Published: 19 September 2022
Question: So, I've got a few things to run through. But firstly, Singapore’s stance on drugs and the death penalty is gaining a lot of attention internationally this year and some condemnation. I mean, how do you…
Minister: Chris, I’ll put it this way. I put it this way to Bloomberg when they asked me. Four or five newspaper articles quoting the same three or four activists, does not amount to international pressure. When there was a gathering in Singapore to protest, there were 400 people who turned up, according to the organisers. Survey after survey shows that more than 80% of Singaporeans support the death penalty. So, domestically there is overwhelming support. Second, internationally, there are some statements issued by UN Special Rapporteurs, and you have some articles, nothing beyond that.
Question: The European Union?
Minister: The European Union has an ideological focus on the death penalty, but I would like to ask them if they have a better solution. The chief of the largest police union in Netherlands says that Netherlands is effectively a narco state. What about the people who die of drugs? The gang violence in Sweden is such that it has become a major elections issue. 257 bombings. Nobody talks about this. What about the victims of the crime? So, when the European Union is able to tell us there is a better solution, we will listen.
Now, so we have talked about international pressure, which really, there isn't much. That's the honest truth. We talk about domestic – there is overwhelming support. Internationally, if you ask the man on the street, the people who invest, the people who make their decision with their money and their feet, ask the thousands of people who want to come to Singapore, either to work or to live, ask the people who are putting their money, huge amounts, I think the stock of FDI, 2 trillion or something. We have had larger amounts of investments in the last few years than previous years. Most of the major newspapers are positioning themselves in Singapore and not in other places, because this is a place where you are safe and you can report and journalists don't get arrested. And bad things don't happen to people. It's a safe, clean, rule of law-based place and the death penalty is applied to drug traffickers who profit from other people's misery.
So, if you look at any metrics or metrices that matter – investments, people coming in, flight to quality after the pandemic, we have seen huge numbers of high-net-worth individuals, companies wanting to come to Singapore. Singapore's reputation has actually been enhanced in the two years, not because of the death penalty, but because of the way we handled the pandemic and the calmness in which we went through the whole thing. So, I would say our reputation has never been higher. And you know, you look at Australia, Singapore, the relationship is very strong. We have different views on the death penalty. If you look at the European Union and Singapore, you look at the trade deals and the trade flows and the investments. How many thousand companies do we have from Europe? 10,000 companies from Europe. How many from America? 4,000 companies from America.
Question: Can we drill into the policy itself? The opponents of the death penalty will say there's no evidence. There's no evidence that it's an effective deterrent and also, it focuses on the wrong people, that it catches the low-level vulnerable guys from Malaysia and not your drug kingpins.
Minister: Let’s deal with two things. There are two points. Deterrent effect. How do you determine the deterrent effect? You look at two types of people and you look at also the results. I will come to the results later, so I will make three points.
First, we actually commissioned a survey in the region primarily focused on areas from which our drug traffickers come from. 83% of the people surveyed in the region say death penalty is very effective and 69% said it is more effective than life imprisonment. About 80% said it would make them not want to commit serious crimes in Singapore.
Question: This is a study conducted in Southeast Asia?
Minister: Yeah, I have talked about it publicly and we will publish it. So, the opponents question the methodology. If you don’t like the result, you question the methodology. But what is the methodology? We did a proper survey. The awareness of our death penalty is very high. The awareness that the likelihood of being caught is very high. As a result of which, many don’t want to traffic into Singapore. If we removed it, many more will traffic. There is no doubt about that. Number one.
Number two, the secondary effect it has is, those who do take the chance for monetary gain – and remember, it's a cynical offence and it's not a crime of passion – it's a calculated offence. How much money do I get? What’s my risk? So, you may say they are small guys. But they are calculating. They are saying, if I get caught, I may face the death penalty, but I get ‘X’ amount of money.
