Domestic and external challenges intertwined: George Yeo

Former foreign minister George Yeo, who is chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics.
Former foreign minister George Yeo, who is chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's domestic and external challenges are intertwined and neglecting one will lead to an inability to deal with the other, former foreign minister George Yeo said last night.

While the needs of Singaporeans must be looked after, changes taking place outside the country cannot be ignored, especially with the rapidly changing global economy, he added. "Those two equations must always be solved simultaneously," he said.

Mr Yeo, who is chairman of Hong Kong-based Kerry Logistics, added that Singapore had to stay united as a people to deal with problems decisively, even as it keeps a keen eye on developments abroad.

"If we turn inwards we'll crash into icebergs. So we have to look outwards. But in looking outwards we ignore problems on the ship, then disunity on the ship can prevent us from acting on what we see," he said.

He was responding when asked about Singapore's biggest political challenge, at a dinner talk organised by the newly formed Harvard University Association of Alumni in Singapore.

The club, registered last December, was set up after Harvard University broke off ties with the Harvard Club of Singapore earlier in the same year.

Last night's talk by Mr Yeo was the club's first public event.

Mr Yeo also answered a range of questions, including on life after politics and his experience as Chancellor of Nalanda University in India and as a member of the Vatican's Council for the Economy.

After leaving politics in 2011, he missed the sense of satisfaction that he found in influencing the course of development in Singapore and being responsible for the lives of many people, he said.

"Public life gives you a big stage to act upon, which you don't get in the private sector," he said.

But it also allowed him to "switch off", as political life meant having to be responsive to the needs of constituents all the time.

"Politics is incessant and the pressure is continuous. Politics being a service industry, the customer is always right," he said.

Mr Yeo also recounted how Pope Francis sat in on one of the Vatican Council meetings and freely admitted he was dependent on the group to give him sound financial advice.

He was also struck by the pontiff's humility and said the Pope's moral values "are well anchored". He added that the inclusion of lay people in the Vatican Council was a first, and was an experiment in church governance that had the potential to make a great impact globally.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Domestic and external challenges intertwined: George Yeo'. Print Edition | Subscribe