On Hong Kong
Question: Sir, in Hong Kong, the situation here is that the protestors are gearing up or are already in action actually. So do you think that Singapore has anything to learn from watching how the situation here develops as the pro-democracy activists struggle with the establishment for the future of Hong Kong?
PM Lee: You see, once you state your question, you have already been captured by the language. You have “the establishment”, presumably some people sitting high up on top. You have “the pro-democracy activists”, by definition they must be the good guys. Then the rest of your thought processes follow. But actually, Hong Kong is embarked on a path of “One Country, Two Systems”, and is governed according to the Basic Law. It is unprecedented. It is the only such arrangement in the world, and they have to make it work. It’s not easy. Issues are bound to arise from time to time. They have to be worked out by the Hong Kong people and with the PRC, with the central government in Beijing. Both sides have very big vested interests in making it work, and I wish them all the best in working it out. But it has to be on the basis of “One Country, Two Systems”, on what the Basic Law says, and on what is in the interest of Hong Kong as well as of China. There is really no other way forward. If you understand that, then you will know what are the possible ways forward, and which paths don’t lead to any practical, sensible outcomes.
Question: And going the way forward, imagine, do you think in fact the Occupy Central way is the way to go, since Beijing has already said that they will not capitulate to protests?
PM Lee: These are matters for Hongkongers to decide, but I find it very hard to believe that demonstrations are going to fundamentally change this basic structure of the situation, which is that this is “One Country, Two Systems”. This is not an independent, sovereign country, and it has to go according to the Basic Law.
Question: Any lessons here for Singapore?
PM Lee: Every country has a different situation, and we all have to find our respective ways forward. We have to evolve, we have to adapt, but we must have a good sense of our overall geostrategic circumstances, and how we can fit in. In this respect, we are different from Hong Kong. They are part of China; the sovereignty is Chinese. We are an independent country surrounded by bigger neighbours. Hong Kong has a very big neighbour, but that very big neighbour is one country with Hong Kong. Our neighbours are bigger than us too; but they are different countries from us, fortunately friendly ones. And we have to be able to prosper in friendship and in cooperation with our neighbours.
Question: PM, just to move away from China, the US and the UK are gathering an international coalition against the ISIS threat in Syria. There have been reports that Singaporeans are actually travelling over there to be involved.
PM Lee: Yes, that is so.
Question: Do you think that Singapore will join this call? And also, how influential do you think this organisation is in Singapore and the region?
PM Lee: We are happy that the US has taken a stand against ISIS. This is a threat to people all over the world. I see that the Australians have just launched a major security operation yesterday, picking up people who were about to do something terrible in Australia. We in Singapore have had people go to Syria, Iraq and join ISIS, so we are exposed too. Certainly the Indonesians and the Malaysians have significant numbers of their citizens there. The Malaysians have had more than one person killed there in the fighting, some as suicide bombers. So we have to take it seriously.
How can we support the American-led effort? That is something we can discuss. We have not reached the point of making a decision yet. Even how the Americans are going to pursue this, and what exactly they are going to do, they haven’t quite decided yet. They are not going to put troops on the ground.
It is a very complicated situation. It’s not one of those situations where you can say, those are the bad guys, let’s knock them out. You are talking about 30 something thousand fighters. They command a very substantial area of land. They have resources – they have oil; they are in fact running a government. And they are also fighting the government in Syria, which very recently, if you go by the international media, was still being seen as the bad guys. They are also fighting against the Iranians. In the Middle East, things are never simple. You can’t come riding in on a white horse and knock out the bad guys, then tomorrow peace breaks out.