US -China Relations–Trump’s Strategy

December 26, 2016

US -China Relations–Trump’s Strategy

by Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd@ Reuters


Image result for Trump and China

When Donald Trump becomes US President next month, one issue above all others could force his new administration to work closely with China and underscore why he and Beijing need each other – North Korea.

A nuclear armed North Korea, developing missiles that could hit the US west coast, is clearly bad news for Washington, but also Pyongyang’s sometimes-reluctant ally Beijing, which fears one day those missiles could be aimed at them.

“There is enormous space for the two countries to cooperate on North Korea. The two must cooperate here. If they don’t, then there will be no resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue,” said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.

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“It’s no good the United States saying China has to do more. Both have common interests they need to pursue, and both can do more,” he added.

North Korea is a tricky proposition even at the best of times for China and simply easing up on UN sanctions as a way to express displeasure at Mr. Trump’s foreign policies could backfire badly for China, said one China-based Asian diplomat.

“They can’t really do that without causing themselves problems,” the diplomat added, pointing to China’s desire to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

From North Korea to Iran to a closely entwined business relationship worth $598 billion in 2015, the two countries have broad common interests and China expects Mr. Trump to understand that.

While China was angered by Mr. Trump’s call this month with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, and then casting doubt over the future of the “one China” policy under which the US recognizes Taiwan as being part of China, it was also quite restrained, said a senior Beijing-based Western diplomat.

“China’s game now is to influence him and not antagonize him,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. China believes the two countries need each other and as Mr. Trump is a businessman he understands that, the People’s Daily wrote last month.

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“The importance of the China-US relationship goes without saying and can be said to be too big to fail,” the Communist Party mouthpiece wrote in a commentary.

China also expects a transactional relationship with the deal-making Mr. Trump, especially on trade, even if for Beijing Taiwan is completely off limits for negotiation.

“Trump is a businessman. He wants a deal,” a source with ties to the Chinese leadership said, requesting anonymity. “He wants the biggest benefit at the smallest cost.”

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump threatened punitive tariffs on China and has recently repeated his criticism of Chinese trade policy, dovetailing with his Taiwan comments.

“This is provocation, but war is unlikely,” a second Chinese source with leadership ties said of Mr. Trump’s Taiwan moves.“The Chinese side will not easily yield,” the source said. “We expect tensions.”

Wang Huiyao, head of the Center for China and Globalization and a government adviser, said China should invite the United States to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

“He will pursue US interests and to do so he cannot ignore the huge benefits that come from China-US trade relations,” Mr. Wang said.

The Asian diplomat said some Chinese officials had expressed “euphoria” at Mr. Trump’s election, believing it marked the end of US dominance in the world and represented China’s chance to seize the initiative.

But Mr. Trump’s unexpected move to put the Taiwan issue center stage in relations with China had put an end to that.“They’re not as happy now,” he said.

To be sure, there are voices in China seeing opportunity in a Trump presidency.

Huo Jianguo, the former head of a trade policy body under China’s Commerce Ministry, said Mr. Trump is likely to reduce the United States’ engagement with the world, presenting an opening for China.

“Under Obama, China-US relations had already deteriorated to their worst possible level. Trump will not continue to ratchet up what were clearly ideological attempts to suppress China,” Mr. Huo said.

“China should not seek to immediately take the lead in global governance. They should first lead Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to become successful, then from here China’s global influence can take root,” Mr. Huo said, referring to a Southeast Asian-backed free trade deal China has championed.

Even the Global Times, an influential and normally stridently nationalistic tabloid, has sought to temper expectations on how China could use a Trump presidency to its advantage.

“China still cannot match the US in terms of comprehensive strength,” it said in an editorial. “It has no ability to lead the world in an overall way, plus, neither the world nor China is psychologically ready for it.

“It’s beyond imagination to think that China could replace the US to lead the world.” –Reuters

A new start for old neighbours (Malaysia-Singapore)

December 21, 2016

Sharing the cost of building HSR

Image result for Kadir Mohamed-- Fifty Years Malaysia-Singapore Relations

I READ with great interest “HSR helps move things on right track” by Mohd Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal, Chief Executive Officer of MyHSR Corporation (The Star, Dec 19), his response to the commentary “A new start for old neighbours” by Mergawati Zulfakar (The Star, Dec 16).