Many of them then tend to bring in less than the threshold amounts, so it reduces the supply in Singapore. So, there are then a few, who nevertheless take a chance. That’s one group. Second group are people who are already arrested, the people who are drug traffickers in Singapore, if you ask them, they say the first thing they do is they try and recall how much exactly they were trafficking and they are very relieved if it’s below the threshold amount. So, this is a factor in the mind. And we have also talked to, quite extensively, with the people already in prison, but not on the death row because their amounts were below, and their motivation, and we did an in-depth study. So, in our mind, there is no doubt on the deterrent effect. That’s my first point.
The second point is the kingpins. The kingpins sit in Malaysia and Thailand and other places. And so what are we supposed to do about that? These are the guys who are coming into Singapore. Now, if I say I don’t catch traffickers and I wait for the kingpins, basically my drug policy will be out of the window, because the kingpins will send – if I said pregnant women will not be facing the death penalty, they will send me – you know, they’ve got the money – one drug run in Singapore is enough to pay the entire capital cost of setting up a factory in production and setting up the entire operations. It's that profitable, because money in Singapore is very good. And the different countries have different approaches to this, so it’s easier to operate in some of the other countries. You should look at the UNODC report. They say this region, Mekong is being treated as a playground by the drug kingpins. We are in the centre, epicentre of major heroin production. The area, the Golden Triangle, of course Afghanistan. Mekong is controlled by these drug barons, and Singapore is a high value place because of the money available. The systems in other countries, bigger countries, it’s probably not as easy to police, so they run around, and they send their people. If I said you earn less than 3,000 dollars and you’re from a broken family then we will not have the death penalty imposed, they will send me another one thousand people like that. I have a third point. The first point was on the deterrent effect. Second point is on, are we only catching the small guys and not the big guys. It’s a non-question, because you know big guys won’t come to Singapore for good reasons. Imagine if they were in Singapore. Singapore would be a very different place. That’s why they don’t come in.
Third is, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Look at countries which have a different regime. Last week, the FT ran articles. Eye-opening. 18 of the 21 Latin American countries today are major source or transit countries for cocaine drugs. They don’t have the death penalty, they take a lax approach. The criminal gangs are controlling major cities and major areas. 18 of the 21 countries. Netherlands, Sweden, I told you. US, city after city, what happens? So, we are focused extensively on a few drug traffickers. In the 1990s we were arresting about 6,000 persons per year for drug abuse. Today, with the explosion of drugs in the region, the increase in our GDP and purchasing power, we should be arresting more people. Assuming our law enforcement agencies are equally effective, there should be more people. We are arresting 3,000 people. Half the number. So that is thousands of lives saved. It is not that we have gotten less effective. Less people are taking drugs, proportionately. Even though the line should be the other way. So, I say look at the thousands of lives which have been saved from drugs. I do not know if you are married or if you have young children. You know, your children take public transport in Singapore, you wouldn’t worry. You wouldn’t worry because you are a big strapping man but if you are a lady who walks around, you wouldn’t worry in Singapore. And that is unlike… you name me another city where you can do that any time of the day or night. 97% of Singaporeans feel safe walking home alone at night and that includes women.
Question: The frequency prisoners are executed in Singapore this year caused attention, alarming human rights groups. Was there a particular reason for the speed this year? I mean it was speculated that space needed to be cleared for ...
Minister: No. That is absolute nonsense. That is absolute rubbish. We don't do things like that. What happened was there was significant slowing down of executions in the last couple of years, in fact, the last three years or so. Because people found new ways of having legal challenges. So those legal challenges have been dealt with and they took some time. So during, you know, in the past, you will have a High Court trial. Singapore law mandates that you have a lawyer, then you go to Court of Appeal, if there's a mandate, appeal. And once it's dismissed, the only other route is to petition for clemency and then you face the penalty. Today, what happens is at the doorway of the sentence being carried out, they will file applications in court. There are a number of applications filed throughout the last, I would say, year and a half, and we don’t execute those whose applications waiting to be heard. Late last year and early this year, many of those applications have been dealt with and once they are dealt with, then people faced their sentence.
