Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Battlegrounds Interview with former National Security Advisor H R McMaster, 13 July 2022

28 July 2022

H R McMaster: Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Great to see you again. Welcome to Battlegrounds.


Minister: Well, great to be with you again. It's been a few years.


McMaster: It's been a few years, and I can't thank you enough for your positive leadership as the Singaporean Foreign Minister for seven years, but also within ASEAN and in the US-Singapore relationship. You advanced it tremendously. I learned a great deal from you. It's great to see you again. And now, our viewers get a chance to learn from you and your perspective on Singapore, the Indo-Pacific, but really, what's happening globally. So, I'll begin with US-Singapore relations. How do you view US-Singapore relations today? What is on your agenda for the bilateral relationship?


Minister: Well, I think first you need to understand how tiny Singapore is. Imagine if Downtown Manhattan was ejected by New York State, and had to be an independent nation with its own army, navy, air force, water and power supply, and the rest of it. So the first point is to understand how tiny, how vulnerable (Singapore is) and how we are only just celebrating our 57th anniversary next month. So my views therefore reflect the perspective of a tiny city state, multiracial, in the heart of Southeast Asia, with a very short history. I would put it to you this way – the ultimate winner of the Second World War was the United States of America. What was unusual about the United States was its generosity at the end of the Second World War, at its point of victory, to envision and underwrite a multilateral world order – the United Nations, the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF – setting up a world in which it would not be winner takes all, a world based on liberal economic principles, a world where free trade could flourish, a world where multinational corporations could exploit global supply chains, search for scale, and opportunity. I think certainly the second half of the last century was the golden age, in particular for America, but also for the rest of the world. So for us, given our very short history – the institutions, the rules, the norms, and the multilateral organisations – gave us enormous opportunities. We were in a part of Southeast Asia that was non-Communist. Going back to 1965, it was not at all pre-ordained which flavour would win. Fortunately, we were on the right side, and America's presence in our part of the world gave us enormous opportunity. So I speak first as a country that benefitted. In real numbers, America has more invested in Southeast Asia than it has in India, China and Japan combined. Most people aren't even aware that in fact, the bulk of those investments in Southeast Asia, are in Singapore. So, this is not flattery or empty words. This is spoken from a perspective and supported by data. Now, although I said Singapore was a major beneficiary of Pax Americana, in fact, the biggest beneficiary especially over the last 40 years, was China. The fact that never before in history have you had more than a billion people suddenly come online, and connected to a global economy with global opportunities – it's never happened before. So, in the last 40 years, I think the rise of China was unstoppable. It resulted from their own willingness to work really hard to get organised, and to seize opportunities, but I would also say because of America's contribution to this world order.


McMaster: And welcoming China into that order, with the opening in the 70s, allowing the Chinese people to overcome the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward and all the pain that was inflicted on them through brutal Japanese occupation, and then the Chinese Communist Party. So, I guess we have a lot to talk about. Maybe it's shifting back – China is shifting back to the closed period of Mao Zedong, rather than the opening period of Deng Xiaoping. What do you see as the trajectory now then? Both within China and the implications for maybe a potential reversal of what we've seen in terms of the period you described of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and a more integrated global economic system. It seems to be reversing a bit. Some people are declaring globalisation over, for example, Minister.


Minister: I don't think so, and let me explain why. China basically missed the Industrial Revolution. We know that the Industrial Revolution began in the UK, Europe, and of course, the ultimate heir was the United States. So for the last 250 years, the key missing player was China. In fact, in Asia, the first country to industrialise during the Meiji Restoration was Japan. With harvesting the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, came economic and military might. So, China still views the events of the last 100, 200 years as years of humiliation. So, from their perspective, what is happening now is the rise to become a competitive peer power with America, is actually a reversion to the norm. That if you look in terms of millennia, the Chinese GDP at that time was about 30 per cent or more of global GDP. So the first point is, they see this as a reversion to the norm. From an American perspective, which by definition is much shorter – you’re talking about centuries, rather than millennia – I think this is the first time ever you are facing a peer power, able to compete in all dimensions. Now, this is also different from your past interactions with European powers because China is really a civilizational state. So the way they organise themselves, the way they perceive that position in the world, is really quite different from that of a typical American or a European perspective. I think one element, which America may have been disappointed with is, for instance, if you go back to 2001, and the entry of China to the WTO, which America supported. If you believed that economic liberalisation was going to somehow lead to a complete social transformation in China, I think that was wishful thinking. They were always going to run things in their own image, so to speak.


McMaster: You know, Minister, you're making me think of a quotation from the visionary founder of your nation, Lee Kuan Yew. He made a comment at one stage where he said competition between the United States and China is inevitable, but conflict is not. I think it's immensely important for us to distinguish between the Chinese people, the Chinese nation even, and the actions and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, who have this kind of Han-dominated self-conception. A party that wants to maintain its exclusive grip on power internally, but also to advance its statist mercantilist model internationally in a way that jeopardises the world order you described, that has lifted so many people out of poverty, and promoted prosperity and security across the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. How do you see the competition between not just Washington and Beijing, but between the free world and Beijing at this moment? What are the most important elements of that competition, and how do we avoid it becoming a conflict?


Minister: That's a profound question. If we set aside political parties for the time being, and we ask ourselves in a post-industrial era, or in fact, now as we are on the cusp of a new revolution – the digital revolution – and the way that's going to transform the means of production, and we ask ourselves, what then are the ingredients for success? Number one is human talent. Lots of it. Number two is a system that's fair and meritocratic, so that people with the wherewithal, the energy, and the enterprise can succeed and be rewarded.


McMaster: Can I just tell you, we’re in the Hoover Tower and Herbert Hoover would love to hear you say that. Well, please continue.


Minister: We're believers in that. You’ve got to have a system that's fair, maximises opportunities for people to fulfil their potential. Then the other element that you need is peace. Because without stability and peace, you can't invest in the software and the hardware needed to unlock those opportunities.


McMaster: Nobody’s getting educated in a war zone.


Minister: So now let's look at the two key engines for the world right now. It's the United States on one hand; China, on the other hand. The other one, which I think we don't pay enough attention to, is Europe. If you look at the combined GDP of Europe, with or without the UK, it's in the same peer league as China and the US.


McMaster: Or Southeast Asia, for that matter, if you look at it together.


Minister: Southeast Asia, we've got a population of about 680 million, combined GDP of only $2.8 trillion dollars, but we believe it can double or quadruple over the next 10, 20 years. So yes, that also becomes one of the tent poles in this multipolar world. But coming back to competition and conflict. In an ideal world, the two of you, the US and China would get along. The reason you need to get along is not just for our sake, for peace in our part of the world, but because never before in history have two powers been as closely intertwined as the US and China. And that's why the Thucydides Trap is somewhat self-limiting as a paradigm to use.


McMaster: Right. This is just for our viewers; this is Graham Allison's view of previous conflicts where a status quo power resists the rise of a rising power. It has been misinterpreted, I believe, to pose a false dilemma between either destructive war, or accommodation and complacency against an aggressive power.


Minister: Yes. So, I think it doesn't necessarily apply right to this situation. Let us use another example, during the Cold War and the containment of the Soviet Union. In effect, the Soviet Union was existing in its own economic sphere. It was not as intertwined, inter-invested, or using the same application stack of the Industrial Revolution as the US and China. If you look at your currency flows and investments on both sides, this is unprecedented. So the point I want to make is that the relationship between the US and China is actually very unique in the world, for its size, and for the way you are interlinked. Now, having said that, we can't be wishful and just say, well, interdependence alone is a formula for peace. I think recent events in Europe have just shown that.


McMaster: This is, of course, what I wanted to talk with you about as well, to bring in Russia's aggression against Ukraine, and to do so by way of this friendship that supposedly has no limits between China and Russia, with the announcement they made just on the eve of the invasion and just prior to the Beijing Olympics. We've seen the consequences of an abrupt rending of economic relations with Russia. It seems to me looking at the pattern of Chinese aggression, we have to at least consider the possibility that that will occur with China and mitigate risk. But I'd like to ask you what are the lessons of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, what the world's response has been, what Singapore's extraordinary response has been in terms of sanctions imposed and the strong diplomatic stance that you and the Prime Minister have taken. Are there implications for how we regard China now and the risk of maybe a rending of economic and financial relationships analogous to those that have occurred with Russia?


Minister: Well, when we come back first to the fundamental variable, which is the US and China, I do not believe that conflict is inevitable, and it's certainly not desirable.


McMaster: And we can't believe that (conflict is inevitable) right now.


Minister: But having said that, it’s also wishful to believe that this mutual interdependence will somehow lead to peace. I think it requires careful and hard work. The first thing I would say is that it would be good if the two Presidents could actually meet face to face. I mean, despite all the advances in video conference technology, especially over COVID, there is no substitute.