It is very uplifting indeed to hear about all the potential spin-off benefits of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project to be undertaken by Malaysia and Singapore.

In the first place, however, the people of Malaysia are equally keen to know the cost of implementation of the project. More precisely, people want to know which side pays for what.

The reply by the CEO of MyHSR sounds very much like laying out the arguments that since Malaysia will make all the gains that he has described, Malaysia must be ready to pay for the bulk of the cost of implementation.

I certainly hope this is not what he implied. I feel that in this matter the question of which side shall make how much profit out of the HSR project must also be taken into account in determining the formula for sharing the cost of implementation.


Author, Malaysia-Singapore: Fifty Years of Contentions, 1965-2015

A new start for old neighbours

by Mergawati

Durian diplomacy: Najib checking out the Musang King durian on display during the Malaysia Agrobazaar in Singapore in 2014 as Lee and his wife Ho Ching look on. —Bernama

Durian diplomacy: Najib checking out the Musang King durian on display during the Malaysia Agrobazaar in Singapore in 2014 as Lee and his wife Ho Ching look on. —Bernama

IT would be hard to ignore the fact that bi­­lateral ties between Malaysia and Singapore were thorny for decades.

For many years, there was mistrust among officials, ministers and leaders, especially when they tried to resolve outstanding issues including the KTM Bhd land in Singapore, sale of water from Johor and a new bridge to replace the Causeway.

The animosity was evident, so much so that during the signing of a special agreement to refer a disputed island (Batu Puteh/Pedra Branca) to an international court 13 years ago, the foreign ministers of Malaysia and Singapore got into a verbal sparring match as they tried to explain each country’s stand on exercising their rights over the rocky island.

Sure, they cracked jokes with each other during the lunch that followed, but for many who witnessed the sparring during an event that was broadcast live on RTM, it was evident relations were not well. It was undiplomatic and ugly.

  It was a roller-coaster ride for bilateral relations and an unpleasant one between countries deeply divided on issues.

Fast forward to 2016. It is ironic that today, the love for a thorny fruit has, in a way, brought ties onto a stronger and firmer footing. Durian diplomacy seems to work the magic to put ties back on track.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s “obsession” for durian is well known and during one working trip to Malaysia, one of the first things he asked about on arrival was the Musang King durian.

When he became Prime Minister in 2009, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak made it clear he wanted a bilateral relationship that is bold, imaginative and courageous.

“If we take the attitude that as members of a new generation, that both Prime Minister Lee and I are young, we’re not part of that generation, we should not be encumbered with the baggage of history,” Najib had said.

The two leaders struck a personal close relationship over the years and this has made things a lot easier to manage. On Tuesday, as the two leaders attended the seventh leaders’ retreat, history was made again by the signing of the bilateral agreement to construct the high-speed rail line between Jurong East and Bandar Malaysia.

Much has been said about the project, which was only brought to the table in 2013.

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The “marquee project” will bring the two countries closer together, improve connecti­vity, deepen people-to-people ties and catalyse further economic cooperation.

The vibes are definitely good between the leaders and it has a spiral effect on the ministers and officials, too.

Yes, gone are the days of confrontations, the language used is different and the talk now is more on cooperation. Putrajaya’s less confrontational approach in dealing with Singapore is bearing fruit.

Yet, we need to be reminded that while several issues have been resolved, including the Points of Agreement on KTM land in Singapore, resulting in joint venture projects between Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings in Singapore and Iskandar, there are still many issues on the table.

In any negotiations, despite the good vibes that are flowing across the Causeway, Malay­sia should never take Singapore for granted.

A Malaysian official was rather blunt when he said that Singapore still plays hardball when it matters.“Their DNA hasn’t changed. What they stand for hasn’t changed. What you see is never what you get,” the official added.

Over the years, Malaysian officials who have had dealings with Singapore agree on this – their counterparts will ask, “What will Singapore get?”.

