SINGAPORE: The ongoing trade war between China and the United States is not something that can be resolved with just one meeting between the two countries' leaders, but is a "long tunnel" and will take time to work out, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Jun 7).
Speaking at the Business China Awards at the Marina Bay Sands, Mr Lee said he hoped that US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have an opportunity to talk about the issue at the upcoming G20 summit and "turn things in a more positive direction", but added that he was not entirely optimistic.
"I think it’s a long tunnel. I hope that eventually there will be a way out of it but I think it will take some time," he said.
His remarks come a day after Mr Trump said he would decide whether to carry out his threat to hit Beijing with tariffs on at least US$300 billion in Chinese goods after the upcoming G20 summit in Japan on Jun 28 and 29.
"I don't think it is something which can be solved just by one meeting by the presidents because the discussions have gone on for some time," said Mr Lee. "The differences between the two sides have been more sharply defined now, the positions have hardened. Quite a lot of the positions have now been taken publicly, so it’s not easy to walk back from them and to compromise on them."
Referring to the matter as a "trial of strength" between two major powers, Mr Lee added that big powers have to give small countries "the room to be friends with more than one big power" if they hope to have a world in which people are not "completely polarised" into two camps.
"That means that you don’t force people to take sides. You don’t say, 'if you are not with me, that means you are against me'," he said.
In terms of the outlook for the Chinese economy, Mr Lee spoke on how the Chinese economy is slowing down but that the country is likely feeling a "little bit more confident" than last year.
"I think they are preparing for rough weather," Mr Lee said. "You can do a certain amount by … the state coming in to spend money and trying to get the economy going again, but basically there’s a limit to how much you can make up for that."
UPCOMING GENERAL ELECTION IS TO SHOW S'PORE IS "UNITED"
When asked about the significance of Singapore's next General Election, Mr Lee said that it was to show Singaporeans as well as the world that Singapore is "united" and also understands what its security depends on.
"I think it is to show ourselves and to show the world that Singapore is united, we understand what our safety and our security and our prosperity depend on, and we are able to identity and to support a team which will help us to move forward and to get where we want to be," he said.
This is particularly pertinent for the next general election, he said, because "we are preparing for a leadership transition".
It is "crucial" that the leadership transition works well, Mr Lee said.
"To say it works smoothly and without any glitch is asking a lot, but that it must work well and I must be able to hand over, and the next team will be able to take charge, and make Singapore work in their own way," he said.
"As I and my team were able to take over and make Singapore work in our way. I think that is absolutely crucial for Singapore."