McMaster: I don't want to put a damper on this, but President Biden did meet with Vladimir Putin. It didn't seem to help, but maybe it would help with Xi Jinping?


Minister: No, I was going to say I believe it's essential. But that's the first point. Now, direct communication does not necessarily mean you're going to agree on everything, but at least it minimises the room for miscalculations, misunderstandings, and miscommunication. So that's one. The next thing is to understand that you can't work on the basis that this is your sworn enemy, that there's absolutely no prospect for peace, and that the other partner has to completely bend or be transformed into your image. So, both sides need to understand that they will have to make room for each other. But at the same time, whilst you give and open up the option for effective cooperation, but you also have some guardrails or some fences for consequences if one or the other doesn't play according to the rules. You need both avenues for demonstrable advantage from working together, and also clearly defined areas where there will be penalties if agreed-upon rules of engagement are not complied with. It's important for both sides to telegraph this unambiguously and clearly. That's why I'm saying it's necessary for the staff work to be done. As a military officer, you know what I mean. Then the commanders-in-chief need to have this direct exchange. And then we have to hope that both America and China understand that this is a time, more than ever before, when we need global leadership. We're still dealing with the pandemic and quite frankly, I think our global response to COVID-19 left a lot to be desired. We are dealing with climate change, and we are dealing with a digital revolution. We are dealing with the socio-political impacts of inequality.


McMaster: Add a food crisis now.


Minister: Food and energy crisis. All these require the United States and China to play an outsized role to help secure these global public goods. So, what I'm saying is we can't afford a conflict. At the same time (we) cannot assume lovey-dovey, everything is fine. You do need to have areas where you can cooperate with demonstrable advantage, and you do also need to have areas where you say these are no-go areas, and then understand that you've got a critical role to secure global common goods. Now, if that can be done, we could be on the verge of a new golden era. If that can't be done or can't be done completely, and I think it'll be messy for quite a few years, then we'll have to be prepared for a bumpy ride. Coming to Russia and Ukraine…


McMaster: Singapore has a very strong stance against this brutal invasion, I think it was greatly appreciated across the world.


Minister: Well, we did so not because we were taking sides, but because we are upholding principles. And again, it's because we are a tiny city state.


McMaster: What Lee Kuan Yew called the “little red dot”.


Minister: Well, we will always be tiny. But when a big neighbour starts saying they're going to redraw boundaries on the basis of historical errors and crazy decisions, alarm bells go off for us. For us, the UN Charter, sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity are absolutely essential for our survival. If this precedent is allowed to stand, it's enormously inimical to tiny states like us. So, we took a stand on principle. I think the Russians also understand why we took that stand. But leaving that aside, I think what's happening there, meaning the Russians versus Ukraine, its impact on Europe, even its impact on NATO, and on the United States, is a demonstration of resolve. I think it's quite clear now that there have been strategic errors made on the Russian side.


McMaster: I think it's pretty clear Russia expected disunity and got a lot more unity across the board.


Minister: I think they expected, number one, the Ukrainians to fold quickly. Number two, Europe to remain divided and dependent. Number three, America to be impotent. And number four, NATO to be demonstrably irrelevant. On all these counts, I think things have not gone according to plan. But having said that, the other way this crisis feeds into global instability is that it complicates the relationship between the United States and China. Let's just bear in mind that Russia’s GDP at the moment is smaller than that of South Korea. But it is a major nuclear power. It has more nuclear warheads, I think, than even the United States. So it is a big deal. But in terms of the long-term strategic outlook for the globe, it is the relationship between the US and China. We hope that these other crises don't derail this more fundamental relationship.


McMaster: Minister, I want to move on to some other global implications but if you allow me to stick with China for one moment. You've seen the range of aggressive actions that the Chinese Communist Party has taken, even after the invasion of Ukraine, but really going back to the beginning of COVID with this wolf warrior diplomacy that has become more and more aggressive. You saw the economic coercion of Australia, and now Lithuania for example, and the aggressive military actions on the border with India, within the South China Sea, and the threats towards Taiwan. Do you think it is possible that China could be learning from the difficulties that Russia is having in Ukraine, in a way that China might moderate its behaviour? I didn't mention the extinguishment of human freedom in Hong Kong or what's happening in terms of the campaign of slow genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. But is there a possibility that Xi Jinping, who seems to have been preparing China for conflict with his rhetoric of the Korean War being portrayed as a war of American aggression and so forth. Do you think there could be a change among the Chinese leadership? I believe the US government is looking for areas of cooperation, but it seems to me that those areas are being systematically shut down by the Chinese Communist Party.


