Singapore’s next prime minister sat down with The Economist for Exclusive Interview

‘We don’t think that Taiwan is in the same situation as Ukraine’

Editor’s note: this article was created using transcription software and has been lightly edited for clarity

The Economist: Lawrence Wong, I just want to thank you so much for joining us, and agreeing to talk to The Economist. In a few days’ time, you’re going to become Prime Minister of Singapore. It’s a place that’s been a huge success by being open, and a beneficiary of globalisation.

Lawrence Wong: Very much so.

The Economist: You’ve called it the improbable nation and a miracle—

Lawrence Wong: We still are.

The Economist: So why don’t you start by telling us how you see the geopolitical scene globally, and how that’s going to affect Singapore.

Lawrence Wong: We are concerned because it is in a state of flux. The global order is shifting. The unipolar moment for America has ended. Yet it remains the pre-eminent power in a world that’s transiting to a multipolar world. And this transition will be messy because we are seeing familiar signposts are fading, the established norms are eroding. People are searching for new bearings, but the new order is not yet established. I think it will be messy for quite a few years, maybe a decade or longer. And we will have to find our way all of us in the world, navigate through this very unpredictable environment, and hopefully steer the course of global developments towards a path of stability and peace rather than conflict and war.

The Economist: And when you look at us-China relations in the last 18 months or so there’s been some effort to stabilise things. Can you give us a sense of whether you expect that stability to last? Or could there be moments of crisis or even more deterioration over the next few years?

Lawrence Wong: The fact that the two leaders met and provided some guard-rails to the relationship, and provided some stabilisation to the overall relationship has been very helpful. But the mutual suspicion and distrust between both sides remain. They are very deep. The underlying contradictions and tensions between the two national positions remain. And I don’t see them being bridged anytime soon. So it’s not a stable equilibrium. I think there’s a lot of possibilities for things to go wrong, for tensions to flare up. And it will require very careful management of the relationship. Because if things were to deteriorate sharply, I think it’d be costly for both the us and China and for the rest of the world.

The Economist: And what’s your assessment of where China’s going under Xi Jinping? Do you think it’s going in the right direction?

Lawrence Wong: Well China is going through—at least let’s talk about its economy—its economy is going through several big structural adjustments. One, it can no longer rely on cheap labour inputs to get growth. It’s reached a stage where it really needs innovation and productivity. And it’s really pushing hard on that front and investing more in advanced manufacturing. And that’s one aspect of it shifting also away from real estate and property which has been a big part of its economy. And now shifting more of that investment into advanced manufacturing and driving it through more and more productivity and technology. That’s one big shift that’s happening. They are worried that they will get old before they get rich. They are concerned about the middle-income trap and they want to push the economy forward.

The second major structural adjustment that they are going through is about sharing the benefits of growth. Because when China opened up, the economy took off, you know, tremendous uplifting for everyone. But they also saw some downsides of capitalism. Deng Xiaoping said, open the window, you get flies, they got more than flies. And they have been dealing with corruption, rent-seeking, inequalities over the last ten years. So they are keen to pursue a different model of growth, more balanced, they call it common prosperity. I mean, at the end of the day, all countries have to grapple with this issue, because in the end, growth has to be allocated between labour and capital. And I think China’s basic orientation was to have more of that growth allocated towards labour, rather than capital or even private capital. But they have to get that balance right, because if they overdo it, then it would certainly dampen the animal spirits of private entrepreneurs, and it would make it difficult for them to reach that next stage of growth. And I’m quite sure they are aware of trying to work out the appropriate balance.

The Economist: So you’ve described the economic scene in China, but the political scene if you were in Washington dc, they would describe China as an increasingly totalitarian system focused on security, focused on confrontation even, with America or contestation for supremacy. Do you accept that characterisation?

Lawrence Wong: Well, China certainly looks at the us as trying to contain and circle and suppress them and trying to deny them their rightful place in the world. It’s not just the leadership who thinks like that. I think if you talk to a lot of the Chinese officials, they feel the same way. They feel that there is this containment to put China down. So there is that sense, and for every action, there will be an opposite reaction. And so China, you see, is trying to find ways to get out of that containment, to make sure that they become more technologically self reliant.

At the same time…I know they have been through phases in their development, they talked about standing up, getting rich, now getting strong. They see themselves as a strong country, their time has come and they want to be more assertive in their national interest, including the national interest overseas, but there too, China will have to learn—as all big countries do—that if they overdo it, if they push their way around, coerce, squeeze or pressurise other countries, it will engender a backlash, including in the region. And that’s why they cannot go too far. And they will have to learn that lesson. It’s a lesson that all big countries go through. America goes through those lessons, too. I mean, in Mexico, they say, America is my best friend, whether I like it or not. Because when a big country deals with a small country, the big country often doesn’t realise how imposing they are. And it’s very hard to find a happy balance between the two, the big and the small country at the same time.

The Economist: So you’ve described recently Singapore’s status as being neither pro-China nor pro-America. I wondered if you could talk about—

Lawrence Wong: We are pro-Singapore.

The Economist: But pro-Singapore, that’s right, how that position of standing between the two powers could be tested and come under strain. So one possibility, perhaps a probability is that the technology, sanctions and controls that America is using will be tightened even further. And they could even ask for a complete split of the two technology systems. How would Singapore deal with that? Half of your manufacturing exports are high tech, they’re closely connected to the Chinese manufacturing ecosystem. If there is a tech split, what will Singapore do?

Lawrence Wong: Well, first of all, a lot of these sensitive technologies lie in the hands of American mncs [multinational corporations] operating out of Singapore. And to the extent that the us were to widen its export restrictions, then we fully expect American companies to comply with the rules, not just in Singapore incidentally, but anywhere they operate in the world. And there are many other places in the world where the rules may not be complied with so strictly, but certainly if companies were to be in Singapore, then we expect them to comply fully with these export restrictions. We wish the export restrictions will be carefully calibrated because where there are security, national security concerns, those are very understandable.

But if you start expanding the yard—we talked about “small yard, high fences”—and the yard keeps getting bigger and bigger and it really ends up in a technological bifurcation, across many areas of the economy, I think that will be detrimental, not just for Singapore, but for us and for the whole world. You know, I’ve said this before that we really have to care about how these sorts of economic tools are used for geopolitical purposes. In the military world, the security people are very mindful about collateral damage when you drop a bomb. Because you worry, you understand it causes harm on the other side, but you worry about retaliation, escalation, and all sorts of consequences, and you think very carefully. But when you start thinking about using economic and financial tools for geopolitical purposes, it’s not so straightforward to assess the collateral damage, and we don’t have so much experience with it. And if we’re not careful, it will have profound implications for the global economy. But worse still, for global stability.

The Economist: And what did you think of the treatment of TikTok, where America has asked it to basically change its identity and ownership. It’s a Singaporean headquartered company, its chief executive is a Singaporean citizen who served in the military that you’ve just described. And yet America appears to have rejected it as a Chinese proxy.

Lawrence Wong: Well it’s for America to decide how it wants to deal with TikTok, it’s America’s prerogative. But from our point of view, when it comes to social media, that doesn’t count as national security. I mean, we have social-media companies operating from all countries, and they are here in Singapore, we don’t see this as a national-security risk. But that’s Singapore’s perspective.

The Economist: Let’s look at another way that this position of standing between the superpowers might come under pressure. So Singapore has enforced sanctions against Russia, related to its invasion of Ukraine. It’s quite possible that there will be a conflict over Taiwan over the next decade. And I wondered if you could foresee a situation where Singapore enforces sanctions against China over that conflict.