Question: The most high-profile was Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, Malaysian. You said publicly that the courts have found he was not intellectually disabled and that he knew what he was doing when he bought the drugs in. But it's true, is it not, that he was mentally impaired to a significant point?
Minister: I would accept that his IQ was lower than the average person. But in law, that is not the main point. Has anyone raised an eyebrow when the US executed at the same time last year in October, two others with the same IQ, and the US courts dismissed the same arguments because the fact that you have a low IQ by itself is not the main point in law. The question is, did you know what you were doing. He knew what he was doing. In fact, he was creating excuses and finding new ways of trying to explain away his conduct. And last year in October, the US Court of Appeal dismissed both appeals and the sentences were carried out, and in the same range of around 70 and 90.
Question: I get the point but if you set aside culpability for it, if we set that aside for a moment and set aside his actions in 2009 and talk about his mental capacity in 2022.
Minister: It’s the same. There was no deterioration.
Question: Well, that's not that's not what, I mean, if you talk about someone's fitness to be executed, there was two psychologists who gave reports to the final appeal, one from Australia, one from the UK. One of them said…
Minister: Let me give you a straight answer. I know the facts. Neither of them saw him. And neither of them met him.
Question: One of them analysed the report of Dr. Yap which said that there was significant deterioration between 2013 and 2017. That same psychologist said that an IQ of 69 is below the cut-off for disability.
Minister: Well, that’s one psychologist’s view, let me put the facts as per the Court of Appeal found. First of all, in court, you're aware, Nagaenthran’s own psychiatrist agreed that he was not intellectually disabled. Right. He said that.
Question: Sure. Another one said he was and all four said…
Minister: No, he was referred to one psychiatrist by his then-counsel. That psychiatrist that the Defence called at the trial, considered that he was not intellectually disabled. There’s the trial stage. Appeal – same arguments – dismissed. And then a series of legal wrangles and so on and so forth. So as the legal wrangles were carrying on, there was no execution. Last minute application came up. What happened was the court noted that the Prosecution was prepared to tender two medical reports – a psychiatric assessment and medical assessment – to show that there was no abnormality affecting Nagaenthran: But the Defence refused. Instead, they said Nagaenthran’s brother saw him and the counsel started giving evidence on the basis of his own experience and the court said the evidence was worthless as the counsel himself acknowledged that he had no medical expertise, Nagaenthran’s brother was an interested witness, why aren't you allowing the psychiatric and medical reports to be disclosed.
Question: They asked for an independent analysis.
Minister: There was a prison psychiatrist who is independent because he’s a professional. And the Defence refused to allow the court to look at that report. Why? There were existing psychiatric and medical assessments. The Defence refused. But please, look at these reports that were prepared by people who have never seen him. And the court rightly said, you refuse to let us see the report of a person who has actually seen him, you are not impugning his integrity, but you're bringing across experts who have never seen him. This is not relevant as evidence in the Singapore courts. I’m not a judge. But as a lawyer who has practised, I know that those reports are completely irrelevant in court. You have got to get somebody who has seen him. If they were prepared to say this is the psychologist’s report, here we tender, but we want somebody else because we do not agree with the psychologist, but they didn’t dare to do that. Because any psychologist, proper psychologist, who assesses him would probably have concluded the same way as the other psychologist who has been seeing him. Second, what is the cut-off? A psychologist’s duty is to say, factually, what his mental faculties are. It is for the court to assess whether that leads him to be such that he does not know what he’s doing. That’s a test in law. And so far, there is absolutely no evidence that he didn't know what he was doing.
Question: Sure, again, that's the defence at the time the crime we are talking about. Are you talking that he knew, that he was in normal state of mind? 2022 as he was..
Minister: Yes, because there was a prison psychiatrist who was seeing him all the way through. I haven't had access to the report. Because of client confidentiality, only the Defence could allow release of that report. But a psychiatrist looks at all these people right the way through, and there is such a report. Even though I am the Minister for Home Affairs, I have no access to that report. But the Court said, ‘Are you prepared to show us that report?” That’s the most relevant. So, the psychiatrist would have seen him recently, who has actually made an assessment, and he refused.