Minister: The Chinese Communist Party has been in power since 1949. As far as Chinese dynasties go, that's a very short time. As I said, the key national narrative for China right now is for it to take its…


McMaster: National rejuvenation, right?


Minister: Yes, rightful place in the global world order. The second thing which you need to realise from the perspective of a political party that has been in power for a long time – the greatest threat to long-term rule by a political party, regardless of whether it's a democracy or communist – the greatest threat is corruption and incompetence. To the extent that he (Xi) is trying to stamp out corruption, and to show a demonstrable level of competence in administering the country, you realise, that actually makes perfect sense from the point of view of a party leader who hopes the party will remain in power.


McMaster: Exclusive power.


Minister: So what I'm saying is, you know, I am not interpreting things in black and white, or moralistic terms. But in terms of what national impulse is, and what a partisan imperative is. Therefore, many of China's actions are actually taken not for foreign policy reasons. It’s at home - all politics is local, and it reflects that. What the Chinese people want, at least from my interactions with them, is to secure their plate and their economic position. They do have considerable challenges with demography, their workforce has peaked and they're now going to age.


McMaster: Before they grow rich enough to grow out of the middle-income trap.


Minister: And that reveals why China is in such a hurry. Because if you grow old after you've become rich, Japan is an example. It may not be the most exciting, dynamic place at the moment, but it's a perfectly civilised, wonderful place. And China knows that the demographic wind has turned against it. But if you look at its per capita GDP, it hasn't reached the same level that Japan did in 1991, when similar demographic trends reversed. So, understand the Chinese sense of urgency to become rich before they become old. On the global stage, I think what they remain deeply concerned with is this fear of containment, fear of encirclement. Again, depending on where you sit, you can view this as an insecure power, or you can view this as a power that's taking nothing for granted, and just trying to secure its place in the world. So I'm just trying to give you a different take.


McMaster: Well, that's the whole purpose of the series. It’s to really gain an appreciation for the perspective of others, and seeing this competition from the perspective of the Chinese, as Lee Kuan Yew did brilliantly throughout his life of looking at the US, and the nature of its society, and China, and the nature of its society and political system. I think his brilliant analysis still holds true today. I agree with you, I wish that we could find more areas of cooperation with entities that are not implementing the party's aggressive agenda. But I’m maybe not as optimistic as you are about the ability to do that.


Minister: But time will tell, time will tell.


McMaster: Because we don't want to give up on it for sure.


Minister: You mustn't give up because in the end, what was the secret recipe for America? You had a continent secured by two oceans, two good neighbours, blessed with enormous resources. You had almost free immigration from Europe. You had a society which had the incredible ability to invent and reinvent itself, to reward innovation, and enterprise. That's why you became great. The question now, when (the) economic means of production have transformed – where do you see America going in the next 20 years? The answer is, if America can invest in itself, get its mojo back, invest in your infrastructure, and more importantly, invest in your people, if you can get immigration policy right. You know, China sits on top of a pyramid of 1.4 billion people, and you could say, well, America has only got 300 million. But, America, at its best, harvests from probably half the world who would want to move here if they had a chance. So can you imagine if you've got immigration policy right, if you've got domestic policy right, if you invest in infrastructure, education, training, reducing inequality. A mistake that many people outside America make is to assume that America is in terminal decline. Singapore does not believe that America is in terminal decline. So we don't bet against America.


McMaster: Well, I'll tell you that I appreciate that hopeful message. I do believe that democracies do have the ability for self-correction and improvement, short of revolution. You mentioned so many important aspects of success and I don't think anybody can characterise Singapore as anything but a tremendous success. If you just look at the history from emerging from brutal occupation from Japan, gaining independence, the vision for the country of your founder, and then realising that vision in what I think is the most innovative country city in the world. Your portfolio before your seven years as a foreign minister, was in the area of integrating technology into Singapore, to make it an ideal place, to live, to work, to generate ideas, to educate, to bring people from different ethnic backgrounds together, which Singapore has done brilliantly. Can you maybe explain some of the keys to success as you see it for Singapore, and how those relate to other countries that are facing challenges that Singapore may have faced in the past?


Minister: I know I've said this too many times but again, just bear in mind, we're very small and very young. When you ask the Chinese, I think it was Zhou Enlai who was asked about the French Revolution, and he said it's too early to tell. So I always start with the fact that we're too small and too young for any definitive pronouncements.


