SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was interviewed by prolific Chinese media television host Yang Lan in November, ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Beijing. Part of the interview was televised in mid-November, where Mr Lee spoke on a variety of international and domestic issues. A second programme from the interview was broadcast on Sunday night, which juxtaposed Mr Lee’s recent comments with those from a much earlier interview with Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
The questions touched on Singapore’s economy and the casinos, anti-corruption efforts, Singapore’s population problem and PM Lee’s family.
Here are excerpts from the programme:
Yang Lan: In your 10 years as a leader, there have been many big changes in the political-economics of society and the cultural landscape, therefore certain governance ideas and methods have to change as well. I remember at the beginning, you proposed to develop this entertainment centre, a casino, there were many people who reserved their opinions, including Lee Kuan Yew, who had never advocated a casino in the past. After all these years, do you think that you have made the right decision? Was it able to gain approval from more people, including your father's?
PM Lee: My father was very much in support of this policy later on, because he said, he had opposed the idea of a casino in Singapore for many years, but the world changed, so we have to change too. But we think of ways to protect our people, to prevent them from spiralling down with gambling addiction. The casinos in Singapore opened in 2010, and has been operating for more than 4 years now. From the economic angle, I think it is rather good because it attracted many tourists to Singapore. Tourists may not go to gamble, but because it is there, they will want to come and have a look.
Yang Lan: But if Singapore citizens want to enter, you implement some measures to discourage them?
PM Lee: We don't encourage them, our fundamental method is, if Singapore citizens want to enter, they will pay $100 per day to the government. This is a tax that one has to pay even before the start of gambling. As a result, there are Singaporeans who gamble, but not many, and the number is not increasing. Hence, 80 per cent of casino visitors are foreigners, that is our goal.
Yang Lan: How do you view the relationship between anti-corruption and economic development; people used to view one as a political issue and the other, a social issue.
PM Lee: I think in the long term, anti-corruption is an important factor in economic development. We take anti-corruption seriously in Singapore; the PAP has ruled Singapore for the past 55 years, and we have always been determined to maintain a clean and honest government. There are of course, times when people flout the rules, or violate the law, we don't care who it is, they will be punished by strict laws. Because if we protect the person, or cover up, or hush it, I think everyone will know sooner or later. The situation has changed, Singapore is different from before. The reason why we are able to attract investments, especially becoming a financial hub, a clean and honest system is very important. When everyone comes to Singapore, they have to understand, you need to pay fees, and fees have receipts, they are accounted for. Other than that, it will be under-table or private transactions. I think this is our advantage in competition. Other countries also understand, and may want to do the same, but to turn the entire culture around, turn the entire system around is extremely difficult, that is why I greatly admire President Xi's anti-corruption efforts in China right now.
Yang Lan: You pay close attention to such news?
PM Lee: The whole world pays close attention to this. Because if China can do it, I think it will be of great help to China's development and stability.
Yang Lan: I would like to know, what are some of your methods to promote the growth of a young population in Singapore?
PM Lee: I am much inferior to him (Mr Lee Kuan Yew) in this matter - what he dares to say, I may not dare to say. We still face this problem, right now on average, a woman gives birth to 1.2 children. So if you do a calculation, one generation loses 40 per cent, two generations lose maybe 60 per cent, then three, four generations later, there will be no one left.
Yang Lan: What do you do then?
PM Lee: We have encouragement, which is important, we also pay close attention to early childhood education and childcare services. This is because many women want to continue working after childbirth, so who will take care of the children when that happens? If you have parents who are not that old, they can help you; but there are also some grandparents who say: “I have already carried out my responsibilities, I have no problems, but you want me to take care of the child, change diapers, find someone else to do it for you.” That is why we are opening more childcare centres, and are grooming more kindergarten teachers. But it is still not enough.
Yang Lan: In enhancing women's participation in the society and economy, and helping them balance their careers and family, do you seek opinions from your wife? She is also a very busy career woman herself.
PM Lee: She has her own views, of course. She is very much in support of working women, and also women supporting their families. But these are very personal decisions, and I think every married couple should make their own decisions, we can only encourage them. We can only explain to them, make them understand. You will age, though you may be young now, but one day you will grow old too. When you get old, you might regret and feel that you should have given birth to children.
Yang Lan: Speaking of children, your children are also growing up.
PM Lee: They have grown up already.
Yang Lan: That's true. Are any of them interested in entering politics?
PM Lee: At the moment, no.
Yang Lan: No? Would you specially encourage or lead them in this direction?
PM Lee: I think they have to find their own path in life.
Yang Lan: Is that to say, for your children, you want to give them more freedom to choose their lives?
PM Lee: They have to choose, because a child's personality and aptitude have to be taken into consideration. Every child is different, parents would of course wish that their children can fly high, but they all have different natures, some may be more inclined towards the arts, some may be more interested in computers or science, this will have to be developed according to their interests.
In the first part of the interview, PM Lee gives his thoughts on elites and the law as well as high salaries on Chinese TV. Click here for an excerpt from the interview.