Esther Zou Yun, Leader’s Talk Host, CCTV: Your Excellency, Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us today. China’s Two Sessions, the political season, has been successfully concluded not long ago, and you have sent congratulatory letters to Chinese leaders. What do you think is the significance of this year’s Two Sessions?
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: Very importantly, you have settled the leadership team for the next five years. I have written to President Xi to congratulate him on his re-election, and Premier Li Qiang to congratulate him on his election. I have met him before when he was Party Secretary in Shanghai, so I am looking forward to seeing him in his new capacity and discussing with him how we can take our cooperation forward.
For China, your Two Sessions are very important occasions for setting the agenda and debating the direction of the country. I think the direction has been quite clearly defined in the speeches, in the statements and the interviews which the leaders have given, and we look forward to China implementing this, continuing to prosper and continuing to develop good, mutually beneficial relations with the rest of the world generally, but especially with Asia, and of course, with Singapore.
Ms Zou: When you met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year in Bangkok, President Xi described this bilateral relation between China and Singapore as forward looking, strategic and exemplary. He also emphasised that high quality should be the hallmark of this bilateral cooperation. So, Mr Prime Minister, how would you define the bilateral relations between the two countries? Also, how do you think this very distinctive feature of high quality can be pursued and brought forward?
PM Lee: I think we have very good relations. They are broad and encompass many fields, and we have been working together for many years. We established diplomatic relations in 1990, so that was 33 years ago, but in fact, we had cooperation for many years even before that, so we know each other well. I think that there is trust and mutual understanding. We have our different perspectives on issues, but we work with one another, and we have been able to get very substantive projects going.
We have what we called Government-to-Government projects. The first one was the Suzhou Industrial Park (苏州工业园), and that is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year. This has been a very successful project. In fact, it has been ranked the best economic development zone in China, now seven years running, so it has amply fulfilled the hopes we had when we launched the project. Then we had the Tianjin Eco-City (天津生态城), which I think you have visited.
Ms Zou: Yes, as my very first story as a journalist when I started working.
PM Lee: I think that was some years ago, but now it is (in its) 15th anniversary, and it is fulfilling a role, demonstrating and trying out ways to make a city sustainable and eco-friendly, which is important for China and important also for the world.
The third G-to-G project is our Chongqing (重庆) connectivity project, the integrated land-sea transport corridor, which goes from Chongqing (重庆) into Guangxi (广西) and to Beibuwan (北部湾), and that fits in with the Belt and Road Initiative and helps to provide a new link between the interior of China with the outside world. You have a link down the Yangtze River, down the Chang Jiang (长江), but that is some distance and also, it is very, very busy. So an additional link, shorter, faster, out to Southeast Asia and to the rest of the world – we think it makes a significant contribution to the Belt and Road idea.
So I think we have good projects. The private sector, of course, has very extensive cooperation too, because Singapore is one of the biggest sources of investments from foreign countries into China. There is very intense back and forth, and not just into China, but nowadays with the Chinese companies increasingly investing out of China. Many of them are in Singapore, I think thousands of them are in Singapore. During COVID-19, all that to-ing and fro-ing had to be done online, which is not bad, but not the same as being physically there. Now that we have opened up again, there is a lot of pent-up demand, so I think with flights already resumed and building up progressively, the relations will prosper considerably.
Also, we have specific things to do. For example, we have the FTA with China, which we have revised once before, and it is being reviewed again. We are having Subsequent Negotiations, which we hope we will be able to complete before too long.
Ms Zou: The projects that you just mentioned – the new International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City – actually those projects are now playing a demonstration role under the Belt and Road Initiative. Singapore is the very first nation among ASEAN members to publicly express support for the Belt and Road Initiative. What has prompted this country to express its support at a very early age? What kind of opportunities do you think this initiative will usher in for not only Singapore, but also the region?
PM Lee: We supported it because we saw this as a good strategic move by China. China is growing, China is prospering, China’s place in the world is becoming more important. How China integrates into the region and with the world is very important, because if it is not well managed, there can be frictions, there can be tensions, it can be very difficult.
