NDR 2022: PM Lee tells S'poreans to 'get real' and be psychologically prepared for conflict in the region
SINGAPORE — Singaporeans must “get real” and be psychologically prepared for a conflict in the region, as the war in Ukraine is set to spark more geopolitical constestation in Asia-Pacific, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 21).
- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to strained relations between the United States and China as well as relations between their partners in Asia
- This will likely lead to greater geopolitical contestation in the Asia-Pacific
- Singaporeans must be psychologically prepared for conflict in the region, he added
- Mr Lee stressed that Singapore must never allow itself to be divided on race, religion, income, social difference or place of birth
SINGAPORE — Singaporeans must “get real” and be psychologically prepared for a conflict in the region, as the war in Ukraine is set to spark more geopolitical contestation in Asia-Pacific, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Aug 21).
The war, which is in its sixth month, has complicated the already strained relations between the United States and China as well as relations between their partners in Asia such as Australia and Japan, Mr Lee said in his English speech during the National Day Rally.
“Some countries will choose a side. Others, like Singapore, will try our best to avoid being caught up in major power rivalry,” he said.
Mr Lee noted that the region has enjoyed peace for so long that it is hard for Singaporeans to imagine things being different.
“But look at how things have gone wrong in Europe, how suddenly and quickly. And can you be sure that things cannot go wrong in our region, too?
“We must get real and we must get ourselves prepared psychologically.”
Mr Lee was delivering his speech from the Institute of Technical Education headquarters in Ang Mo Kio. The annual National Day Rally is widely seen as the most important political speech of the year and provides a platform for the prime minister to address the nation and share important policy matters.
‘VERY TROUBLED’ EXTERNAL ENVIRONMENT
In his speech, Mr Lee sought to depict how Singapore’s external environment has been “very troubled” even as the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
US-China relations, which set the tone for global affairs, are worsening, he noted, most recently and worryingly by sharply escalating tensions over Taiwan.
The two powers are divided over many other issues, including their rival ideologies and systems of government, China’s growing influence in the world, as well as many specific problems such as trade disputes, cyber espionage, the South China Sea and Hong Kong, he added.
Yet, the US and China need to work together on many pressing global issues, including climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation, Mr Lee said.
“Their tense relationship is making this almost impossible. And this is bad news for the world.”
Mr Lee noted that although US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have recently held a video call and agreed to meet in person, neither side expects relations to improve anytime soon.
“Furthermore, we must all hope that there are no miscalculations or mishaps, which can make things much worse very quickly,” Mr Lee said.
Apart from US-China tensions, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also has profound implications for the world and for Singapore, he added.
The invasion violates the United Nations (UN) Charter and fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Mr Lee noted.
This is particularly important to Singapore, whose security and existence relies on other countries upholding these principles.
Russia has called its invasion a “special military operation” in Ukraine and claims it is justified by “historical errors and crazy decisions”, Mr Lee said.
“We cannot legitimise Russia’s wrongful actions,” he said. “If we accept this logic, what happens if, one day, others use the same argument against us?’
Furthermore, the war has created deep hostility between Russia and other states, especially the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, Mr Lee said.
“Relations have completely broken down. There are nuclear powers on both sides. It is hard to imagine any satisfactory end to the conflict.”
SINGAPORE MUST BE PREPARED
Spelling out how Singapore should react to these “external dangers”, Mr Lee said that the country must firstly stand firm on fundamental principles of international law.
It must work with other countries to uphold a rules-based order by, for example, speaking at the UN, Mr Lee said. “Taking cover and keeping quiet will hurt us in the long term.”
Next, the country must take National Service seriously and keep the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team strong and credible, because “if we do not defend ourselves, no one is going to defend us on our behalf", Mr Lee said.
Most importantly, Singapore must stay as a united people.
“Never allow ourselves to be divided — whether by race, religion, income, social differences, or place of birth,” he said.
Singaporeans must stay alert against foreign actors who are looking to exploit Singapore’s vulnerabilities and to influence Singaporeans for their own interests, he added.
Repeating a point he made in his Mandarin speech earlier in the evening, Mr Lee warned Singaporeans not to believe everything they read online.
“If we are taken in and we are divided, we will stand no chance,” Mr Lee said. “But united, we can deal with any problems that come our way.