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India and Singapore have significant areas of potential cooperation: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong touched on Singapore-India bilateral ties and questions about politics at the IIMPACT dialogue on Friday evening (Aug 22).

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says Singapore and India have a "good base to work upon" when it comes to building future bilateral relationships. And he is optimistic that there are significant areas of potential cooperation between the two countries.

Mr Lee was speaking at a dialogue session at the IIMPACT conference on Friday evening (Aug 22), which was attended by some 1,000 business and political leaders. He said that he is looking forward to meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the year is out.

"Your Prime Minister has already received Shanmugam, our foreign minister, and talked about - in a very focused way - about how we can take our relationship forward. Talking about urban development, talking about water and sewage projects - because that's one of his passions; talking about port development, because that's one of our strengths; talking about education and training because that's one of the areas where you need to move forward on. And we would like to develop these areas as well, and we are hopeful that we would be able to do so, and I think it will be beneficial to both countries."


During the dialogue moderated by DBS Bank CEO Piyush Gupta, Mr Lee was also asked for his views on how India could accelerate its growth. He said that Singapore wishes India well, and hoped to see it extend its influence and engagement in the region.

"What we would like to see from our point of view sitting outside, is that India is able to spare the bandwidth and the focus in order to extend your reach, your influence, your engagement with the region, and benefit from it - whether it is through the India and ASEAN free trade agreement; whether it is what we call the regional comprehensive economic partnership which is an FTA. We are negotiating with ASEAN as well as Northeast Asia countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. Or, whether it is the WTO - find the bandwidth to identify the opportunities, to cultivate the partners and therefore to take full advantage of this as you grow."


Mr Lee was speaking to an audience of primarily Indian alumni of India's premier business school, the Indian Institute of Management, and he was asked whether the Dec 8, 2013 Little India riot changed how Indians are looked upon by the Government in Singapore and Singaporeans in general.

"No, it hasn't changed our view at all," stressed Mr Lee. "There was an incident, there was a riot. It is unfortunate. We have investigated it. I think the causes have been established, the follow-up actions have to be taken. I mean there are some practical things you can do to the crowds in Little India. There are also legal consequences - the justice system has to follow up, rioters have to be brought to justice and punished. But I don't think it has changed the situation.

"The workers are here for a purpose, we need them - they are building houses for us, they are building trains for us, they are working all over, in banks, in so many companies. And I think that we have to manage the non-indigenous population in a way that we can wear over the long-term, and the Little India riot notwithstanding, we have to continue to do that," he continued.

He also said he does not think the Little India riot has changed the way Singaporeans look at the foreign workers. "And from what we can tell, the foreign workers who are here continue to be quite comfortable living and working here, and certainly, many more are wanting to come. That's why we have to manage the numbers," Mr Lee explained. 


Turning to domestic issues, the Prime Minister said politics has not changed in the last 10 years, but the way it is conducted has. "In a fundamental way, politics has not changed. It's about power and it's about how you do things for the people. It is always about power and it always should be how you do things for the people, but how it is conducted has changed," said Mr Lee.

"Knowledge is not free, yes, it's more readily available, but so is disinformation and so is misinformation, so is misunderstanding, and if you looked at what has happened worldwide, the internet has not caused a great convergence on universal truth. Far from it.

"It has led to divisions and all kinds of different ideas being able to take root and germinate, which is completely contradictory to one another, and groups which are completely anti-pathetic to each other. And we have to make sure that with the internet, with social media, we don't get seduced by, really, the delusion that we know everything, that what we know is the truth, and we are the sole possessors, and therefore, we will fight it out to the end, because that way, you will fracture the society and be less able to form a consensus and move forward together," he said. 

"And I think you will do worse. It's such a dramatic change over 10 years or probably even less, that I think human society is still adjusting to that.


"My personal view is that human society was not designed with the internet age in mind, in the sense that the way it has always worked - you have lags, information disseminates over a period of time, you have time to think it over, (let it) sink in, discuss it, understand it, and gradually form what we hope is a wise consensus. But today, all of that is telescope and the splash goes out tonight and tomorrow morning, everybody knows the answer, which may be the wrong answer. In fact, far from having a faster circuit, you have a short circuit collectively, and that is a real problem which I don't think people have found solutions to." 

"In Singapore sometimes, you have a case where somebody says something outrageous - tomorrow, everybody knows about it, and everybody expresses great outrage and we spend a long time calming ourselves down. Yes, it was an outrageous statement, but do we need to get worked up every time it happens? How do we prevent ourselves from getting worked up every time that happens? That's not so easy," Mr Lee said.

"It makes your margin of stability much narrower and you have to be able to navigate that and have bumps and spills along the way. It's inevitable," he added.

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