The Belt and Road Initiative, we saw it as one way China could contribute to the development of the region and therefore integrate itself into the regional network of cooperation and interdependence, and therefore be welcomed across the region in a win-win way. The region needs infrastructure, the infrastructure needs financing. China is capable of doing that – of building infrastructure, it can also help to provide the financing, it can also develop the trade and economic links with the countries in the region. With the Belt and Road Initiative, there is a framework within it which this can be done.
It is not the only links which the countries in the region will have, because we also do business with other parts of the world, with America, with Europe, and we will also have investments and trade with all parts of the world. But with China, within our region, the biggest economy, it is important that we develop that relationship in an open, sustainable and I think, mutually beneficial way. So we saw the Belt and Road Initiative from that light, and therefore we decided that we should say, “yes, it makes sense, we support it”.
From Singapore’s point of view, what do we contribute to the Belt and Road? First, we are a financial centre, so it could be one place where projects have financing and where projects can be evaluated. That is an important piece of the infrastructure, the soft infrastructure, for the scheme. And in fact, Singapore is one of the biggest trading centres for Renminbi internationally. That is one aspect of it.
There is also the legal aspect of it, because we are a centre for arbitration and mediation. We have many international law firms operating in Singapore. Countries on the Belt and Road schemes, if they are looking for places to arbitrate their issues or to find legal expertise, we can be one of the sources to meet these projects’ needs. That makes sense for us also.
Thirdly, in Singapore, many companies find us a convenient place to set up what they call “control tower functions”.
Ms Zou: Control tower functions? What do you mean by that?
PM Lee: That means their headquarters, their fiscal management, their human resource management and their oversight of operations all around us, maybe sometimes on a very big footprint throughout the region. If some of the companies would like to set up here, and therefore from here, be able to manage their operations in Southeast Asia better, I think that is good for them, and we are happy to have them.
Ms Zou: Is this what you would call win-win, right?
PM Lee: That is win-win. As for the Chongqing project, I think the benefit is the connectivity part of it, which means from the interior of China to connect out to Southeast Asia, and from Southeast Asia to the rest of the world. If that can be made smoother, not just the distance, but also the paperwork and administration, so that you can flow conveniently from Chongqing all the way out to the sea, to our port and then you are off, saving days, time and overheads, I think that makes a big difference to the development of the interior of China. You have talked about 西部大开发 (China Western Development) – this is one aspect of it.
To us, because companies in the region want to do business with that market too, so it makes sense.
Ms Zou: Let us get back to the bilateral relations. Digital economy is becoming one of the new highlights for bilateral cooperation and in November 2021, China has formally applied to join DEPA (Digital Economy Partnership Agreement), which was proposed by Singapore, New Zealand and Chile.
PM Lee: Yes, the three of us formed the DEPA.
Ms Zou: What do you think is the significance of China’s decision to join this mechanism and how does Singapore see China’s accession?
PM Lee: I think the digital economy is a very important new growth area for China, certainly because you have many very successful digital companies now – Alibaba, Tencent, TikTok, Douyin (抖音) – and many smaller ones, but extremely vibrant and creative.
For other countries too, it is a growth opportunity, and is therefore also an opportunity for countries to work together in the digital field – establish standards, become interoperable, be able to have the data flows across borders freely and with suitable safeguards. All those require new rules, so therefore, the idea of digital economy agreement is a kind of new-age FTA, for a new kind of trade.
The DEPA is such an initiative. We also have similar agreements with other countries like Britain, Australia, and we are negotiating a few more. I think it is good for China to have an interest in DEPA, because when we formed DEPA, the idea was to have it designed to be open, so that anybody can join – who can meet the standards and will commit to meeting the standards. China has expressed an interest in joining. I think Korea has also expressed an interest, and a few others. We welcome China and the others who are interested in joining, so long as you can meet the standards, participate and add to the agreement.
But of course, once you have an agreement like this, you have got multiple parties, and decisions are made by discussions amongst the parties. You need a consensus, and we look forward to that being worked out.
Ms Zou: We look forward to it too. Mr Prime Minister, let us talk a little bit about the China-ASEAN relations because this relation has now entered the fast lane in recent years, with remarkable progress being made, with both sides becoming each other’s largest trading partner, with trade volume increased by about 100 times from 30 years ago, and direct investment exceeding US$310 billion. Astounding achievements, I would say. And now both sides are pushing for a kind of an upgrade for cooperation, which is known as Version 3.0 FTA. So what role do you think Singapore could play in this process?
