods – things which are important to our exporters. Because when you are doing an FTA, what we do is, MTI will talk to the companies and industry and find out what is of value, is useful to them, and then they will go and push for that because that is the dividend for us. Then we can see what the other side wants and we try and reach a deal.

Qn: Can you talk about the hi-speed rail between Singapore and KL?

PM: That is a matter which is of great interest to the Japanese because they have their Shinkansen. They are very proud of their technology – very high quality, very high reliability and safety. They would like the Singapore-KL hi-speed rail to be a Shinkansen technology. Mr. Abe raised it with me, and going by newspaper reports I think he raised it with PM Najib the day before at their bilateral meeting. My response to Mr. Abe is firstly, this is mostly a Malaysian project because nearly all of the line is on the Malaysian side. Secondly, when it comes time to choose somebody to provide the technology and build the rail, I am sure there will be a tender, and I am sure the Japanese companies will participate. I am quite confident that they will put up very strong bids, which we will be very happy to consider. But the project is still in the very early phase and we are a very long way from calling tenders yet.

Qn: On that topic, PM Najib mentioned in a report that the timeline will be finalised by next year. Is that schedule something that Singapore can confirm also?

PM: I have not had the most up to date report. Our joint working committee just had a meeting earlier this week, and they have agreed on defining the project by next year. I am sure we will do that.

Qn: Moving on to security issues, many countries are understandably concerned about the ADIZ. Could you tell us how the discussion went today at the Summit?

PM: At the Summit itself, we did not talk about this very much. Mr. Abe, on behalf of Japan, expressed Japan’s position. I expressed my position which is in my intervention points which you have. It is the same position I took when NHK interviewed me on Monday. That is to say that for us, this is a navigational matter. From a navigational point of view, we want to know what it means for civil aviation. ICAO and IATA have both raised this query with the Chinese authorities, what does it mean operationally for airlines and aircraft flying through the ADIZ. We have also raised the question with the Chinese side. That is at a navigation, civil aviation level.

From a security level, from the point of view of regional dynamics, this is one in a series of actions, reactions, responses to previous actions and it goes back a very long way. We do not think it is a good idea to have this escalation because the result is greater tensions. There is bound to be higher risk of mishap or something happen at sea or in the air, and you can have escalation which is beyond any country’s control and we are somewhere we do not want to be. So we have always strongly counselled moderation and restraint on all sides, and I said that both in my meeting with Mr. Abe and also in my Intervention at the Summit meeting today.

Qn: PM, has China responded to Singapore’s clarification on the matter?

PM: I do not believe so. It is not our clarification, but our request for clarification.

(Remarks in Mandarin)

Qn: Some have said that the possible cause for the Little India riots was an eruption of pent up tensions felt by the foreign workers because of possibly poor welfare. What do you think about this?

PM: We have not seen any evidence of that. The riot happened spontaneously and it was localized. There was some sign that alcohol was involved and was a factor. The people who were involved in the riots were not from one company or one dorm - several dorms, many different companies. It is unlikely that the all the companies would have the same problem.

Over the last few days, Minister Shanmugam has been visiting several of the dorms to talk to them, and the journalists were there, they watched the exchange – there was no tension. There was no sense of grievance, or hardship or injustice. We believe that foreign workers in Singapore ought to be treated fairly and properly. We do not stand for ill treatment or unfair treatment of foreign workers. They are people, they are working, they have families to support, and they are here to do a job. We have to make sure they are well treated, they are paid properly and on time, their safety is taken care of, their living conditions are also up to standard and that they are also given full protection of the law in Singapore. That is the way Singapore works. I believe that is the way generally Singapore has functioned, and I believe that is the way generally that foreign workers have been treated in Singapore.

Once in awhile there have been issues – individual employers, individual workers. There are mechanisms, there are organisations that take care of them, raise these issues and see to them like the Migrant Workers Centre which NTUC sponsors, and the Government encourages and works with these groups to make sure that you have a good outcome. So I do not see any evidence of it, but when the COI sits, it will look into what led to the riots and I am sure they will satisfy themselves.

Qn: The alcohol ban is in effect now and papers have reported that some businesses are not so pleased and some establishments are even closing for the weekend. What is your message to these companies that this ban is a necessary move?

PM: We have wanted to restrict and manage the sale of alcohol in little India for some time because we have seen some of the problems which have been arising. I said this when I met some of you in Seoul a couple of days ago. We were already in the process of consultation with the businesses in Little India as to how we could implement a reasonable restriction on the sale and consumption of alcohol – hours, places, where can you sell and drink, how can you do it – when the riot took place. Because the riot was last week, I think this week we do not want anything to go wrong. So to make absolutely sure, we have a ban which covers quite a big area and we said just no alcohol this weekend. Let us calm down, cool down and make sure things are back to normal. After that, we can calibrate and establish new rules. It will take us some time to establish what the final rules will be but I think we should have interim rules by next week. After this week, we see how it goes and we can adjust as we go on and work our way forward. Companies will be affected, it cannot be helped. Previously, there have been many residents which have raised the issue with their MPs. The MPs have spoken to us over a long period of time about people loitering in the void decks and public areas, people who urinate in public places or vomit, or are disorderly. It is an issue. We have put in more security patrols and auxiliary police. It has helped but I think we need to tighten up further. So let us see how it goes after this week.

There are no easy solutions to these things. When we were in the earlier situation and people were unhappy with crowds and drunken behaviour, everybody said let us put a stop to this. Now, I think we have to call a timeout. There is a downside to the timeout and everybody feels that. But the timeout cannot last forever, we have to decide what the adjustments to the rules are and we have to start planning again - which is what we will do.

Qn: There is this Inter-Ministerial Committee set up that is chaired by DPM Tharman. Could you tell me a little bit about the workings of this committee and what are some of the findings or possible policies that you might be thinking of?

PM: It is a range of things. We are tightening up on the inflow of foreign workers but we still need some and some numbers are still coming in. So the total number in Singapore is not small. We have to manage the population which is here, make sure that there are enough dorms for them, make sure we are planning ahead, make sure there is enough transportation for them to go back and forth from the dorms to places of work or on weekends, make sure that there is also proper law and order so that you do not have either fights or arguments or some outbreak of violence. That is what the purpose of the committee was. Over the last few months, one of the focuses was to try our best to see how we could speed up the construction of more dorms so that the workers who are now housed in either HDB estates or private properties which have been rented out, that they can be put in proper dorms and can be better taken care of, and it has less impact on the community. I think they have done a lot of work, they have identified areas where you can build more dorms, and we expect to build a substantial number over the next two, three years. So the problem will be managed.

Qn: Just to clarify, so there is no decision to extend the alcohol ban to next weekend?

PM: Let us take it one week at a time. Today is only Saturday afternoon.