Question: They asked for an independent report. You are saying he works for Singapore Prisons, he is independent. That is what you are saying…
Minister: The other thing they could have done, if you disagree with the report, the way to do it is, you should release the report, show it to the Court but say, “he works for the Singapore Prisons, while I have no reason to doubt the integrity, we will nevertheless ask for another psychologist to see him”, and actually make a proper case to have another psychologist assess the prisoner. They didn’t do that. So, then…
Question: So do you think this case has raised questions about how Singapore deals with death-row prisoners whose mental capacity is borderline to the low?
Minister: I just gave you the US cases.
Question: Yeah, but I mean, you can’t just compare yourself to others, you know. It should be based on your own…
Minister: But it’s a first-class jurisdiction. It’s a first-class jurisdiction, the United States.
Question: Sure, but you can make your own decisions.
Minister: As long as we understand that the same questions are not being asked of the US. Unless you are going to hold me to a higher standard.
Question: Not at all. I’m not holding you to a standard. I’m just asking questions about how you make your own policy…
Minister: I accept the basis of your question, which is, regardless of what the US does, what is your own position?
And I'm prepared to answer that. But I do want to make a point – I’ve been a lawyer – people are not asking the same questions of the United States. So I do not want the perception that when the US does it it’s ok, but when Singapore does it, it’s wrong. I’m just trying to point out that people ought to, you know, apply the principles equally.
But I need to do the justifying myself. And for me, the justification is, if you are mentally impaired, the law provides for you to be spared a series of penalties – not just the death penalty – but other penalties too. And you will then be committed to an institution, where, because of your mental capacity, there will be assistance and so on. That is a matter to be decided by two people – and not by me – the psychologist, or psychiatrist, and the Court. The psychiatrist assesses factually what you are, the Court, based on that, comes to a view as to what sentence ought to be imposed. He has been seen by a psychiatrist, who gave evidence, in Court. He was seen by a psychiatrist, a mental health expert, before the period running up to the execution.
It does not raise questions on how Singapore deals with it. What was really happening is, people are abusing the system to try and create some questions. As I said, there were perfectly legitimate ways if they really believed his mental capacity was impaired. There was a perfectly legitimate way of dealing with it. A perfectly legitimate of dealing with it in the months leading up to the execution would be to put down what the prison psychiatrist says, apply to Court to say it does not correlate with their own assessment of the person when they talk to him, and therefore, they ask for their own psychiatrist to assess the person. Prisons would have agreed once the Court grants the application. Why didn’t they do that? Because they know that they cannot get such evidence.
Question: Not unlike other countries, Singapore is wary of foreign interference in its domestic issues. You have used Australia as an example when you introduced the foreign interference bill. On this topic, do you get – luckily Malaysia has not been, because a majority of death-row prisoners are from Malaysia, they come across from Johor - but do you get other countries like Australia, that are publicly opposed to the death penalty, you know campaigning in back channels, what have you, and how do you react to that and how do you respond to that?
Minister: If we had a policy where we said that there will be no execution if a country campaigned, the policy won’t work, and the only people who would be executed would be Singaporeans. No country can apply its laws in that way. So, we make it absolutely clear to everyone that lobbying and pressure does not work with the Singapore Government. The law applies equally whether you are rich or poor, or whether you are a foreigner or local. The law applies, and that is the only way that it can work.
And for a concrete example of that, we are now going back to the Clinton Presidency – an 18-year-old was sentenced to caning for vandalism. Tremendous media interest in the United States. Pressure by President Clinton, request by the US Government on Singapore. We said no, the sentence would be carried out. It is not workable to have our laws apply differently for different people. Malaysia knows that. Every country has a political duty to appeal on behalf of its citizens. As long as the law, and they receive fair trial – the sentence whether it’s caning, or imprisonment, or anything else, would be carried out. That is our position.
Coming back, I do want to make this point. It may be a matter of interest for you, it may not be an article, but we make a distinction in our drug policy between drug abusers and drug traffickers. Drug abusers - it's a crime but they're not treated as criminals anymore. They are put into a rehabilitation centre, and they are given intense, focused assistance, psychological as well as psychiatric. They are treated as people who need medical help, the family, the community, religious organisations are brought in. So it's a very intense effort for each individual, and they are given education if they are halfway through their schooling. They are given training if they are in the job market. When they come out, we try and find them jobs. So that applies to all who abuse and have not committed any other crime. So, we have moved from treating it solely as a crime to placing a lot more emphasis on rehabilitation. But we are very tough on traffickers, simply because we consider it as cynical crime, and we want the message out very clearly, that we don't want to become like Western Europe. We don't want to become like most of the Western cities. We certainly don't want to become like many cities in Southeast Asia. Singapore is clean, crime-free effectively, safe, and the only way it can remain that way is that we are tough on drug traffickers.
Question: He might not be classified as an abuser, but Joseph Schooling, probably reflects the way you treated the Joseph Schooling issue.
Minister: More than that, Schooling and Amanda actually committed a crime. It's a crime if your urine test is positive. Their urine test was not positive. It was negative. So, they did not commit an offence of drug consumption. But they admitted to taking it overseas. So, we scolded them and let them off for that. If their urine was positive, we would have asked, depending on the quantity used and depending on the frequency, there would have had different possibilities. One is they stay in their homes or go for some kind of rehab. Second, is coming to the DRC – Drug Rehabilitation Centre. If it is more intense and they need more help.
Question: I am conscious of time, so I'll move on to S377A. It was the decision to decriminalise sex between men, and the repeal that got a lot of attention, was heralded as a win for humanity. And you've talked about wanting to keep pace with the times and having to keep pace with the times.
Minister: And the hurt that the community feels. I’ve talked about that too.
Question: Okay. At the same time, the Prime Minister has announced that the Constitution will be amended to protect the definition of marriage from court challenges against the Constitution. Is that, at the same time, a backward step for equality for that community?
Minister: Why do you say it is a backward step?
Question: Well sorry, not a backward step. But it puts them in a position where they can't achieve same sex marriage.
Minister: No, they can. In a democratic society, in an open society, these things ought to be decided by Parliament. If Parliament has got the guts to deal with it. In many places, Parliaments duck the issue and let the courts deal with it because nobody wants to touch this. But our position on that in Singapore, is that it should be debated in Parliament and dealt with in Parliament. So what the Constitution amendment does is to prevent a court challenge as you pointed out. It doesn't hard code or require a supermajority. So assume that at some future point in time, people feel that this is an issue in which the majority will be with them, you mobilise and you win the elections, with this as one of your factors. And if the population votes for you, 50 plus one, you change the law. It's a law today. The definition is in the law. That law requires a change by a majority vote. That's all that we are safeguarding.
So, I would say it's overall, and why are we doing it? Because if you look at it, strangely enough in the last few weeks, there were many articles about how even within the same communion, same denomination of church, Anglican church, there is huge pressures and fissures. The Archbishop of Canterbury just declared, redeclared it as a sin. Meanwhile, the Australian churches split, between those would not accept it and those who say it is okay. The global south is completely opposed. The African churches and others are completely opposed to accepting homosexuality. So you're talking about a single church, with a leadership and structure which cannot agree on this. It’s tearing apart the church, it’s tearing apart many societies, culture wars, and so on.
Pew considers us to be the most religious diverse place in the world. Whether or not I agree with that, we are religiously diverse. We are a very small place, 760 square kilometres, 3.5 million citizens. We have every religion that you can think of, plus our guests, Singapore workers as well as EP holders. The key for us is social harmony. You as a government cannot always just be behind your population. You have the duty to lead, but you also can't be too far ahead. And you've got to keep social harmony, so that's what we're trying to do. So, we know that on 377A, we have to take the leading step. At the same time, our sense is the mainstream of society is not ready to see very substantial changes and other things. And we want to assure them that all the other things, marriage and the benefits that come from being married and so on will remain the same. We will not see change in the tone of society overnight. And that these matters will be the problems of Parliament.