McMaster: We’re all works in progress, right?  All of our actions are.


Minister: Absolutely. Next point is that what you see in Singapore is actually an act of desperate imagination, because of existential vulnerability. It sounds almost paranoid, but maybe Intel was right that only the paranoid will survive. So for us, an unlikely nation that was given independence in the expectation that we would fail, the first order of business was how to make a living. Secondly, how to live with one another, given the diversity of the society and our diverse ethnic, linguistic, and religious heritage.


McMaster: In contrast to some of your neighbours, right, who took a different approach.


Minister: What I’m saying is that a lot of the approaches that we took were actually borne out of necessity. It wasn't because we had the luxury to think about well, should we choose A, B, C or D? In reality, we were always operating under constrained options. But coming back to this, I once asked Mr. Lee Kuan Yew as we were sailing in Marina Bay, looking at the landscape, the cityscape. I asked him, “Mr. Lee, how do you feel watching this beautiful city emerge?” All he did was turn to me, look at me, and answer gruffly, “a hardworking and disciplined people built all this”. Hardworking and disciplined people. If you've been to Singapore, and you've interacted with Singaporeans, you'll know that no one works as hard, or is as organised, or as disciplined, as us. Not because we are somehow inherently better, but purely because we have no choice. To come back to America's role in our part of the world. The fact that you stood against communism, and paid for it in blood and treasure in the 50s and 60s, gave us time to prove that this model worked. The fact that you opened markets and made technology available to us, gave us an opportunity to upskill our labour force, and allowed us to compete and provide services, and be relevant to the world. That is why we continue to tell China, or Europe, or Russia, and all the other powers that we believe that all of you have legitimate interests in Asia, in Southeast Asia. We want all of you to continue to play a constructive role. It is that interplay between the major powers in Southeast Asia that gives us relevance and gives us opportunities. One area where I wish America had made a different decision, is on the TPP.


McMaster: Okay, I'd like to talk with you about that, about America's role in the region, not just Southeast Asia, but across the Indo-Pacific. We're talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Trump administration decided not to join. But of course, we have to say that the Hillary Clinton administration was not going to join too.


Minister: I was going to say that too, she also backed away from it as a candidate. So I understand. Frankly, every American leader or strategist whom I’ve discuss this with – none of them makes a strategic argument against the TPP. But every one of them has told me it can't be done for domestic political reasons. But for what it's worth, let me still make the pitch. In Asia, trade is strategy. You want to have ships or aircraft there, you must have interests to protect. What are those interests? It is your economic interest. Now, what better vehicle or symbol or icon of America's economic engagement with our part of the world than something as ambitious as the TPP. It remains the gold standard in multilateral free trade agreements, in terms of its protection for environment, for labour, intellectual property protection. To me, it’s still the gold standard. So it's a pity that for domestic political reasons, America couldn't consummate something which, in fact, it was instrumental to envisioning and negotiating. Anyway, the door is still open, for what it’s worth.


McMaster: Could you comment then on what you think of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is an effort to compensate for the inability to do a multilateral comprehensive trade agreement, but take elements of it? I know there are concerns about access to the US market. What's your overall assessment? Is it a step in the right direction?


Minister: It's a step in the right direction. It's certainly not a step that's complete. I would still much prefer you came back to the TPP. You know, it's as if you've built a wonderful condominium, the penthouse is still empty. America is absent, but in the meantime, there are others who are coming on board. And we will have to welcome others coming on board because, when we started this journey for the TPP, in fact, it started as four tiny Pacific countries, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile trying to build links across the Pacific. When America and Japan came in, it completely transformed the equation. But actually what we are really after was to create a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific. Now, if you add the TPP, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is another large-scale free trade agreement between the 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand – we were also hoping that India would have been a part of it but again, for its own reasons – but can you imagine if these two things were put together, we would have an enormous free trade area. Trans-Pacific in the fullest sense of the word with the two biggest economic engines in a part of the world which is set to take off over the next two decades or so. We believed, or we hoped, that that would be a formula for peace and prosperity in a real-eyed sense of the word. Not a matter of wishful thinking, but real opportunity.


McMaster: I can't resist pointing out the fact that it is Xi Jinping, though, who wants to create the dual circulation economy that creates dependencies on China, while he's insulated from any kind of dependencies, financial or economic, on other nations or supply chains that could be made vulnerable in response to Chinese aggression. Are you worried about any kind of a trade agreement in the future being subverted by China's mercantilist model, and its geostrategic designs? I think that's what is holding the US back in large measure. There are concerns about transitions in the global economy that affected Americans. Many Americans lost jobs, manufacturing jobs in particular. There's a great deal of resentment for this unchecked globalisation, which makes it politically infeasible. But also from a geo-economic perspective, are you concerned about China's role in these larger frameworks?


Minister: I would take a step back and say that actually, all of us believers in free trade failed to make the pitch to our electorate about the benefits of it. Second, the most important qualification for a trade negotiator is not the word games you play with your counterpart, but understanding your own domestic economy. Look, in any trade liberalisation, there are winners and losers, and you do need to look after people who are worse off. So it comes back to the fact that you really can't pursue foreign policy and trade policy without settling your own house in order first. Because we failed to make the case and because the people who were disadvantaged by wide scale globalisation were not adequately taken care of, we have this pushback. So what I'm saying is, again, it's not so much a US versus China problem as it is a domestic problem that applies to all of us, including Singapore. Getting your social safety nets right, getting education right, getting infrastructure right, are all absolutely essential.


McMaster: Of course, the global economy is under tremendous pressure now with big transitions – energy and insecurity, vulnerable supply chains, we saw the beginning of COVID. But now, especially after the invasion of Ukraine, what some people are calling “farmageddon”, this very serious food crisis. And of course, there are emerging technologies that are quite important to the transitions to a data-driven global economy. What is your vision for it?


Minister: Two taglines – we used, in the past pre-COVID, we used to say let's keep our inventories ‘just in time’. I think we've all learned now – ‘just in case’. Resilience matters, and you have to be prepared to pay an insurance premium for resilience. You don't want to be too critical of Germany, but when I was there, I asked them, “how many LNG terminals do you have?” And they told me zero. Well, in retrospect, it's quite clear now, they should have been prepared to pay a price for resilience. In a sense, if you look across Europe, Europe enjoyed a peace dividend for 75 years. Suddenly, they now realise Europe, too, has to pay the premium for defence, for supply chains. You don't want a completely autarkic world. There's only one country that can be completely self-sufficient, and that's the United States of America, but even then, you will pay higher consumer prices. Setting aside the United States of America, for the rest of us, complete autarky is not possible. So you do need to have global supply chains, you want to be prepared to pay a little bit of insurance to make them more resilient. But if the world bifurcates or fragments, this on its own will be inflationary, because the cost of procuring supplies will go up. This will be a world which is more brittle because we will have less interdependence, and mutual interest in each other's welfare. So I hope we don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Food, energy, pharmaceuticals, vaccines – all of us now have to pay attention to ‘just in case’.


McMaster: Minister, I want to end on an up note. I wonder if you might share with us what's happening in Singapore? What's the vision for the future? It's an incredibly innovative city. I've noticed the application of new technologies, the new infrastructure in transportation, vertical, airlift, battery-powered transportation now. It’s extraordinary whenever you visit Singapore how much has changed and how dynamic the city is. You have a political transition coming up, could you share with our viewers what to expect in the future from Singapore and what they're going to see there?


Minister: Well, some things haven't changed. We still remain small, we are still highly exposed to what happens on a global stage. So, as I said, peace between China and the US, a stable Europe, a rising India, and a Southeast Asia that, despite our diversity, can remain relevant and cooperative. If all those things work out, there are great opportunities for us in Singapore. But again, we operate on the basis that it starts at home. So what we're trying to achieve in this next phase, even as we make the leadership transition, is to make sure it becomes an even fairer society, a greener society, a smarter nation. One which maintains our unity and cohesion. We are comfortable in our own skins with all our diversity. We are relevant to all the major powers. We are economically competitive. We have made this green transition, not only as part of our efforts to fulfil our responsibilities to climate change, but also because we believe that it's a great opportunity for energy security, economic growth, and going green. And then the fact that the digital revolution is upon us – I think we have perhaps one of the highest robot densities in the world. Now how to translate that into economic opportunity, and competitiveness, and good wages, and a better life for our people. So it's a period of enormous excitement because there's both danger and opportunity. But if we do it right, it's another set of strong winds behind our sails.


McMaster: Minister, I can't thank you enough for being with us on behalf of the Hoover Institution. Thank you for helping us advance what we call strategic empathy in this series, as well as to learn more about battlegrounds that are important to building a better future for generations to come. A real pleasure to be with you again.


Minister: Thank you for this chance. Always happy to see you.



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