Parliament: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to meet Dr Mahathir in Malaysia on Saturday

Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a news conference in Menara Yayasan Selangor, Petaling Jaya, on May 12, 2018.
Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a news conference in Menara Yayasan Selangor, Petaling Jaya, on May 12, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is planning a trip to Malaysia this Saturday (May 19) to meet Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, he said on Wednesday.

In a speech during the debate on the President's Address, Mr Lee said Singapore needs to pay close attention to its relationship with Malaysia, its closest neighbour.

"We hope Malaysia is stable and prosperous. We have enjoyed good relations with Malaysia under former PM Najib Razak, and cooperated on major projects that benefit both sides," he said.

Singapore has also worked with Dr Mahathir and several members of his team, said Mr Lee, adding that the Republic had completed several joint projects including the Second Link at Tuas, when Dr Mahathir was prime minister previously.

Mr Lee added that he also knows former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim well as he was Mr Lee's counterpart when he was Singapore's deputy prime minister.

"The expectations of the new Malaysian government are very high, and I think Dr Mahathir will be very busy in the days to come," he said.

"But I plan to visit Malaysia on Saturday to meet Dr Mahathir and to tell him that I look forward to working with him again for our mutual benefit."

Mr Lee had started his speech by noting that Singapore is at a turning point, beginning a new phase of social and economic development as a new generation comes to the fore and a new set of leaders prepares to take over the reins.

These big changes are taking place amid an uncertain environment, with globalisation coming under pressure and major geopolitical changes taking place, he added.

Countries, particularly in the West, are questioning the benefits of openness and free trade, and of the free movement of people.

Said Mr Lee: "The trade tensions between US and China hurt business, but more broadly, their unilateral, tit-for-tat actions undermine the multilateral trading system. Thus they threaten global prosperity, especially for smaller countries like Singapore."

 
 
 
 

The US and China are far from going to war with each other, but it is not clear which way their relations will tilt, he added.

"If they tilt towards more conflict, it will be bad not only for the two powers, but for the rest of the world as well," he noted.

But if relations tilt to the other extreme - if the two powers agree to divide up the world between them, and set rules that only benefit them - it would be just as detrimental, especially for small countries which will have no say, he added.

In his speech, Mr Lee also reassured those who worry about Singapore's slowing economic growth.

"Now that we have become more developed, our growth forecast has moderated to 2 to 4 per cent. This has made some people anxious. They worry that their children will not have better lives than they themselves do today," he said.

But Mr Lee noted that 2 to 4 per cent is quite a good growth rate for a mature economy, and added that in any case, this is just an estimate based on Singapore's current stage of economic development.

"It is not the limit to our efforts or ambitions. Individual companies and industries can certainly do better, especially if they have a more innovative product, or if they expand into new markets," he added.

"We are pushing ahead with our economic upgrading. We can see the opportunities. The only question is whether we can seize them."