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14 November 2009

Singapore’s top leader warns US against anti-free trade stance

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Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew has sounded a word of caution to the US, saying that if it keeps up its anti-free trade and anti-outsourcing position, it will decline, reported the city-state’s news broadcaster the Channel News Asia on its website.

MM Lee was addressing delegates at the Apec CEO Summit in Singapore on Friday evening. Asked if the US was a declining power in Asia, Mr Lee noted the contest today is an economic one.

He said that if the US Congress does not realise it has to get out of its protectionist mode, then America will have huge problems ahead, especially with an emerging China which has strategically forged several Free Trade Agreements with Asian economies including India and Singapore.

He said: "In the 21st century, the big countries will cancel each other out with their nuclear weapons, so they will not fight militarily. I see the Chinese understanding that, and seeing the strength in their high-quality manpower four times the size of America. They are hungry, and they are willing to change their lives.

"If it goes on like that, after eight years - assuming that President Obama goes for a second term - anti-free trade, you are out of the economic race. And if you are out of the economic race, you will lose in the long run... If they don't get the economy going, there will be a shift in Congress and maybe some in the Senate in the mid-term elections and then the penny will drop."

While the financial crisis has resulted in a shift in economic weight from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Lee said that for now, he will not judge whether America will remain the global economic powerhouse.

A lot, he said, will depend on how the US economy bounces back. If America gets it right, it will remain a predominant economy.

To illustrate China's strengths, Lee gave a personal insight into his meeting with former leader Deng Xiaoping. He said: "When I first met Deng Xiaoping in 1978 in Singapore, he said, 'I congratulate you'. I said, 'What for?' He said, 'You have made this a garden city and everybody owns their own homes'.

"And I said, 'Well, it's a small place. Whatever we can do, you can do better. We are the descendants of the lenders, peasants of South China. You have the literati, you have the top brains, you have the poise, the artists'. He did not answer me, he just looked at me and went back to his food." 


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