Anti-globalisation mood in US holds risks: PM Lee Hsien Loong

US President Barack Obama greeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Blue Room prior to a working dinner with Nuclear Security Summit heads of delegations in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
US President Barack Obama greeting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Blue Room prior to a working dinner with Nuclear Security Summit heads of delegations in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.PHOTO: WHITE HOUSE

Some proposals by US presidential candidates could damage America's standing if implemented, he says

The anti-establishment, anti-globalisation groundswell that has fuelled much of the US presidential campaign is a worry for Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he stressed that the United States continues to play a critical leadership role in the world.

Speaking to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in the US this week, Mr Lee made his most extensive remarks yet about the chaotic and divisive election campaign that is under way.

"I do not think you have ever had such an extreme menu of choices as you have in this election, choices which are likely to end up on the ballot paper," he said, noting that the US system tends to curb the power of the president enough such that less-than-ideal candidates are prevented from doing too much harm.

Should that system fail, however, people need only look at wartime Europe to understand the potential outcome, he said.

"In Asia, you can write those off as unstable, immature democracies, but in Europe, before the war, such stress led to very extreme outcomes in Germany, in Italy and in the end, you have a very unhappy result."

 
 

Mr Lee is in the US on a working visit that includes attending the 4th Nuclear Security Summit that started in Washington yesterday.

Asked to comment on proposals made by US candidates on the campaign trail, he made clear the damage that could be done to America's standing if some of these were ever implemented.

Take, for instance, the proposal from billionaire Donald Trump that the US enter into a trade war with China by imposing a 40 per cent tariff on imported Chinese goods.

Without citing any candidate by name, Mr Lee said: "It is not possible, because if that is how we work, seriously-entered-into undertakings can be just torn up because the Americans are not happy, we can do it over again, then how do we conclude a new agreement?"

The same goes, he said, for calls in the US for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact to be renegotiated.

Citing the difficult process the 12 economies have had to go through to even reach an agreement, he saw a reopening of talks as impractical: "If you are asking for more, who is going to volunteer to give? Your candidates have to face election, (the) Japanese Prime Minister faces re-election, too."

While Mr Lee said he was "not very optimistic" that the deal agreed to last year by 12 countries, including Singapore, could be ratified by the US this year, he stressed that it is a critical piece of the US' Asia strategy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Anti-globalisation mood in US holds risks: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe