Singapore

PM Lee hopes Biden will develop a constructive relationship with China

But he says it'll take time for the US to be viewed in the region the same way as before the Trump administration

Asia - and especially China - is an important part of the world for America, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, expressing his hope that US President-elect Joe Biden will develop a framework for an overall constructive relationship with Beijing.

This means a relationship in which both powers remain in competition with issues to resolve, but ultimately do not want to collide and will work to develop areas of common interests while constraining the areas of disagreement, he said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, which is being held virtually.

Within this framework, topics such as trade, security, climate change, nuclear non-proliferation and the issue of North Korea can be dealt with, he added.

He also expressed the hope that the World Trade Organisation under the Biden administration will no longer be "deliberately pushed to one side" in the way it has been under the Trump administration.

Countries may quarrel over many things, but they should try to "insulate" trade because trade disputes hurt all parties involved, he said.

"The more countries avoid doing that, the more it will be credible when they say we believe in multilateral trade, and they believe in win-win development and cooperation with our neighbours."

PM Lee was speaking to Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait in an interview.

Asked if President Donald Trump has done "permanent damage" to the way the United States is viewed in the region, PM Lee said there will be some long-term impact on how America is viewed, as well as how it views itself.

Previous administrations took a broad interest in the region's stability and the well-being of the country's partners, he noted. It tended its alliances, fostering an orderly environment and subjecting itself to the same rules.

"It will take some time for America to come back to such a position, and for others to be convinced that it is taking such a position," PM Lee said.

"It may never come back all the way, certainly in the short term and certainly in terms of its relationship with China."

As for whether Mr Biden could reach out to Asia when he becomes president, PM Lee said it is a possibility, but Asia will be just one of the Biden administration's many priorities. He also said the domestic forces represented by Mr Trump persist and will have to be dealt with.

"I hope that it will be a new direction for America, but do not forget that Mr Trump collected more votes than Barack Obama," he said, referencing the former US president.

PM Lee added of Mr Trump: "He has not disappeared, nor the pressures which he represented - they have not disappeared from America's body politic either."

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Singapore 'will not be last in the queue' for vaccine: PM Lee

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg News aired yesterday for its New Economy Forum, PM Lee also touched on the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, next year's Singapore Budget and Mr Biden's plan for a global summit of democracies.

On vaccine distribution

Mr Lee said Singapore has made arrangements with multiple Covid-19 vaccine-makers to ensure it "will not be last in the queue" once doses are available.

While he said it was a reality that larger countries would "get some of their way" in ensuring they top the waiting list, Singapore has formed a committee to prioritise those who should get the vaccine before others when it is rolled out by the companies that it is engaged in talks with.

They include pharmaceutical giant Pfizer - which has announced its vaccine as 90 per cent effective - and the joint effort by scientists at Singapore's Duke-NUS Medical School and US company Arcturus Therapeutics, which expects to ship its initial batch in the first three months of next year.

On whether Government will run a Budget deficit for some time, given that Singapore has drawn $52 billion from its reserves

Singapore is unlikely to see a Budget surplus next February, given the ongoing economic crisis, and even a balanced Budget will be very hard to achieve, said PM Lee.

"You have to spend money on Covid and the economy is down. Just from a countercyclical point of view, you do not want to have a negative fiscal impulse," PM Lee said. "You must keep the economy on an even keel and people as far as possible in jobs, or if not in jobs, some help is rendered so that they are able to get past this difficult period."

"I hope that we will be able to come back to prudence and balanced Budgets, but it may take a while," PM Lee added.

On Mr Biden's pledge to convene a global summit of democracies in the first year of his presidency

PM Lee said most countries want to work with the US but few would be willing to join a coalition that excludes players like China. All countries should be involved in working out adjustments to the world order.

In the process, alliances will form and cooperation will take place, he added.

"But to try and make a line-up, Cold War-style, I do not think that is on the cards."

On leadership succession

Mr Lee reiterated his pledge to see Singapore through the pandemic before stepping down as prime minister.

The country is in the middle of an existential crisis, he said.

"It is my responsibility to see us through this crisis before I hand it over in good shape into good hands." - THE STRAITS TIMES

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