PM Lee: We are one member of ASEAN; there are 10 members. We are nearly the smallest, so we have a modest conception of our role in ASEAN, but we will participate in it fully and try to help it to move forward.
Between ASEAN and China, we have an FTA which goes back all the way to 2002. In fact, it was probably the earliest foreign FTA which China completed. It is in the process of being upgraded, just like the China-Singapore FTA, and I think that is one major initiative.
You asked how Singapore can help – apart from participating in ASEAN, one of the ways we help is by showing the potential of what can be done. We have a Singapore-China FTA, it has agreements and provisions, and there is an ASEAN-China FTA. I think when you are negotiating with one country, it is not so complicated as negotiating with a group of 10, and therefore you can go faster and further, but it shows what can be done. Therefore, it is an encouragement when working with ASEAN, to say: “Look, it is possible, Singapore has done it, we have found it good, China has found it workable, why not think about it?”. So that is one way in which Singapore can help to push the ASEAN-China cooperation forward.
I think ASEAN-China economic cooperation also depends on the overall relationship. Because between China and ASEAN, it is not just economic issues, but you also have discussions on political issues and security issues, and there are some problems which need to be worked upon. The more progress we can make working on these problems, I think the easier it will be for us to make further progress on economic cooperation.
For example, we are discussing the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea. And that is something which is not easy to work out, but we have been working with it and we hope to make further progress. If we can make more progress on that and manage the South China Sea issue in a way which respects the interests of both sides and all countries big and small, I think it makes it much easier for economic cooperation to go much further.
东盟和中国的自由贸易协定可以追溯到 2002 年。这可能是中国签订的最早的自由贸易协定。中国和东盟的自由贸易协定正在升级，中新自贸协定也正在升级，我认为这是一项重大举措。
Ms Zou: Because when you have a solid base that consists of political factors or the security factors or all the factors combined, which will provide a solid foundation to propel the economic relation.
PM Lee: Because the economics on their own, we can make win-win arguments, but it is much easier to be convinced by win-win arguments when the political relationship is good. Otherwise, there will be many win-win opportunities which you may or may not be able to take advantage of.
Between America and China, for example, I think that is one of the issues you have now, because your relations are tense. Therefore, even when there is opportunity to work together, for example on pandemic cooperation or climate change, it is not so easy.
Between ASEAN and China, the relations are good. But the more we can deal with the non-economic issues well, I think the more the economic relations can prosper. And it works the other way round too – if we can have good economic ties, I think there is more incentive for us to resolve the other problems.
Ms Zou: I agree. China’s rise is interpreted differently in various countries. The overwhelming majority of countries believed that it is not only beneficial to China, but also the rest of the world, but a few still unfortunately see China’s rise as a threat. And I know you once said that it is a good thing that China’s influence is growing. Now the question is, how do you think China’s rise can be better accommodated in the global system?
PM Lee: I think it is a very major change to the global system. China, which used to be maybe two or three percent of global trade, you are now 15 to 20 percent of the global trade, you are 18% of the world’s GDP. It is a tremendous transformation internally for China and externally for the rest of the world.
From a dispassionate point of view, it is good that 1.4 billion people have much better lives now. But from an operationalising point of view, how do we make this transformation work without generating tensions and misunderstandings and difficulties which can create new problems which will be very hard to resolve? And that needs a lot of statesmanship, a lot of give-and-take, a lot of cooperation with other countries, and adjustment on both sides, because other countries must be able to accept that China today is not what China used to be. It is much more prosperous, contribution to the world economy is much more, and its voice in international affairs is much more.
But at the same time, China must also be conscious that the arrangements which worked when you were much smaller, and countries could say, “Well, this is a developing, not so advanced economy, and therefore we can cut it some slack and make some concessions, and therefore allow it to do things which are an extension of the rules which generally apply”.
I think some of those concessions need to be reconsidered, and China has to be able to recalibrate its position in the world. And that is not easy to do on both sides. But I think it is absolutely essential to do because the world cannot afford a conflict between China and the rest of the world, and in particular between China and the US.
Ms Zou: What kind of vision do you have for the relations between China and the United States, given that now, that is, we could say one of the most important bilateral relations, not only concerning the two countries, but also countries around the world?
PM Lee: I think you have to take things step by step, and stabilise the relations and then gradually build trust, and gradually try to move forward. I know that President Xi and President Biden has spoken to each other, they spoke online and they met in Bali. And Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State, was due to visit China and that had to be put off. I hope that their contacts will be able to build. And that the situation can be stable, and no mishaps will take place. And then gradually, you can improve things. But it will take time. It is not easy and there are political pressures on both sides.
Ms Zou: Mr Prime Minister, let us shift gears a little bit and come back to Singapore. What people outside of Singapore always talk about is that unique model of development, and I know you would rather call it a kind of approach. I still remember about 20 years ago when I came to Singapore for the very first time with my parents, they told me that you have to behave because everything here is very strict. They also emphasised that no gum or you will be punished. I know this is hilarious for sure, but Singapore does have its very unique way of governance, which is reflected in its law and order, in its economic growth and in its efficient government. So as the Prime Minister of Singapore, how do you think this country, which is a small island state with very limited resources can not only survive, but also thrive?
[翻译: 总理先生，让我们聊回到新加坡。外国人总会说起新加坡独特的发展模式，我知道您更愿意称之为一种方式。我还记得大约 20 年前，当我和父母第一次来新加坡时，他们告诉我一定要乖乖的，因为新加坡非常严格。他们还强调，不要吃口香糖，否则会受到惩罚。您可能觉得我说的经历很好笑，但新加坡确实有其非常独特的治理方式，体现在其法律和秩序、经济增长和高效的政府等方面。您作为总理，您认为新加坡作为一个资源有限的岛国，如何做到不仅生存下去，而且实现了繁荣和发展？]
PM Lee: First, we must know that we are a small country surrounded by much bigger countries and will always be. We are small in geographical area, we are small in population – we reclaim land from the sea and so the area gets a little bit bigger, our population grows a little bit every year, not quite enough from our own babies, but partly from immigration – but even then, we will still be small.
Therefore, if we are conscious of that, we have to make up for that. Make up for that by working more cohesively, being more creative, making the most of our people, running an efficient system – clean, trusted and respected – and doing sensible things so that we can create value not just for ourselves to make a living, but for other people to say, “yes, Singapore has something to add, let’s work with Singapore, and take advantage of this.” That way we make ourselves useful to others, and therefore, we make a living in the world.
Of course, we have to make friends with many countries. Because if you can have friends who make common cause with you on issues, which are important to you and to them, that helps us not just economically, but in terms of our network and our position in the world. In ASEAN, we are small, but we contribute to ASEAN deliberations. At the UN, we are one of the smallest members, but we organise the Forum of Small States. These are all little countries at the UN who otherwise will not have a chance to have their voice and concerns paid a lot of attention to, but we get together and so people pay a little bit more attention to the concerns of the small states.
Because we have been active in bringing people together, I think that helps them and helps us too. So you have to understand what is happening around the world to secure our position; within the country, we have to be able to work together and care for one another, and understand that we are Singaporeans together, so whatever arguments we may have, or differences, please remember that what we share in common is much more important.
Ms Zou: So to me it sounds like the unity within the country and also the very close ties or good relations with other parts of the world.
PM Lee: Yes, with our neighbours and with major countries, and even small countries elsewhere. If you look at where our big markets are, you are talking about China, Europe and America; but if you ask who are our friends, these are our friends, but many small countries are our friends too. We have time for them and we hope they have time for us.
Ms Zou: Talking about China-Singapore relations, the one person we have to mention is Mr Lee Kuan Yew who is the founding Prime Minister of Singapore and also an old friend of the Chinese people. In an exclusive interview with CCTV back in 2005, he said that China’s growth and its rise will bring strong impetus to Southeast Asia. He also said, “Singapore will perform the role of base to understand Southeast Asia.” So now about 20 years later, as his son and also the Prime Minister of Singapore, how do you understand his words? What vision do you have for the future of your country?
