Troubles in region a worry for S'pore: PM

The Bersih 4 rally is a series of planned rallies to be carried out on 29 to 30 August in major cities in Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.
The Bersih 4 rally is a series of planned rallies to be carried out on 29 to 30 August in major cities in Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Singapore hopes no trouble breaks out in Malaysia as a result of clashes between those marching in the Bersih 4.0 and anti-Bersih rallies this weekend but if it does, "we will be on full alert", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He said he had watched online videos of the anti-Bersih group practising "gongfu moves", and it was no laughing matter.

The political troubles in neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand are a cause for worry, as are anti-Singapore sentiments in Indonesia which could derail good ties with Jakarta, he said as he outlined the challenges arising from regional and global uncertainties.

The economy too has been hit by an unsettled world economy and volatile financial markets. "We can see our own economy slowing down. This year, we get 2.5 per cent growth, I think we are doing well.

"We will have to work hard because unless we continue to grow, I don't think we are going to have tomorrow for our people," he said at the People's Action Party rally to unveil its manifesto for the coming election.

Among the uncertainties are the security threat arising from terrorism in the region. This year, Malaysia has arrested nearly 100 Malaysians on suspicion of links with ISIS, including 12 members of its armed forces.

There are several hundred Indonesians in Iraq and Syria fighting for ISIS. Singapore has also detained several of its citizens who tried to go to join ISIS or, in one case, was stopped at the border by the Turkish authorities and sent back.

On the recent bombing at Bangkok's Erawan Shrine, Mr Lee said: "Could it happen in Singapore? We take security very seriously... but we can never say it will not happen."

As for Malaysia, he said the exchange rate of RM3 to S$1 may be good for shoppers heading to Johor Baru, but it suggests a loss of international confidence in Malaysia that is of concern here.

In Indonesia, some are quick to spring on his comments for their own political purposes, he said. His recent observation that Singapore was Indonesia's largest investor, for example, was used to criticise President Jokowi for inviting Singapore to dominate Indonesia's economy.

"So, we have warm relations with them, we have good ties with the government but there are these sentiments in the Indonesian society and our good relations can easily be derailed," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Troubles in region a worry for S'pore: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe