US, China can’t let trade is­sues poi­son ties: PM Lee

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - International Business -

THE United States and China should not let a lack of agree­ment on trade boil over into other as­pects of co­op­er­a­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong said on Tues­day (Nov 6).

Trade is­sues be­tween the su­per­pow­ers are “gen­uine” and lead­ers of the two coun­tries need to make de­ci­sions to re­solve any con­flict, Mr Lee said at a din­ner di­a­logue at the Bloomberg New Econ­omy Fo­rum mod­er­ated by Bloomberg Ed­i­tor-inchief John Mick­leth­wait.

Global trade is­sues need to be ad­dressed or it could risk erupt­ing into broader con­flicts, said Mr Lee.

“Both sides must want to reach a deal and then it can be worked out,” Mr Lee said, adding that the coun­tries were re­ported to have been close to agree­ments which later fal­tered at the “top level.”

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s move to put tar­iffs on US$250 bil­lion (S$343.5 bil­lion) of Chi­nese goods in a bid to re­bal­ance global trade has led to re­tal­i­a­tion from Bei­jing and ex­ac­er­bated a raft of dis­putes, from hu­man rights to US mil­i­tary sup­port for the demo­crat­i­cally-run is­land of Tai­wan.

While Mr Trump has floated the pos­si­bil­ity of a deal when he meets China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in the com­ing weeks, they re­main far apart on mar­ket ac­cess and gov­ern­ment sup­port for state-run en­ter­prises.

“The trade is­sues are gen­uine ones,” said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee was asked at the di­a­logue by a mem­ber of the au­di­ence what he would ad­vise Mr Xi and Mr Trump to do on the trade war if he were at the same ta­ble as them.

“I would be very hes­i­tant to be at such a ta­ble,” he said to laugh­ter from the 400 guests at Fuller­ton Bay Ho­tel.

But he added: “The lead­ers of the two coun­tries have to de­cide what they want to do, and if it can­not be worked out, then I think you re­ally want to keep it from boil­ing over, re­spond in a re­strained way and try to keep things go­ing and pre­vent this from poi­son­ing the over­all re­la­tion­ship.

“Be­cause even be­tween Amer­ica and China, there are so many things where you have to work to­gether, oth­er­wise you are not go­ing to get any­where, start­ing with North Korea.”

Chi­nese Vice Pres­i­dent Wang Qis­han -- a long-time ally of Mr Xi -- told the fo­rum ear­lier on Tues­day that Bei­jing re­mained ready to dis­cuss so­lu­tions to its trade war with the US.

Mr Wang also warned that China wouldn’t again be “bul­lied and op­pressed by im­pe­ri­al­ist pow­ers,” un­der­scor­ing fears by busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers on hand that ris­ing na­tion­al­ism in both coun­tries would be harder to man­age.

Mr Trump has vac­il­lated be­tween op­ti­mistic and cau­tious as­sess­ments of a pos­si­ble deal with China. He set up a call with Mr Xi on Thurs­day, the first be­tween the lead­ers in six months. On Mon­day, he said the trade con­flict with China could still go ei­ther way.

“The trade deficit is on Mr Trump’s mind but the economists will tell you that trade deficit is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of macroe­co­nomic prob­lems and not a mat­ter of trade re­straints or lack of trade open­ness,” Mr Lee said. “That has to be dealt with sep­a­rately.”

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has this year tar­geted al­lies and ad­ver­saries alike, threat­en­ing tar­iffs on all of China’s ex­ports, propos­ing levies on Euro­pean car-mak­ers and say­ing he could leave the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which he has de­scribed as “un­fair.”

Dur­ing the 45-minute di­a­logue, Mr Mick­leth­wait also asked Mr Lee whether he was con­cerned about the big power ri­val­ries spread­ing over into the re­gion and af­fect­ing Sin­ga­pore’s ties with her neigh­bours, in par­tic­u­lar with Malaysia and In­done­sia.

“Neigh­bours are never with­out com­plex­i­ties,” said PM Lee, adding to laugh­ter in the au­di­ence that even the US and Canada have “in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions”.

“This is what God gave us… We don’t choose our neigh­bours and we are blessed with two big­ger than us, and we get on well with them,” he said, re­fer­ring to Malaysia and In­done­sia.

“There will al­ways be is­sues which come up and we will have to deal with them in a way which is con­struc­tive, win-win and re­spects the core in­ter­ests of both coun­tries.”

Mov­ing on to Sin­ga­pore, Mr Mick­leth­wait asked Mr Lee if the Repub­lic’s mark­ing of its bi­cen­ten­nial next year would be a good rea­son to bring for­ward the gen­eral elec­tion due by April 2021.

Mr Lee replied: “It’s al­ways pos­si­ble. There are many rea­sons to bring elec­tions for­ward or not. So we’ll see.”

Mr Mick­leth­wait then asked whether the job of gov­ern­ing the coun­try has be­come harder over the course of PM Lee’s 14 years in of­fice so far.

Mr Lee replied that it has be­come more com­pli­cated be­cause of so­cial me­dia and fake news, where opinions can be­come crys­tallised overnight that may not be based on facts.

“And sud­denly you’re hav­ing to re­act to that. It’s ridicu­lous. One night you go to sleep, all is well, the next morn­ing, some­body’s over-re­acted to a ru­mour. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have be­come ag­i­tated and then you got to chase your tail to put it away.”

Mr Lee cau­tioned that this will have im­pli­ca­tions for long-term plan­ning.

“It will cer­tainly leave you less time to think what your long-term in­ten­tions will be,” he said.

“It also makes it harder for you to get peo­ple to fo­cus on the long term and to be­lieve that in fact you have a work­able scheme to get from here to there be­cause ev­ery day you are chas­ing a new rab­bit.” – Agen­cies

Mr Lee said if the US and China can­not work it out, they will need to keep ten­sions from boil­ing over and re­spond in a re­strained way so as not to poi­son their over­all re­la­tion­ship. Photo: Bloomberg

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