Lawrence Wong: It really depends on the nature of the conflict. With Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we were very clear, this was a very egregious breach of the United Nations Charter, a breach of territorial sovereignty and integrity. And if invasions like this can be justified on the basis of historical errors and crazy decisions, the world will be a much less safe place, and we will be very vulnerable. And that’s why even though there wasn’t a United Nations Security Council resolution, we decided to take steps and to impose sanctions, which we did. No other asean country has done this. Many other countries in the global south have not done this. But we decided to take this step, because it crosses and breaches some very fundamental principles, which we believe in and uphold.

We don’t think that Taiwan is in the same situation as Ukraine. First of all, people try to draw parallels between the two. But in fact, they are fundamentally quite different because Ukraine is a sovereign country, but Taiwan, the vast majority of countries around the world have a One China policy. We have long upheld a One China policy and oppose Taiwanese independence, even before we established diplomatic relations with the prc. It’s a long-standing position. And we are very careful when we conduct relationships with both China and Taiwan, that it’s consistent with our One China policy. And we do not allow ourselves to be made use of for any causes supporting Taiwanese independence.

So again, you asked a hypothetical question, if something were to arise in the Taiwan Straits or around Taiwan, we hope this doesn’t happen. Because if all the parties understand the risk, and the red lines and recognise that this is quite different from Ukraine—I think the US administration certainly understands—then perhaps we can have a good chance of upholding the status quo, and if any change were happen, it has to be done in a way that’s peaceful and non-forcible. And these things will take time. Meanwhile, let us uphold the status quo and continue to have engagements and talks. That will be our preferred approach.

The Economist: You’ve also said recently that Singapore is not an ally of America.

Lawrence Wong: We are not. We are a major security co-operation partner, the only one in the world.

The Economist: So what would you say to an American voter who’s worried about America being overextended globally, and who asks, “Why should Singapore receive American weapons, advanced security equipment, receive all the benefits of that, and yet it’s unable to call itself our ally?”

Lawrence Wong: Because it’s a security and defence relationship that has proven mutually beneficial for both sides, spanning many, many decades. We appreciate fully how America has spilt blood and treasure to provide security for the region. We appreciate fully the security umbrella that America provides for peace and prosperity in this part of the world. And we lean forward to work very closely with the US: we provide access to our air and sea naval bases. We support their rotational deployments, we provide logistical support, we exchange intelligence. We not only purchase technology and military equipment, but we have a very productive two-way exchange of information in many areas of security and defence. And that has proven to be mutually beneficial for both sides.

The Economist: Could you ever imagine Singapore joining aukus?

Lawrence Wong: For now, aukus is only a grouping comprising allies. We are not an ally.

The Economist: How do these geopolitical tensions play out domestically here in Singapore? How do people feel about the tensions with China but particularly recently, the Middle East, where Singapore has a substantial Muslim population who’s concerned about violence in Gaza? What would you say to people who are concerned about war in Singapore and to Singaporean citizens to reassure them?

Lawrence Wong: It’s something that we pay a lot of attention to, because we are such a small country, and a very diverse population. And we are constantly, I would say, influenced by pressures from around the world. Because here in Singapore, you have a majority ethnic-Chinese population. We all have links with China. But we have to remind ourselves and also China, that we are Singaporeans. We do business on the basis of our national interests, not on the basis of our ethnic ties. But we also have a Malay population that will have links with countries in the region and with the global Ummah, the wider Islamic community. And we have an Indian population, which will have ancestral links, familial links with India.

So it’s a population that can vary. You can see how it can be easily swayed by these influences. Because the links we have, going back to these civilizations or larger countries are deep, they are emotional, they are cultural. And we want to maintain the links, the links make us who we are. We value these linkages. At the same time, we have to continually remind our people—engage with Singaporeans—that we are Singaporeans. When we do things, it has to be on the basis of our national interests. And we’ve had to do that, through the various crises you highlighted Russia and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That was a crisis which had a high level of economic impact for us, but relatively low level of emotional resonance. So we went out, explained—

The Economist: I imagine Gaza is the opposite.

