US will bounce back as it has done before: PM Lee Hsien Loong

US will bounce back as it has done before: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Mr Lee talking to Politico’s Susan Glasser. Photo: Ministry of Communications and Information
Published: 4:06 AM, July 2, 2014
Updated: 6:06 AM, July 2, 2014

SINGAPORE — The United States may be weary from its involvement in various conflicts around the world and from the global financial crisis, but it will “bounce back” as it had done before, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

And the US must be a part of international relations within Asia if it does not want its interests to be affected and “maybe even compromised”, said Mr Lee in an interview with American news magazine Politico during his visit to Washington last week.

With elections in the US on the horizon, Mr Lee said Washington must find the time to push policies, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one such key aspect. The TPP includes the US and 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Singapore, Australia, Japan and Chile, which together make up about 40 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. The US’ ratification of the trade pact requires the support of its Congress.

When asked about tensions between China and Japan, Mr Lee said these would take a very long time to resolve, as “no country will likely give up its territorial claims”.

“On the other hand, you have to live with the situation where it is without leading to frictions or encounters and incidents and escalation on the ground, which can easily happen ... Therefore, there has to be some code of conduct which we all abide by,” he said.

Mr Lee noted that these tensions were “not helpful”. “We ought to be able to put these historical facts behind us and move forward. Nobody would forget that or should forget them, but neither should you be trapped by that. And you should be able to,” he said.

On one hand, China wants to defend what it sees as its legitimate interests, but it also knows that asserting itself by might is not good for the world or itself. “It is not going to be an easy balance to strike because it is not just the leadership but also the whole mood of the society, the population, and nowadays in China, there is public opinion to worry about,” he said.

Mr Lee added that there is more free speech and free discussion in China “than there ever has been”. “There are restrictions, the Internet is censored and there is a great Chinese firewall. But the average Chinese citizen has many more sources of information and many more opportunities to express his views and to participate in debate than 10 or five years ago,” he said.

He added that China was not a “monolithic totalitarian system which some Westerners sometimes have an impression of”. “If you talk to them, you will find that they are very open and they will speak,” he said.