SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat may have stepped aside as the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) team, but foreign countries will still be dealing with the same team and that is what matters to them, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (April 8).
"The same ministers are still there. I'm still the PM, Swee Keat is still the DPM, and they will be dealing with the same people. And that's what matters to them if you take the two-, three-, four-year point of view, which in diplomacy is quite a long time," he said.
PM Lee was responding to a question at a press conference at the Istana on how foreign countries and investors will navigate this period of uncertainty, with the 4G team saying that they need time to select a new leader.
DPM Heng announced that he will step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's 4G team, to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee retires.
Echoing the Prime Minister's point, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that notwithstanding the latest development, the team, system, plans, processes and policies are all still in place to provide continuity and stability for foreign investors.
"And we will continue to work hard to distinguish ourselves as a safe harbour for investors to mobilise the capital, aggregate their talent, protect their intellectual property, amidst the global uncertainties," he said.
PM Lee said politics in Singapore works very differently than politics in nearly every foreign country. "It's a fact. And it's, I think, the reason why Singapore politics works well for Singapore.
"As a result, when we interact with leaders and ministers from other countries, they assess us, they make their assessments, and I think, by and large, they have a respect for us and we're able to work with them. So I think they will assess us based on the quality of leadership which our political system and political process produces," said PM Lee.
In the longer term, what other countries will notice is the quality of Singapore's prime minister, deputy prime ministers and ministers, he said.
"If out of this process we're able to sustain high-quality ministers and leaders for the country, then I think that it would have been the right path forward for Singapore.
"If at the end of this, the standards go down and they look at us and say 'ah, it's no different from so many other places', we are no longer of value to them, and Singapore will be the worse off for it.
"So I think that's how they will see it - not so much whether there's what we would call a 'relief-in-place', in progress - one person standing aside, another person getting prepared to come in - but what are the outcomes in terms of persons in charge, quality and the direction for the country. And that is what we must make sure we can maintain and keep stable while working through the succession process," added PM Lee.
Mr Chan added that clear succession planning, policy coherence and consistency have been the hallmarks of Singapore's system, and have also put the country in good stead to attract long-term investments.
"This is also the reason why we have chosen to be upfront with our people, with our investors, our foreign counterparts, on our circumstances, so that we can minimise any unwarranted speculation."