Lawrence Wong: Gaza was one where it had not so much economic impact, but a much higher level of resonance—not just with our Malay Muslim population—but even for many Singaporeans, looking at the atrocities that damage the destruction and loss of innocent civilian lives. And again, we’ve had to go out, explain to our people, the positions that Singapore has taken and why we are doing certain things we have done, the resolutions that we participate in at the United Nations and how we are doing our part to participate in global relief efforts and how we continue to stand for a negotiated two-state solution and at the same time call for an end to hostilities.

Now, if something were to happen in South Asia, in Taiwan, in the South China Sea, it would be an incident which would have both high economic impact and high emotional resonance with our people. And this will be difficult to manage, clearly. And that’s why for us, you know, the external events that happen seemingly far away, actually, they are happening right here at our doorstep. And we pay a lot of attention to what’s happening around the world, to engaging our people, explaining to them what Singapore’s, what the government’s position is and what our national interests are.

The Economist: Before we go on to talk more about Singapore and the Singapore model and how it’s changing; one last question on geopolitics. Singapore’s position is that it upholds international law—and that’s the bedrock of your foreign policy—what do you think the state of international law is? Does it still work? The United Nations Security Council is divided, the enforcement of key treaties like the Law of the Sea, is not happening. Is that really still a reliable anchor for your foreign policy?

Lawrence Wong: It’s under tremendous pressure but we have no other alternative, we have to keep on pushing away at it, plugging at it and working with like-minded countries to strengthen this rules-based multilateral order. We do it in different ways. For example, in the economic realm, wto is not working. I mean, we’ve been calling for the appellate body to function properly, for the restoration of the dispute resolution settlement mechanism and we sound like a broken record, like a lone voice in the wilderness, but we will keep calling for it—

The Economist: The Economist agrees with you on that—

Lawrence Wong: Thank you. But you know, there are other ways in which we can be helpful. wto; very hard to get multilateral initiatives working. While we work with like-minded countries, we had the p4 where we had initially Chile, New Zealand and Brunei, and that became the tppus opted out. But then we have the cptpp. We’ve similarly worked on other trade initiatives. And now we are working on new initiatives around the digital economy. Because with the digital economy, you need new rules around data storage, data flows, data security. So we have a digital agreement with the UK, with Australia. We have one involving three countries, Chile, ourselves, and I think New Zealand. And then there’s a queue of countries wanting to join. So I think if Singapore operates in this manner, we try to be constructive, we try to provide value, find like-minded countries to join us in small-scale platforms. And over time, we hope some of these can grow and other like-minded countries can join us. That’s how we can play a part in strengthening multilateralism in the world.

The Economist: Okay, well, let’s turn to Singapore and the domestic scene and start with the economy. In your budget statement, not so long ago, you said “we will no longer be able to achieve effortless growth in Singapore”. Part of that is the trade environment is worse, but a big part of that is demographics where the number of working-age citizens in Singapore is expected to fall by several hundred thousand people over the next decade. So talk about that and also the role of migration; sometimes a controversial subject in Singapore. Presumably it means you need more migration.

Lawrence Wong: It does. I think the period of effortless growth is over not just because of labour, but really we are at such a high level of development now. And we will be expensive. I mean, you can’t expect high wages and low cost. Wages and costs are two parts of the same coin. So we have high incomes, costs are high, we will have to keep on innovating, restructuring, and then pushing the productivity and innovation frontier to justify the premium. That’s what we have been doing all this while, which is why the economy today is very different from the economy even 20 years ago.

And it’s really about continuing to get cutting-edge investments into Singapore, pushing the frontier, doing new activities. At the same time being prepared to let non-viable businesses fade away so that resources can be freed up. It’s very much the process of churn, which can be very disruptive to workers. But that’s why we’ve also put in place a lot of efforts to help workers retrain, rescale and upskill. Now on labour itself, on labour inputs and immigration, we are an open economy and open society. We welcome foreign professionals to work in Singapore, but it’s controlled, because if it’s not controlled, I think we will be easily swamped. We cannot afford to be like the uae where the local residents are only less than 10% of the population. And they have a different compact because they use the oil and gas revenues to provide everything for their citizens. And in return, they just allow foreigners to come in freely. That’s not possible in Singapore.

The Economist: So you couldn’t imagine a situation where citizens become a minority.

Lawrence Wong: Not at all. Not at all. Not at all. We will keep ourselves open but the floors will be controlled. We will ensure that foreign professionals come in. We welcome them. They add value to our economy, we ask them to adjust to our social norms. And it’s controlled and tiered at different levels, because there will be jobs that Singaporeans don’t want to do, like construction. On the other hand, there will be new areas where talented professionals can come in and provide new skills. And there’ll be things in between where jobs that Singaporeans do, like health care and engineering, but we need more people. So given the different categories, we have a tiered level of controls. And we do that to ensure that immigrants come, we welcome them, foreign professionals come, they complement the Singaporean core, they add to our economy, they add to our society. And it ends up being a net plus for all of us in Singapore, that’s our approach.

The Economist: One facet of migration into Singapore is the goal of maintaining a rough ethnic balance. I believe it’s called cmio; Chinese, Malays, Indians and Others…

Lawrence Wong: Just as a shorthand, and it’s become a lot more varied now, because you have mixed marriages. And also cmio is really just a shorthand.

The Economist: So a question is why is that necessary? Why can’t Singapore become a society that is post-racial, and it doesn’t need to have this tacit target of the population mix.

Lawrence Wong: We would like to be, to evolve into a society where we become race-blind, but we are also very realistic about these things. These instincts of race are very primal, they are very emotive, and it can be stirred up at any point in time. Certainly, today, we are in a much better state than when we started out after independence, and when we had race riots in the past. But even so, during covid, in the three years, during covid, we had a spike of incidents that were race-related, just recently. And they were very sharp, very, very antagonistic type of incidents that got people stirred up.

The Economist: Give an example of one of those incidents for our global listeners?

Lawrence Wong: Well, you had incidents where people were targeted, because we put in place…restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus during the early days of covid, and people flouted some of the rules. But when somebody goes and they see somebody walking without a mask in a park, [and] it’s a person of a particular ethnic community, and then they will make racist remarks. It was spread online, for example. And this happened more than one time, it happened multiple occasions, when we let in arrivals from India, when India had a big wave of [covid]…there was a sharp reaction. So it’s not something that happened 20 years ago, it happened very recently. And it’s just a very stark reminder…People are not racist in Singapore. I think, in many ways, we aspire towards the ideals that we recite in our pledge to be regardless of race, language, or religion. But these things are dormant, they just lie below the surface. And it only takes an incident, a bad actor, someone trying to stir things to cause the dormant virus to flare up again. And that’s why we have to be vigilant and watchful.

The Economist: One of the events that’s happened in the West is the rise of stronger identity politics, for ideological reasons, perhaps social media as well. Do you think that’s a threat to Singapore?

Lawrence Wong: We do see some of it here in Singapore. Some people do get caught up with it. And so we take a very different approach in how we deal with issues of identity. Number one, like I said, it’s not about assimilating into one single identity. We allow people to embrace their own ethnic identities, whatever they are. And we ask them to keep that because that’s precious, that makes us who we are. But we come together and we find ways to expand the common ground that we share together as Singaporeans. So it’s not about subtracting. It’s about addition.

And a big part of being able to do that is by just bringing people together to have more engagements with one another face to face engagements, learning more about each other’s customs traditions, starting to appreciate and, beyond appreciation and understanding, respect one another. And then when there are differences, finding ways to accommodate and compromise because the differences will surely exist, and compromise cannot be a bad word, compromise cannot be an issue of dishonour, to my tribe or to my identity. Because if that’s dishonour, then it’s all-out war. And you will have deep divisions between the different groups in Singapore. So we have gone for a very different approach since our very beginning, since independence. And that approach, I think, has worked well. In Singapore, people understand it’s different. Not every single group may get everything that they want. But by working together by engaging, by not accentuating our differences, but finding common ground, it’s an approach that has worked better for all of us.

The Economist: Another social change is how the views of the young have adapted and evolved in Singapore. And recently, you did a big consultation exercise called Forward Singapore in which you spoke to I think 200,000 Singaporeans in some way or another. And then the report concluded, among other things, that “there have been discernible shifts in our youth’s mindset”. This is a generation that’s grown up with an enormously successful and prosperous Singapore. Perhaps you could give a sense of how their attitudes have changed compared to previous generations.

Lawrence Wong: In some ways, I am part of the generation I will be the first prime minister to be born after Singapore’s independence. All my predecessors sang two, if not three other national anthems. God Save the King, the Japanese Kimi Ga Yo, and briefly Malaysia’s Negaraku. I’ve only sung one national anthem, Majulah Singapura, our national anthem. So the values, the principles that built today that enabled today’s Singapore meritocracy, incorruptibility, racial harmony, the tripartism, the approach I spoke of earlier—finding common ground—I think those are embedded deeply within me and also many young people I speak to. At the same time there are changes. And I think we, when we engage with young people whether around my age, post independence or younger, we do sense a change in their aspirations. And these are noble aspirations. I think young, many of the young people I engage with, like to strive and work hard for their own aspirations, but they would like to see a Singapore where we embrace broader definitions of success, where every job is respected, where there is a fairer wage for every job, and a greater sense of assurance and security for individuals to uplift themselves, and to bounce back through life’s inevitable setbacks. So these are things that we have distilled from our conversations, we’ve put it out together as part of what we call a Forward Singapore roadmap. And we are taking steps towards realising these goals.

The Economist: So you’ve described a Singapore that faces a high amount of churn in the economy in order to stay at the frontier globally, where there’s a new generation of Singaporeans with different expectations. Let’s turn to politics and talk about how politics is adapting and changing to reflect that you’re part of a generation known as 4g, replacing or coming after 3g

Lawrence Wong: For a lack of a better word.

The Economist: It’s not bad.

Lawrence Wong: It’s just that we’ve only had three political changeovers in government.

The Economist: Just for clarity. For listeners. It’s not a telecommunication spec. But tell us how the style, the governing style of 4g, your generation and your government, is going to be different from 3g.

Lawrence Wong: I think politics in Singapore has continuously evolved and will, has evolved and will continue to evolve. The days where the pap government or the pap was dominant in the 60s, 70s, even 80s under Mr Lee Kuan Yew, those days are over and we can’t go back to that period. And if you look at politics, since then it has been evolving. Singaporeans themselves have evolved. It’s an electorate that’s highly educated, very sophisticated, very discerning with how they vote.

And while the majority today would like the pap to be in power, to be in government, they would also like to see more opposition voices in parliament. So the opposition presence in parliament is here to stay. It’s quite clear. And I have also said that when I go into elections, I do not assume that the pap will automatically be returned to power. I do not assume that I will be the next pm after the elections. So this is the new reality of our political landscape, which means that as a governing, as a party, for me now as prime minister, eventually leading the party into elections, we will have to do our best to engage Singaporeans, we will have to do our best to involve them in decisions that they care deeply about, and in shaping our future, which is why we’ve started doing so in our Forward Singapore exercise, engaging Singaporeans a lot more, not just in hearing them out but we also are trying to find platforms where people can get involved in decision-making and and start shaping the future of our country together.

The Economist: Lee Kuan Yew said: “Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him”.  And there’s always been a sense that Singapore’s post-independence leaders have been strong men, sometimes even the hard men. Do you see yourself as that kind of leader? Do you have iron inside you?