PM Lee: There is no doubt that China’s rise has been an enormous benefit to Southeast Asia. Nearly every country in Southeast Asia has China as its biggest trading partner. Singapore does too. That is a tremendous economic opportunity. I think Singapore pays disproportionate attention to this, and in the early years, we were perhaps moving faster than the others in developing the economic relationship, but as the other countries have established their links and as China has progressively expanded its network, now China has its network with all the countries in Southeast Asia in its own right. You deal directly with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and all of the countries.
So what is our role? I think for your companies, there is a value in working with Singapore and through Singapore, managing their presence in Southeast Asia, as I explained just now with the control tower functions and headquarters activities; the financial activities through Singapore are significant. Also, I think, Singapore, we articulate more explicitly what is at stake in developing the relationship with China in maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in this part of the world. We hope that by speaking up that way, we can exercise some modest influence to encourage countries to think about the opportunities and risks in the international scene, and work together to take advantage of one and avoid the other.
Ms Zou: What vision do you have for the future of your country as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s son and also the Prime Minister of Singapore?
PM Lee: We have built a country which has increasingly had a sense of nationhood and identity. It has prospered now for more than one generation, and what we would like to see is that it can continue to evolve and develop into the future, keeping up with the times, but at the same time maintaining the values, instincts and culture, which have made us unique and successful. So that is quite hard, you have to keep up with what is happening, but at the same time, you must not forget what made this place tick.
Sometimes when you have something new happen in the world, you think, “wow, the world has completely changed”, and then you think maybe we can forget about all the old issues and concerns which we had, which we took account of as we came here, and that may or may not be true. So how to remember that some things do not change – that we are still small, we are still vulnerable, we still have to work hard, we still need to make friends and we still need to stay together as one Singapore? That is something which we work at. We work at it in our schools, with our national servicemen when they serve in the army or in the security forces or civil defence forces, but it is something which you have to keep on conveying from generation to generation. If we can do that, then Singapore will be successful.
Ms Zou: Singapore has also played a very unique part in regional and international affairs. Now the world is faced with so many unprecedented challenges and changes, so what role do you think Singapore could play in the current global system? Also, Singapore has supported and participated in the Global Development Initiative which is proposed by China. In which way do you think GDI could help in addressing the ongoing global challenges?
PM Lee: Well, as a small country, we do not determine world affairs. We have to take the world as it is, but we speak up, and we make common cause with other countries and therefore hopefully, our voice is heard.
We stand up for a rules-based international system. We stand up for fundamental principles of the UN Charter. When Ukraine was invaded, we had to say very clearly that this was against the UN Charter, this was a violation of territorial integrity of a country, and we opposed it. In fact, we imposed some selective targeted sanctions on Russia.
It is not that we are hostile to Russia, or are Russia’s enemy, but we cannot stand for such conduct. That has always been our position – whether, on one occasion, when the Americans invaded Grenada, we took such a view at the UN, and on other occasions, we have done that too, consistently.
These are fundamental principles which we have to stand up for, and we have to speak up. I think, speaking up for an international order, which enables countries big and small, to compete peacefully and coexist together. I think that is very important. Because if you do not speak up, and one day something happens to you, who is going to speak up for you?
So we have to speak up for the international order, we have to work with other countries. And we make friends with countries, big and small. We go on principles rather than sides, so we have to follow the principle and be consistent and stand by it.
I think that has served us well. We are friends with China, we are also friends with Europe, we are also friends with America. And we hope to remain that, whatever the state of the world.
Ms Zou: What about Global Development Initiative, GDI? How do you think that helps?
PM Lee: We are a member of the Friends of GDI group. We think that the objectives of the GDI, which are consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN, are good ones. We think that they can be implemented in a way which is pragmatic, which is inclusive, which is open, so we are in support of this, just as we are in support of other initiatives and other groupings. They do not always include everybody, but if they can help to promote development and cooperation, it is worth pursuing.
Ms Zou: Mr Prime Minister, let us talk a little bit about yourself. I heard that you have great passion for mathematics. For instance, when people like me take a vacation, we relax and we have fun, right? But I heard when you take a vacation, you will spend some of your vacation time to look into unsolved mathematical problems, and that is depicted by some local media as revealing the geeky side of you every now and then. Back in your days in Cambridge, some professors say they felt it was a pity for you to become a politician and not a mathematician, because you were back then a rising star in the world of math. So do you ever regret about this choice? And how do you think your mastery of mathematics has influenced your approach of governance?
