Q: PM, can you give us your assessment of the G20 Summit and how it went? Including the bilateral meetings that we had with the various countries and our relationships with those countries?
PM: From Singapore's point of view, I think it was a good meeting. We got our point of view across. We explained what we needed to have to say on trade, digitalisation and jobs. At the same time, I got useful meetings with the people whom I had hoped to meet. President Xi Jinping, President Trump, Prime Minister Abe, President Macri of Argentina, Mr Rutte, Prime Minister of Netherlands. From Singapore's point of view, it is a fruitful meeting.
From the overall G20 point of view, it is more difficult because United States' (US) view has become different from the view of the other participants, on trade as well as on climate change. The communique reflected this difference in views and the tension in the positions of the different countries. But for Singapore, I found it a productive visit.
Q: PM, during your intervention, you talked about the importance of small states banding together to make their collective voices heard. Can you elaborate on the role of small states today and the importance of small states being included in important processes like the G20?
PM: I talked about it in 2015 when I made the Rajaratnam lecture. Basically we are under no illusion. This is a dangerous world. There are countries big and small. Singapore is small. We have to take the world as it is. At the same time, we have to protect our interests and do the best for ourselves, we can in the world. I think these two are complimentary, they are not contradictory. We have to be aware of the realities. But at the same time, that does not mean surrendering ourselves to our fate. If we can make a contribution, if we can work with other countries in a common cause. Other small countries certainly, in a global governance group. But other big countries as well, G20, and we have something to bring to the table. Then I think that is to our advantage, our voice is heard, and we are able to protect and advance our interests.
At the same time, when there are important issues which arise which concern Singapore. I think it is our responsibility to highlight them, deal with them, and push for them. Particularly when it is a matter of our security or safety or fundamental interest concerning Singapore's position in the world such as the rule of international law, such as peaceful resolution of disputes. Then I think if we do not stand up and be counted, you cannot lie low and hope that nobody will notice you. I think that is how Singapore must conduct our foreign policy.
In specific cases, there will be issues you have to discuss, debate, which way, which is the right thing to do, in a particular situation. I think the debate is most fruitful if people stand up, speak sincerely and with conviction. Stand by what they believe in, then you have a clash of ideas, and then we hope we can resolve it one way or the other. But if people do not put positions clearly and you put up a view but actually you are not sure whether it stands or what is intended. We begin to mince our words or talk indirections and ellipsis. I think that makes our job more complicated. It is not necessary. Believe in what you say. Speak it, discuss it, and disagree if necessary, and we find the best way forward.
Q: PM, actually just going off that, to clarify, regarding small states as well. There has been some debate or so on this role. Some are saying that small states should stay small states while others say we should not be thinking small and allowing ourselves to be bullied. Just want to get a sense on where on the spectrum do you stand?
PM: I thought I have just answered that question. I have answered that question. You know where I stand because I have been Prime Minister 13 years and you can see from Singapore's foreign policy the specific decisions we have made and what directions we are taking. I think generally these are the right directions. We have to adjust them as situation changes. If there is a new government in America, you have to consider what that means for the world. As China becomes more influential, we have to consider how we can develop our relationship with China. These are adjustments which you have to make because the world is not static.
Q: Prime Minister, you also mentioned yesterday at the National Day reception that such meetings actually send out a signal to people from both countries as well as the officials that our relations are in good order and moving ahead. In terms of our relationships with US as well as China, which may have been strained because of US pulling out of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and certain incidents with China last year. Is your assessment that we are back to a normal relationship?
PM: I do not think our relations with the US were strained because the US pulled out of the TPP. They had their considerations, we understood that. We have to move on from here and see how we can make the best of this situation. With the other TPP participants certainly. But also with the US how we can continue to broaden and deepen the relationship within the framework and the philosophical approach of the new administration.
With China we have a wide range of cooperation. Whether it is the Chongqing project, whether it is exchanges with their Central Organisation Department. Zhao Leji, Politburo member, was in Singapore recently. There is a lot of exchanges and visits. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was there recently. Li Keqiang has accepted an offer to come and make a visit to Singapore. So we have a broad relationship. There are issues which come up from time to time. We deal with them in a mature way and we move ahead. We are not at odds with China and I think China finds it useful also to be friendly with Singapore. That is a good basis on which to work.
Q: Prime Minister, from your meeting with Mr Trump. What was your impression of him as a world leader and was he different in any way from what you had heard or read about him?
PM: I went in with an open mind. It is my first meeting with him. I asked him when he was last in Singapore. He thought about it and he said perhaps about 10 years ago. I said that is a long time, I hope you will come again. I think we had a good discussion. I focused really on understanding how he looked at the relationship and the broad issues, and not on specific items. I think there is time enough for specific items later on.
He was focused. His secretaries were there. State was there, Commerce was there, Treasury was also there, National Security Advisor was there. Other than Defence, all his key officials were there and I think they understand, and we certainly understand that our relationship with America is a very broad and substantial one. We have defence cooperation, we have economic cooperation, and we talked about security issues. We are engaged in many, many different fields, whichever is the administration, whoever is the President. I think these are interests which we would like to push ahead and I think they would like to push ahead too.
Q: There was talk that US was ceding its world leadership, especially so in the wake of G20 Summit, on issues such as climate change. With countries like China and Russia, what do you think are the implications of these countries stepping in to fill the void?
PM: I think different countries play different roles. US role as it has been interpreted by successive administrations over many years, is something unique. They see themselves not just as upholding US interests, but as having a responsibility to keep the system going. Because within a stable system, the US has maximum opportunity for influence and posterity.
This new administration is different. They put US first and they have put less weight on the US' responsibility for what people call global public goods. Which means security, being the world's policemen, upholding open, free trade because trade is good for other countries and so on. Whether another country can come and step up and perform that role, is not so clear.
It is partly the history of how US came to be in this position after the war. It is partly the US' values, fundamental, political, economic values and social values. Seeing themselves as unique society, as a city upon the hill and light unto nations. Other countries do not have that history. I do not think they have that self-image. Certainly they do not have the tradition of statecraft. It is much more real politic, pragmatic, tradition of statecraft. It is not so clear that if the US decide to play a different role, somebody else can step into what the US role used to be. We will have to see how things develop.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore