NEW YORK – Singaporeans have to be prepared for rough weather ahead for some time to come, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Sept 27), as he warned that there was no quick resolution to ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China.
PM Lee, fresh from a week of meetings with world leaders during his time in New York heading Singapore’s delegation to the United Nations, gave this sobering assessment in an interview with Singapore media.
Neither the US nor China is expecting a quick breakthrough in their trade war, and this uncertainty is dampening investment, business confidence and consumer spending throughout the world, he said.
“It’s one of the factors why our GDP growth this year is lower. We still hope for something positive but (it) will likely be less than 1 per cent,” said PM Lee. Last month, the official growth forecast for Singapore was cut to between zero growth and 1 per cent for 2019.
Singapore’s economy grew 0.6 per cent in the first half of this year.
The next 10 years will be more complicated than the last, said PM Lee.
“They are not temporary issues which can blow away. You sign a document, a US-China trade agreement, and then that’s the end of the matter. These are very deep conflicts of interest,” he said.
The same was true of action to mitigate climate change, he said: “There is no magic, no 100 per cent safety net. You press this button, you sign this paper and you are safe for 100 years. There is no such solution.”
Singaporeans must also be mindful of the trends and problems happening around them to better understand their own situation, said PM Lee.
He highlighted how America was preoccupied this week with House Democrats moving forward with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, adding: “If they are preoccupied, it is going to have an impact on their perspectives of the world and have an impact on us on the other side of the world.”
But compared to the other countries in the world, Singapore is better prepared to deal with the challenges ahead, said the prime minister.
“We are more united, we are more cohesive, we have more resources, we’re better able to train our people and to deliver results and be competitive,” said PM Lee.
Singapore’s leaders must also address practical issues which people are concerned about, working together with them to find solutions so that “people can see that “I do have a path forward’, he added.
“If we don’t tackle the problem and we just explain that it’s rough weather, I think that will not cut a lot of ice with Singaporeans. But if we do the best with our own problems in Singapore, people can see that things are getting better,” he said.
For instance, income inequality in Singapore has “probably improved” in the last 10 years if government measures such as the Workfare Income Supplement for older low-wage workers, Medishield Life and the upcoming Careshield Life disability insurance scheme are taken into account, he said.
PM Lee noted that people are also anxious over costs of living “because there are things which they feel they need, which are not quite within reach”. Singapore tackles these concerns by making sure that good public transport, healthcare and housing are available and affordable, he added.
At a reception attended by 350 Singaporeans in New York on Friday evening, PM Lee said that the government had done a “not bad” job of providing for these needs. “If you try to buy a flat in Manhattan, you’ll know that housing prices in Singapore are quite reasonable,” he said, to laughter.
“How do we cope with all these uncertainties in the world? The answer is to stay together and deal with them as one,” he said, adding that was how Singapore had made it thus far.
“What now looks like an escalator for 50-something years was not an escalator, it was a very tough climb. So if you look ahead and think it looks tough, just remember, you got here… so I think we can keep on working and we will get there,” he added.
While in New York, PM Lee met President Trump and signed a memorandum of understanding allowing American forces to use Singapore’s air and naval bases for another 15 years, until 2035.
He also spoke on climate change at the UN, and hosted a reception for leaders of the Forum of Small States, a grouping Singapore initiated and which it works with closely.
PM Lee left New York on Friday evening for Armenia, where he will make the first official visit to the Eurasian country by a Singapore prime minister.