Question: Singapore has excellent labour incentive schemes for foreigners. Do you see the drive to get international talent as a direct competition with Hong Kong? And how well do you think Singapore is placed to being the leading emerging destination or the leading destination, coming out of COVID, as a financial hub?
Minister: Singapore is in a tremendous position. And we see the results. The money flow, the talent flow, the thousands of people who we had to reject for permanent residency and coming to Singapore on employment pass. Thousands I’m talking about, we’re rejecting. But the money flow has been tremendous from Europe, North America, everywhere.
Why? I think the first point is that, it's a cliché, but Asia is on a secular trend upwards. I don't buy to the East is rising, the West is declining and all that. But I think if you looked at a single fact is Asian economy booming, I think it is set to grow. You look at China, 14, 15 trillion. Leave aside short-term ups and downs, the secular trend is upwards. That's an economy that's got the potential to double in the not-too-distant future.
You look at the Indian economy, just overtook the British economy. It's probably now the fifth largest in the world, at maybe four or five trillion, but that can go to 15 trillion within 20 years, if things go the current way. Australia is growing, and Australia, it is a lucky country. Commodity prices are high, it will continue to grow.
The ASEAN region minus China is also a four trillion-dollar economy which is set to grow, it is among the fastest growing regions in the world. And if you look around the map, which is a place where Indians, Chinese, people in ASEAN everyone, people in Australia, people in Western Europe, people in North America, feel culturally comfortable? Feel safe, feel that the money is safe and that there are no laws which apply retroactively to, you know, on taxation and other matters. Which place? Singapore. You'll be hard pressed to mention other names. Well run, well governed. I think the pandemic has burnished our reputation because of the way healthcare was handled. Low fatality rate. You look at our fatality rate, it is 300 per million. You look at by any measure a country that's well governed. Germany, I think it's at thousand four, thousand five, because I don’t want to compare with the US.
Question: Your main competitor, like Hong Kong, is effectively still closed.
Minister: I’ll come to Hong Kong in a minute. I’m just talking about Singapore now. So, people see a rational Government, people see a Government that is good to do business with. That's why I said five newspaper articles and three activists who are regularly quoted in the five articles don't make up the pressure. And Sir Richard Branson.
The reality is the number of people waiting to come, the deal flow, the money flow, the number of family offices that are opening up. Billions of dollars that are coming in every year. The position has never been stronger. So, we stand out as the place to go to if you want to do business in this region. People who want to do business in North America won’t think to come here. But people who want to do business, Australia says they want to do business, and Australia is serious, and Singapore is the ideal partner. So, we are close partners, we sign agreements, which we keep. Both sides keep. And Australia knows that Singapore is the way through to many of these places.
Hong Kong, it makes for sexy soundbite, Hong Kong and Singapore, but really, you look at the Chinese economy and you look at the Greater Bay Area plan that China has for Shenzhen, and the entire Shanghai, Pudong and Hong Kong area. It's massive. And Hong Kong has a tremendous future, in my view, contrary to what many people think. And they have no choice but to follow the rules on COVID that China has, because their economy is so closely tied with China. But I think it would be complete nonsense to say Hong Kong is in trouble. Hong Kong is doing extremely well but we service different markets. And just look at the size of the economies. I mean talking about 15 trillion-dollar economy. How many cities the size of Hong Kong we will need to serve as an economy. One is not enough. And you look at the Indian economy, you look at the ASEAN economy, you look at Australia's economy, look at the combination of all of them, look at Japan, and you look at Europe and US having to do business in this region. In fact, Singapore and Hong Kong alone are not enough, but they are the only two available. So, it's not a zero sum.