Lawrence Wong: I believe when push comes to shove and the time comes to take hard decisions, I will do so. So long as the decision is in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.

The Economist: The elements of it, which is  sometimes forcing people to do what they don’t want, sometimes being more abrasive with the public, do you see yourself in that mould? Or are you more of a listener?

Lawrence Wong: Well, I am who I am. I listen carefully to everyone’s views. When I go into a meeting, I do not start off assuming that I know all the answers. I want to get people’s insights. I want to get people’s perspectives, eventually thinking about what makes for the best decisions and outcomes for Singapore. And some of these decisions may not be the most popular decisions, but we may feel and we may have the conviction that they are the right ones to take. And therefore when those sorts of situations arise which I’ve had to deal with during covid repeatedly or more recently having to raise the gst [Goods and Services sales tax] in the budget. And when these decisions arise, Singaporeans can be assured that I will be able to take the decisions in the best interest of Singapore and Singaporeans and explain to them why these difficult decisions are necessary.

The Economist: One part of your story is that you did not have an elite background in terms of the school you went to, you have a much more typical upbringing; you went to a local school? How important is that for your brand with ordinary Singaporeans?

Lawrence Wong: Well, my background is what it is. I mean, if it’s helpful if it makes it more relatable to Singaporeans so much the better. But I have no doubt. Like I said, just now, Singaporeans are discerning and wise voters, I have no doubt that at the end of the day, they will expect me to deliver on the things that they care about. Delivering a better life, delivering better standards of living for themselves and their children. And if my team, if myself, my team, we are unable to meet up to those high expectations. If we are unable to deliver those standards, and a better team arises, then Singaporeans will choose accordingly. I have no doubt about that.

The Economist: As I understand it, it’s likely that the outgoing Prime Minister Lee is going to continue to play the role of some kind, possibly in the cabinet. Could you talk about that, in particular address the concern that it might prevent 4G, the next generation from really finding its voice and exerting authority in Singapore.

Lawrence Wong: Well, this is a Singapore tradition. I mean, you don’t find this commonly in other countries, but it’s a long-standing Singapore tradition, and we’ve found it very valuable. Each time we have a leadership transition, we don’t just kick out all the older ministers and then have a complete new team come in. We value the more experienced ministers and we invite them to continue contributing in different ways, in their own ways. We’ve done this with former prime ministers as well, it’s not the first time—whether it’s Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Loong. And it’s never been a problem with sort of preventing the new prime minister from setting the tone of leadership and making his own decisions, and so I don’t envisage any difficulties at all, with Lee Hsien Loong eventually becoming senior minister continuing to serve. The networks he has internationally will be very valuable. And I will use him accordingly in the best possible way. Because for me, as leader, I will have to find ways to harness the collective energies of all of my team, and also every Singaporean in order to give us the best chances for this little island to keep on shining ever more brightly in a dark and troubled world.

The Economist: And who will remain head of the pap, your party?

Lawrence Wong: Well, it’s also been a tradition that in time to come after the leadership transition, after the Prime Minister takes over in time to come, there will be a transition for the new prime minister to take over as Secretary-General of the party. So this will happen in the due course. Maybe we finish with one question.

The Economist: So why don’t we finish with your legacy? If you were to serve as prime minister for a decade, at the end of that period, how would you have liked to change Singapore? What do you want to be different in ten years?

Lawrence Wong: Well, the starting-point as I said just now is that Singapore may have transformed tremendously in the last 60 years. But the reality is, we are still a very tiny little island in a vast and dangerous world, which is going to get more dangerous in the coming years. So we’ve always seen ourselves as the underdog. We will always be the improbable, unlikely nation forged only through the collective will of our people. What has happened in the last 60 years has been nothing short of a miracle. And my mission is to keep this miracle going for as long as I can. And to make sure our little red dot shines brightly for as long as possible.

The Economist: Lawrence Wong, thank you very much for joining us.

Lawrence Wong: Thank you

May 8th 2024

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