Vital to maintain strong ties with S'pore's neighbours

Last week's general election in Malaysia, which saw Barisan Nasional lose power for the first time, was a "momentous development" that bears watching closely.

It is one of several major developments around the world that Singapore has to pay heed to as it navigates a turning point in its own history, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday. "As Malaysia's closest neighbour, we need to pay close attention to our relationship with them. The two countries have deep historical, economic and people-to-people ties. We hope Malaysia is stable and prosperous."

While Singapore enjoyed good relations with Malaysia under former premier Najib Razak, it has also worked with current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and several members of his team, said PM Lee, announcing that he plans to visit Malaysia on Saturday to meet Tun Dr Mahathir.

He 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.

PM Lee also touched on Indonesia, which is having its national elections next year. He has good working relations with President Joko Widodo, and also with president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono previously, he said. "I hope we can maintain friendly and productive ties with Indonesia too," added PM Lee.

"Regardless of political cycles and election outcomes, we will work hard on relations with our two neighbours. Their success makes for a more peaceful and prosperous region, and that is good for us."

CLOSE TIES

As Malaysia's closest neighbour, we need to pay close attention to our relationship with them. The two countries have deep historical, economic and people-to-people ties.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG

PM Lee earlier noted that Singapore is beginning a new phase of social and economic development, amid a generation change. These big shifts are taking place in an uncertain global environment.

For one thing, it is not yet clear how ties between the United States and China will pan out.

"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. That is obvious," 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 benefit only them - it would be just as detrimental, especially for small countries which will have no say, he added.

Already, the ongoing trade tensions are not just hurting business, but also undermining the multilateral trading system which Singapore depends on.

In his speech, PM Lee also reassured those who worry about Singapore's slowing economic growth, forecast at between 2 per cent and 4 per cent. "This has made some people anxious. They worry that their children will not have better lives than they themselves do today."

But PM Lee said that 2 per cent 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."

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Vital to maintain strong ties with S'pore's neighbours'. Print Edition | Subscribe