Question: A couple of geopolitics questions. Australia's new government has made quite an effort to engage with Southeast Asia. There's a foreign minister who is Malaysian born. What do you make of the government's new approach or the approach it has taken since it came in? The Foreign Minister Penny Wong has made I think, five or six trips to Southeast Asia in that time. Do you think that Australia in previous times has neglected Southeast Asia at all or its relations with Southeast Asia? And how do you see what Australia’s role should be in this region?
Minister: When I was Foreign Minister, I had the privilege of dealing with Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr, and I met Penny, when she was in the opposition. I would say that there is deep understanding in the Australian foreign policy thinking, that really Southeast Asian nations are extremely important. It’s a no-brainer. It’s where most of the trade is. There are security considerations and a deep relationship with the United States. But the economic factors strongly suggest closer cooperation with Southeast Asia and Asia is necessary. It’s a no-brainer. Indonesia is right at the doorstep and all the other countries, and that's where you send a significant part of your goods. A lot of the students here go and study there.
And really, I think Australia has been leaning forward in that respect, and I would actually put it the other way around. It's a question of how ready countries here to sort of walk forward. I think Singapore has been, we see many things in a similar vein to Australia. For a start, I think the law is similar, apart from the death penalty. But an Australian lawyer will understand Singapore law and a Singapore lawyer will understand Australian law, and people in Singapore go to Australian universities to study and come back and practice. So the law is similar, the rules on finance and trade and investments are similar, and both have a rational approach to, and I am not just being diplomatic here, both have a rational approach to not confiscating, not doing backward taxation. I’m not comparing our tax rates, you’re much higher in Australia. But when the government says these are our rules, people would know those are the rules, and if you are not happy, you think the government is doing something wrong, you can go to the courts in both places. So, people are confident about investing in Australia. At least they're not worried about the political risk. They are not worried about the political risk in Singapore. So, in that sense, Singapore has leaned forward. Our Prime Minister with your different prime ministers have had a very good relationships. See eye-to-eye. So the economic relationship, political relations is good. With the other countries in Southeast Asia, I would say Australia has been leaning forward. It's a question of whether the different countries have their own priorities. Some have leaned forward, some haven’t. So, I think that's where I see some gaps. And I think this government is keen to close those gaps, and rightly so. I've seen this for a very long time.
Question: Australia has obviously leaned forward on security as well in the region for sure. And more in the future. Submarines and such. How concerned is Singapore about, if we talk about regional and global security, about the build-up of tension between China and the United States and countries in this region and not just this region, not to say that we have to choose between superpowers. Is there ever a point in time where a country like Singapore would have to?
Minister: It would not be in Singapore’s interests to choose, and I would be doing our foreign policy a disservice if I say if we were to choose and we will do so. Nobody says that, no Minister says that. So good try. The answer is, you know, as I said to Stephen Sackur, certain things, a lot of things, are based on principle. We opposed the US invasion of Grenada and we vote against that. We refused to vote in support of Indonesia when it went into East Timor. And we are quite neuralgic about countries invading other countries, regardless of who they are. Because similar arguments could be made about Singapore, that Russian made about Ukraine. So we took a very tough stand.
Subject to that, US-China, look, on most things, take something that is for all of us urgent and non-political. Well, it shouldn't be political, like climate change. Really, we need solutions. We are a low-lying island, we have put forward a 100 year plan and we are going to spend a lot of money over this hundred years. But really, we need a world solution, but you cannot get a world solution without China and US agreeing. So, climate change. Nuclear issues. All of us are done for if they can’t agree on this and something happens. And then you come down to the more mundane day to day, which ships pass through where and what happens, and how much tension is there and what types of trade is possible. We are all subject to the vagaries of the tensions. So obviously, we want the tensions to cool down and if we take sides, that is highly disruptive, either for our security or our economy or many other aspects. Same for Australia. So, the ideal is, many of us make it clear, I mean, Australia is an ally of the US, perhaps in a slightly different position. But I think for us and many other countries in Southeast Asia, we wouldn't want to choose. But you're right, maybe at some point, we will be forced to make a choice, but Singapore's position is we will not make a choice.