“Charity is not in their vocabulary, forget about the spirit of neighbourliness,” said an official.

Back to the HSR project that is targeted to start service in 10 years: we know it will cut travel time to 90 minutes, we know it is supposed to spin economic activities along the stations and we know the project, the first of its kind in the region, is being followed closely by other countries wanting a piece of the multi-billion project.

The two leaders keep saying the HSR is a game changer but what we want to know is, exactly how are citizens going to benefit?

Firstly, the fare, already speculated to be hundreds of ringgit between Bandar Malaysia and Singapore, is an amount that only business people may be willing to pay. It may be too steep for ordinary citizens.

The service will benefit a certain population and group of people, but what about the larger population? Are there any real conversations on efforts to create jobs in the smaller towns that the train passes by?

Will the agency tasked to create economic activities have a conversation with Singapore on what sort of businesses can be set up so that the Government can spur economic growth along the corridor?

Is Singapore willing to relocate factories so that people do not have to travel all the way there for work? After all, it will help relieve congestion at the border crossings, something Singapore has always wanted.

While the Land Public Transport Commis­sion and MyHSR are dealing with their Singa­pore counterparts on the HSR, there must be parallel negotiations on the economic impact to the people living along the rail line.

“If you are not going to ask from them, Singapore will not volunteer and negotiate what Malaysia wants,” said an official. “Singapore is a small country and they know they can only go so far,” he said.

“So what do you do? They actually need us, their neighbours and we are the most immediate.They have a glossy veneer and if you don’t cut through, you don’t see the ‘naughtiness’. They look polite and professional but yet they are waiting to ‘kill you’ off.”

But is Malaysia ruthless enough and willing to take advantage of the situation? Maybe Malaysians do not have that kind of DNA but we must bear in mind that when others sense you are weak, they will go for the kill.

At the end of the day, Malaysia-Singapore ties must be really a win-win situation and not just to make one country flourish. Isn’t it better to survive together, especially in this challenging and changing global environment?

Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis

November 25, 2016


Malaysia-China Relations: A New Turn? – Analysis

Malaysia’s Najib Razak. Photo by Malaysian government, Wikipedia Commons.

Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China especially in economic relations reflects Malaysia’s foreign policy of hedging major power influence in the region and globally. While it seeks closer ties with China, it does not imply that Malaysia is shifting away from the US.

By Johan Saravanamuttu and David Han Guo Xiong*

Since Najib Razak assumed the premiership of Malaysia in 2009 China has featured significantly in his foreign policy. It was Najib’s father Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, who was the first leader in Southeast Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1974.

That said, Malaysia’s foreign policy has been one of hedging against major powers in the region and globally. While Malaysia has shown great awareness of China’s rise and importance in the Asia Pacific region, it remains highly cognisant of the political and economic role of the United States in the region.

Malaysia’s Perceptible Tilt Towards China

Thus, Malaysia is among the 12 countries that have signed the US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement in Auckland, New Zealand, on 5 February 2016. The TPP is interpreted by some observers to be a crucial pillar of US rebalancing in the Asia Pacific to check China’s rising political and economic influence.

However, it is uncertain whether the US would commit to the TPP after the Obama administration. Thus, seemingly as a hedge to the signing of the TPP, the Malaysian parliament approved on 20 October participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — thought to be China’s brainchild — just prior to the Malaysian premier’s seventh state visit to China this week.

Recent developments in Malaysia demonstrate a perceptible tilt towards China, particularly in economic relations. When President Xi Jinping unveiled China’s 21st Century Maritime Silk Road or “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) strategy some three years ago, Malaysia welcomed the initiative and has remained very enthusiastic about it.

On 3 September 2016, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Liow Tiong Lai (concurrently President of the political party Malaysian Chinese Association, MCA) extolled the virtues of OBOR in a Malaysia-China Business Dialogue event in Kuala Lumpur. Liow suggested that Malaysia could be “China’s gateway to ASEAN” and a crucial link to the 65 OBOR countries across Asia, Europe and Africa.

