Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Talks Coronavirus and Economic Recovery

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore, discusses the pandemic, economic recovery, and relations between China and the United States.


Air Date: May 19, 2021

Moderator: Myron Brilliant, Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: His Excellency Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister, Republic of Singapore

The coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic crisis have had a profound impact across the globe. With the first case of COVID-19 originating in China, Southeast Asian countries have taken decisive steps to limit the spread of the virus. Now, the region is working to bolster the economy through reinstating travel and strengthening foreign trade.

As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong shared his insights. In conversation with the Chamber’s Myron Brilliant, Lee discusses the impact of the pandemic, the road to economic recovery, and improving relations between China and the United States.

Maintaining Open Borders and Safe Travel Amid the Pandemic

Despite being an open country, Singapore has managed to keep coronavirus cases relatively low within the general population through swift action and tight restrictions. It’s a balancing act because the country depends on trade.

“We can’t afford to seal our borders off,” Lee explained. “For Singapore, you need food, you need fuel, you need people moving in and out … to the extent that you can while keeping ourselves safe.”

The republic currently has established safety guidelines with a small number of other countries to keep the economy open. As the virus becomes better-managed across the globe, Lee hopes to develop “travel bubbles” with other countries taking similar precautionary measures.

“What we are trying to do is to establish travel bubbles with other countries, where we have mutual understanding … [and] confidence,” he continued. “As things are, it may be a while before it comes into effect.”

The Necessity of Foreign Trade and Global Cooperation

Another crucial aspect to bolstering the economy is maintaining open trade flows and fortifying against supply chain disruptions.

“I think it would be very, very harmful if every country tried to make everything onshore,” stressed Lee. “And anyway, it’s impossible … so we have to cooperate with one another.”

“I’m very happy that this administration in the U.S. is re-engaging with the WTO (World Trade Organization),” Lee added. “It has weaknesses, but we should work together to remedy and strengthen the WTO, not to marginalize and cast it aside.”

Relations Between the United States and China: Changing Mindsets and Finding Common Ground

The United States and China are two of the world’s leading powers. However, the two nations have not maintained the most stable relationship — something that could have dire consequences if not mended.

“If the U.S.-China relationship goes sour, [the world] is going to have a state of tension [and] anxiety at the very least, and conflict possibly all over the world — certainly all over the Asia-Pacific Alliance,” Lee said.

With both countries wielding great economic and technological power, Lee encouraged the two nations to decide to work together and find common ground where they can cooperate.

“Both countries have to reconcile their international stances with domestic political opinions … and overcome the nationalist instinct to say, ‘We would look after our country’s interests, but we will do so by cooperating with other countries,’" Lee said. “Whether or not we fully trust them and whether or not they’re our friends … they have to be our partners on this planet.”


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