Singapore makes decisions on its own behalf: PM Lee
Speaking in Davos dialogue, he says Singapore makes decisions on its own behalf
Strains in the US-China relationship have meant that where it was previously effortless for a country to say it was friends with everybody including the United States and China, now, from time to time, one is pushed to be better friends with one side or the other.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong drew laughter from the packed room of 200 business leaders and officials as he made this observation at a dialogue in Davos with World Economic Forum president Borge Brende, a former Norwegian foreign minister.
Mr Brende said: "A lot of Europeans understand that."
PM Lee replied: "Well, the smaller you are, the better you understand it."
He noted that when Singapore does have to make a stand, it is important that people understand Singapore's choices are on its own behalf.
"Because we are making decisions for Singapore, and not because we are a cat's paw for one side or the other," he said.
"That means you must have the courage to stand up and call things as they are and, from time to time, you will incur, well, at least a raised eyebrow and sometimes more than one raised eyebrow from one side or the other, and occasionally both.
"But it is necessary to do that because once people no longer think that you are a serious interlocutor, calculating on your own behalf, you're written off, you're finished."
Asked whether he felt US-China trade tensions had peaked with the phase one trade deal reached this month, Mr Lee said he did not think they had.
The issue of how an incumbent hyperpower accommodates a rising new power, whose economy is set to grow and eventually become larger than that of the US - although not for years to come - will remain.
Uncertainty has also meant that investments have been affected, and business decisions are being put off. And the prospect of a bifurcation in technology, whether on 5G networks or the entire supply chain, remains, he added. This will have a significant negative impact on long-term growth and create mutual suspicion and anxiety.
On whether he saw a silver lining, PM Lee cited the tech sector, pointing to its tremendous vibrancy and optimism.
But he added that while new opportunities will be generated, so will new problems.
"When social media came along, everybody said this is marvellous, this is a way to democratise debate, and everybody has a voice and now we shall have an egalitarian participative, basically nirvana will have arrived," he said.
"Now we see what it is like. It does not look like it is nirvana."
As for how smaller countries can cope with the platform economy, PM Lee noted Google and Facebook are in Singapore, with data centres and engineers.
"We do not have very many unicorns of our own but we are part of the global economy and part of these major participants," he said.
"If there are proper rules which protect participants, big and small, in this environment, then I think we can make a living. If there are no rules, and all of a sudden you have a Twitter storm or something befalls you in the middle of the night, next morning you wake up and you find you have been devastated. It can happen."
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