My take on “A conversation with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong”

Singapore has been in a unique position when it comes to geopolitics and foreign relations. She is a friend/strategic partner of Both China and the West (the US in particular). So when Singapore’s Prime Minister speaks, the world listens and it carries substantial weight (disproportionate to the country’s tiny size). Two days ago (Mar 30), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations. The full conversation is here and I strongly recommend watching (or listening to) it. The joint statement between the US and Singapore is worth a read too.

Without going into the actual details of the conversation, my observations are below:

  • First of all, when it comes to geopolitics, what Prime Minister Lee said (or what the Singapore government is doing) is first and foremost for Singapore’s long term benefit, not anyone else. Different countries have different long term interests so we should not be too naive in that aspect.
  • While the conversation is on the record, Prime Minister Lee spoke directly and candidly as much as he could in a public forum.
  • His answer to the first question of why/how “The war in Ukraine has a negative impact on the Indo-Pacific region” is comprehensive and deep. He cited examples in North East Asia (including nuclear deterrence) which I haven’t read much new coverage about.
  • A lot of people in Western media have been talking about the Taiwan situation. Yet, Prime Minister Lee ellaboration is much deeper. I am surprised to learn that there has been such a drastic shift in the Taiwanese population poll about “who will come to their help?”
    • In Oct 2021, two third believed that the US would come to their help. The number now is one third.
    • Now this is one poll, one data point in time and I can’t read Chinese so dont jump to conclusion just yet. But I hope journalists/commentators could do more homework and provide us with similar thoughtful data points.
  • He is not shy away from sharing hard truths that the US or China needs to hear.
    • China is in awkward situation regarding the war in Ukraine. The war violates one principle that China holds dearly, that is “territorial integrity, sovereignty and non interference.”
    • Given the interconnectedness nature of trade between China and the US, potential/future sanctions against China will hurt the US too.
    • In the region, Prime Minister Lee points out that the current China’s position on Ukraine will not cost China much. This may not be what the US audience wants to hear. Look at the positions of other countries in the region like India.
    • China is a lot more engaged when it comes to trade/economic coorporation in the Asia pacific region vs the US. China applied to join CPTPP.
    • His thoughts on a rising China and what the US can do about it (minutes 42:35 – 47:42 in the video).

That’s all from me for today. Here is the video in case you want to watch it here.

Chandler

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