Impact of New Posture

This new Malaysian posture has come together with concrete developments in Malaysia-China relations. Malaysia is currently China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN with total trade of some US$100 billion expecting to reach $160 billion by 2017. China has also recently become the largest direct foreign investor in Malaysia, overtaking Singapore, Japan, Netherlands and the US, through buying assets in Malaysia’s troubled 1MDB.

These multi-billion assets bought from the Malaysian national fund include Edra Global Energy sold to China General Nuclear Power Corp for $2.3billion and a 60 percent stake in Bandar Malaysia, 1MDB’s flagship 197-hectare property site in Kuala Lumpur, at a price tag of $1.7 billion to China Railway Construction Corp. The China railway corporation is also thought to be in pole position to undertake the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed railway worth some $16.6 billion.

More interestingly, in keeping with its OBOR policy, China has been deeply involved in the rebuilding and refurbishing of sea ports in Malaysia. According to Transport Minister Liow, Malaysia’s has signed a “port alliance” with China linking six of Malaysia’s ports to 11 of China’s. Currently, China is helping Malaysia to rebuild and expand port services at Klang, Malacca and Carey Island in the Straits of Malacca and Kuantan on the South China Sea. Some 70 to 80 percent of the ships passing through the Straits of Malacca are said to originate from China.

Kuantan on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula would be of great importance to Chinese maritime trade as well. Liow said his ministry is therefore encouraging China to participate in port construction across 120 kilometers of the Malacca Straits. According to Liow, the port alliance with China would help develop shipping, logistics and other related industries to augment the $1 trillion worth of OBOR trade.

Ramifications for Malaysia

There are three ramifications of Malaysia’s embrace of OBOR. Firstly, OBOR, which is partly funded by the AIIB, would help China to further expand its prominence in Southeast Asia. It is expected that through the OBOR, Malaysia would be a key node for China to access the ASEAN market. China’s increased economic prominence through OBOR and the AIIB could improve China’s image among ASEAN countries as a major player in boosting the economies of Southeast Asia.

The strengthening of economic ties between ASEAN and China would obviate potential conflict, and enhance the benefit for ASEAN and China to work closely together economically.

Secondly, Malaysia’s perceptible tilt towards China in the OBOR venture could be a nudge to the US to maintain its current commitment to Southeast Asia. If the US, under its new President, reneges on its commitment to TPP, this would be a setback for Malaysia as the TPP has the potential to enhance Malaysia-US economic ties.

Thus, Malaysia’s favourable tilt towards China and OBOR could help to cushion some of the negative fallout of such a scenario. It could also be a signal to the next US President that America risks losing the support of its friends to China if the US does not continue its economic rebalancing role in Asia.

Thirdly, domestically, strengthening economic growth would be advantageous to Najib’s administration. Due to domestic political challenges having a strong economic performance would enhance the legitimacy of Najib’s government. The economic benefits of OBOR would play a vital role in buttressing Najib’s regime.

Najib’s recent visit to China  will improve bilateral ties significantly with OBOR featuring prominently in this development. This does not however imply that Malaysia is coming under China’s sway while shifting away from the US.

Drawing closer towards China economically is a pragmatic move by the Malaysian government to expand its economic space and boost economic growth. Provided the US continues its commitments to Southeast Asia Malaysia will also seek to build up ties with the US for regional peace and development.

*Johan Saravanamuttu, Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, was previously professor of political science at Science University of Malaysia (USM). David Han is a Research Analyst with the Malaysia Programme at RSIS.

Foreign Policy: Malaysia’s Najibian tilt towards China

November 4, 2016

Foreign Policy:  Malaysia’s Najibian tilt towards China

by Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

“…while foreign policy is not usually a matter that excites the public, when so much of our infrastructure and everyday goods and services depend on the trade relations enabled by it, surely we deserve a clearer insight into the motives and long-term implications of significant changes in direction.” –Tunku Zain

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China answered his prayers for Tolong Gua

I was glad China dominated the world the other day. Although the Americans covered a sizeable chunk of the planet, a combination of superior espionage, massive cultural output and, in the end, better technology and cunning diplomacy meant that China edged ahead.

I was playing as China in Civilisation VI, the latest instalment in a computer game series that began in 1991 in which the player chooses a leader from a civilisation from actual world history, starts with a mere villager and, by investing in expansion, military might, science, culture, trade and so on, advances through the ages.

Victory can be achieved in a number of ways depending on playing style and unique characteristics of the civilisation (a powerful early gunpowder unit and the Great Wall in the case of China). Regardless of which leader you choose, there are always compromises to make, some of which literally have impacts that can last hundreds of years.

In real world, the apparent dominance of China in recent times has produced a vast amount of geopolitical analyses and speculation about what the world will look like in decades to come.

Chinese investment and migration to Africa have led it being termed “China’s Second Continent”, and China’s relationship with ASEAN has always been a feature of regional forums ever since I started attending them a decade ago.

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China lays the Red Carpet for Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak

This has taken the form of concerns about China’s influence in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam (CLMV), its activities in the South China Sea, and more recently trade issues particularly with the emergence of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) juxtaposed with China’s own Maritime Silk Road initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

But the last two weeks have seen significant bilateral shifts between China and two ASEAN countries, at the expense of the United States. Speaking in Beijing on October 20, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced his “separation from the United States,” as China and the Philippines signed an estimated US$ 24 billion (RM100 billion) in funding and investment pledges and agreed to resume a dialogue on their dispute over the South China Sea. This after an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled overwhelmingly in the Philippines’ favour in July — quite a shift from previous assertions about the West Philippine Sea.

In the last few days Malaysia’s relationship with China has also seen a major upgrade: Perhaps the most significant since Tun Razak established diplomatic relations in 1974. We will buy at least four littoral ships (vessels typically used for coastal defence and rescue operations) at approximately RM300 million each, while an agreement has been signed setting the stage for China to build and finance the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) project.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the four LMS ships purchased from China would be built by a joint venture between Boustead Naval Shipyard and China Shipbuilding & Offshore International. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

Defence Minister Dato’ Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the four LMS ships purchased from China would be built by a joint venture between Boustead Naval Shipyard and China Shipbuilding & Offshore International. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

A list of 14 further agreements and memoranda of understanding between Malaysian and Chinese companies worth RM144 billion were also signed.

Naturally there will be much scrutiny on the beneficiaries and the extent of public funds that will be used. But the underlying reasons for our major geopolitical shift have already been a cause of much speculation, with suggestions that it is not just about trade and investment.

The editorial written by the Prime Minister in the China Daily also gave a hint: “It is not (for former colonial powers) to lecture countries they once exploited on how to conduct their own internal affairs today.” Everyone would agree with that, just as everyone should understand that illegal activity committed in another country can trigger lawsuits in that country’s justice system, or that de facto transfers of sovereignty to other countries can occur in many ways.

Indeed, “threats to our sovereignty” have often been played up to mobilise criticism of policies in the past, and one wonders whether usually vocal ethno -nationalists will approve of all these deals, especially given some of their confrontational views on local inter – ethnic dynamics too.

After independence, Malaya’s stance on China was transparent and ideological. The Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and External Affairs Minister Tun Dr Ismail were both utterly anti-communist — though they did have a spat when the former stated that Malaya would eventually have to recognise the People’s Republic of China. Of course, China itself has changed tremendously and the ideological backdrop of the Cold War no longer exists.

Still, while foreign policy is not usually a matter that excites the public, when so much of our infrastructure and everyday goods and services depend on the trade relations enabled by it, surely we deserve a clearer insight into the motives and long-term implications of significant changes in direction.

For in the real world, this geopolitical game won’t be played by the same person forever.

* Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin is founding president of Ideas.


Malaysia on the right track? No

August 4, 2016bee

Malaysia on the right track? No, it has been derailed due to Corruption and Inept and hen-packed leadership

by  Soo Wern Jun

(received by e-mail)

Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak said Malaysia is on the right track towards becoming a developed nation. He was speaking at a dinner function at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta yesterday.

He cited government’s policies and measures, such as fuel subsidy reduction and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which he said, spurred progress to benefit the people.