PM Lee: I do not regret. I was not a rising star, I was a promising student.
Ms Zou: You are being modest.
PM Lee: No, it is a vast field. I did two undergraduate years in Mathematics, so it is just barely at the foothills. I enjoyed it, I was not bad at it, but there are many more talented and brilliant mathematicians in the world than me. I decided that I had the responsibility to come back to Singapore, be part of Singapore, and do what I could to help the country to succeed. It is a small country, it was at that time a very new country – the first few years of independence, and every bit of every person who could make a difference should make a difference. I thought I would like to do that and do my best, and I think that is the right thing to do.
It has been a very fulfilling life. I had been first in the armed forces, and then after that in Government, and I have been in Government now nearly 40 years. It is tremendously, intellectually stimulating, because you deal with such a wide range of issues. Some of them quantitative, you have to make your budgets balanced.
我过着非常充实的生活。我先在部队服役，然后在政府工作，至今我已经在政府工作了将近 40 年。这对我的思维是个极大的训练，因为要处理的问题涵盖方方面面。其中一些要量化，比如要平衡预算。]
Ms Zou: Which is what you are good at, all those numbers, right?
PM Lee: No, but then you see, it is never just numbers. The numbers have to work, but you must be able to make it work in terms which people can understand, accept and want to see. What difference does it make to somebody’s life? Why does it matter to them? Why does it matter to us? Which ones should go first? Is it more important to build more houses first? Is it more important to have less social impact from migrant workers in the country? Is it more important to grow faster, or maybe to pay more attention to social welfare issues and accept lower growth in order to have less pressure on the people?
So, these are often intangible, difficult-to-settle issues, and difficult to settle permanently. There are no permanent solutions. You cannot say, “done, proven, QED, put aside, next problem.” You cannot say, “check, done.” These are issues which will come back over and over again, year after year, in different forms. You solve it, some other issue will take its place or this will come back in a different way. China has the same situation.
Ms Zou: Same with every country.
PM Lee: You solve the problem of poverty, then you have the question of inequality, you address that. But there is never any point where you can say my job is done. And to get it done, it is not just the intellectual problem of which is the right solution, but it is also the people challenge – that you have to persuade people, you have to mobilise them, you have to get them to trust you, then you have to make things happen, and make people believe that they can do things, which they may not have believed that it was possible for them to do.
Ms Zou: How do you get your people to trust you, Mr Prime Minister? It is very tough, right?
PM Lee: It is an unending task. But after many years, having been in the public eye for many years, people know you and they have seen you. They have seen your conduct, they have heard what you have said. 听其言而观其行 – listen to what he says, watch what he does.
Ms Zou: To build the reputation gradually.
PM Lee: Look and see what happens in different situations. Are you there for them or not? Are you still reliable under pressure or not? Do you have a message and hope for them or not? And gradually, you can build up. It takes time.
Ms Zou: So for you it is not only just talk the talk, but also walk the walk?
PM Lee: Well, any leader needs to do both.
Ms Zou: Yes, Mr Prime Minister, as you mentioned, you have a very unique and broad set of life experience. You were introduced to politics at the tender age of 11 when you followed your father to many political events, you graduated top of your class and your professor back in Cambridge said you really won by a street, you are a two-time cancer survivor and you have experienced numerous ups and downs in your life. And I noticed that you wrote on your social media network, some challenges might stop us, but with persistence and by keeping an open mind, we might take a step or two closer to a solution. Is this the kind of value that always inspires you to move forward?
[翻译: 是的，总理先生，正如您所说，您拥有非常独特和丰富的人生经历。您在 11 岁的时候就开始接触政治，当时您跟随父亲参加了许多政治活动，你以全班第一名的成绩毕业，您在剑桥的教授说您在班里遥遥领先，您战胜过癌症两次，在生活中经历了无数的起起落落。我注意到您在社交媒体上写道，一些挑战可能会阻挡我们的步伐，但只要坚持不懈并保持开放的心态，我们就可能会朝解决问题迈进一两步。这是否就是时刻激励您前行的价值观？]
PM Lee: That is the point I have come to now, but it has been a journey to get here. I hope that they will keep on making me work at the problems which we have to work at.
Ms Zou: Is persistence and by keeping an open mind, something that we need to address some thorny international issues in your opinion?
PM Lee: Yes, of course, but you will need much more than that. It needs to be on all sides.
Ms Zou: Finally, last year you celebrated your 10th anniversary on social media. People love your posts, especially the photos that you took, and some even say you can moonlight as a professional photographer.
PM Lee: I will starve.
Ms Zou: So if we take this chance and I invite you to have this innovative interaction with our Chinese viewers and netizens, what would it be?
PM Lee: I once did an interactive online interview on social media, not spoken but typed. I spent one and a half hours, questions came in, and I chose the ones I wanted to answer and answered. Mostly from Singapore naturally, but there were some from overseas. I think if I did it in China, I would be overwhelmed. But maybe I might be able to pick up a sampling of the questions, and I think it would be a more challenging experience than taking a press conference after Liang Hui (两会).
Ms Zou: Why is that? Is it because of the language or?
PM Lee: No, because online, people have all sorts of questions. Some of them are very far out of the box and make you think.
Ms Zou: You said that the experience on social media is fun, surprising, instructive, and at times bewildering. Very mixed feelings, huh?
PM Lee: Yes. Because the idea is to reach out to a new generation. A group which is not likely to be reached by the standard means. If you make a speech, they are not there listening to you. If you put it on television, quite a number will see, but not everybody will watch. If it is a long or complicated message, that is even harder to get across.
So with social media, you get to reach a different crowd and you have to package your message in a different way to reach them. It is not possible to have a long exposition – 500 to 1,000 words, in depth analysis – it is not possible. But one snippet here, one nugget there, a picture which tells a story, you hope to get some of the message across, to get them to understand, and we hope to get them on my side. Sometimes you can do that, sometimes the message may be just not suitable for this medium, so we have to accept that, but it is still something good to do.
因此，借助社交媒体，我可以接触到不同的人群，并且要以不同的方式包装我想说的以触达这些人群。肯定不可能发表长篇大论，500 到 1000 字的那种，不能深入分析，这是不可能的。只能这里发个小片段，那里发点想法，来一张讲故事的图片，我希望把这些信息传达出去，让他们理解，希望获得他们的支持。有时可以做到，有时信息和社交平台不匹配，我们只能接受，但这仍然是一种有益的尝试。]
Ms Zou: You are not only very passionate about mathematics, and also I think you not only believe in persistence and also by keeping an open mind. The other thing, hope sometimes is very well needed because in your National Day Rally in 2021, you quoted a song《春天里》.
PM Lee: Yes.
Ms Zou: And you even sang a little bit.
PM Lee: Yes. No, I cannot sing.
Ms Zou: I know, but you sang a little bit “春天里的百花香，啷里格啷里格啷里格啷”. But what you are really curious about is the scripts at very end, right? “不用伤，前途自有风和浪。莫彷徨，黑暗尽处有曙光”. Why did you decide to quote that specific line for that very special occasion?
PM Lee: Because we were in COVID-19, we were coming out of COVID-19, had not quite emerged from the tunnel yet, but there was in fact light in front of the tunnel. I thought that was something which I should remind Singaporeans, because you could see the light there, and yet, it was still necessary for the government to take some measures to keep things tight, and we could not relax our measures yet. We needed to encourage people to hang on, the dawn is coming.
Ms Zou: So what about now? What do you think are urgently needed at this specific timing?
PM Lee: For COVID-19?
Ms Zou: For everything.
PM Lee: We have come out of COVID-19. I mean, we are living with it now as part of what we call an endemic state, but basically, it is part of our life and life goes on. But there are new issues in the world post-COVID-19. We are not able to take a holiday after COVID-19. You have to come back and the term has started again. We work again.
Ms Zou: So you do not have vacation time to look into and solve some of the mathematics problems?
PM Lee: I do take breaks from time to time, but the mind cannot completely switch off.
Ms Zou: Mr Prime Minister, it was a great pleasure and honour talking to you. We really appreciate all the experiences, insights and also stories that you shared with us today.
PM Lee: Thank you. I enjoyed it.