Comparisons were drawn with Indonesia that has a population of 261.21 million while Malaysia has 30.84 million.  He said Indonesian President Joko Widodo praised the Malaysian government’s measures and remarked that the challenges faced by Indonesia were greater, even though its policies were similar to Malaysia’s.

Does Najib realise that Indonesia has a population eight times bigger than Malaysia? Should Malaysia strive to be better, should it not compare itself with a developed nation instead?

Najib’s pedestrian solutions and quick fixes

Najib and Jokowi think that reducing fuel subsidy and implementing GST would help the countries achieve developed nation status. This could also be the very reason to why both nations are still struggling with high poverty levels.

According to the World Bank, Indonesia’s poverty rate may have declined by one per cent annually from 2007 to 2011, but has fallen by an average of only 0.3 percentage points per year since 2012.

“Out of a population of 252 million (as of May 2016), 28.6 million Indonesians still live below the poverty line and approximately 40% of all people remain clustered around the national poverty line set at 330,776 rupiah per person per month ($22.60) or RM89.50,” stated the World Bank.

While Malaysia tends to boast about its success in reducing poverty rates, why the high number of soup kitchens and non-government organisations setting up food banks to help feed those who are living below poverty line? As indicated by the World Bank, Malaysia may have a poverty of less than one per cent, but pockets of poverty remain and income inequality is high relative to other developed countries.

This is only one indication that Malaysia is far from achieving a developed nation status as it struggles to achieve income equality and become a high-income earning nation.

Education is another reason to why the country is far from achieving a developed nation. The fact that parents continue to send their children abroad to further their studies proves that the country still does not have a stable and good education system.

As highlighted by the World Bank, although Malaysia performs well in access to education, the quality of education remains low and appears to be declining rapidly by design.

“In the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), Malaysian students only outperformed Indonesian peers but lagged even lower income countries like Vietnam by a wide margin.

“Malaysian education system is most centralised and quality of teachers reportedly low with the report concluding that ‘there is an urgent need to transform Malaysia’s education system so that it produces quality graduates required by a high-income economy’,” the World Bank stated.

Critics also say too much emphasis on wealth may not be helpful in achieving the status of a developed country – as is proven with the current state of the country.

According to a research by the GlobalNxt University, achieving the income target may not be sufficient to be classified as a developed country. Citing Singapore as an example, it says the island state has exceeded that benchmark some time ago with current per capita income of staggering US$47,210 (RM191,984.23), but in many respects is still not a developed country.

Singapore is listed as a high-income economy as the country is small and per capita income may not truly reflect its real development.

Also, the process of development involves transformation of the entire society and the citizens of a developed country are expected to be highly sophisticated and generous.

Malaysians are still struggling with racial and religion problems which are still deeply influenced by the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 to 1990.

While the NEP had a goal to reduce poverty and to increase the participation of Malay community in overall economic activities, it has deepened the problems of racism and had widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

Malaysians are still grappling with racial and religious problems which are still deeply influenced by the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1970 to 1990.

While the NEP had a goal to reduce poverty and to increase the participation of Malay community in overall economic activities, it has deepened the problems of racism and cronyism and had widened the gap between the rich and the poor in particular among the Malays.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) acknowledged Malaysia’s commitment and clear policy to drive science, technology and innovation – a key that placed the country on the right track to achieve developed-nation status.

Are the development of science, technology and innovation seen spread equally nationwide?

The country’s Internet speed is still far lacking behind Indonesia’s, while there are far too many undeveloped areas in the country that have yet to see Internet connectivity. Is Malaysia really on a right track towards becoming a developed country?


Barack Obama-Lee Hsien Loong Press Conference-Of Substance, Style and Eloquence

August 3, 2016

President Barack Obama-Singapore Premier Lee Hsien Loong Press Conference at The White House–Of  Substance, Style and Eloquence

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Hello, everyone.  Please have a seat.  Once again, I’m honored to welcome my good friend, Prime Minister Lee, and his delegation back to the White House.  I have been fortunate to work with the Prime Minister throughout my presidency and I always value his insight, his counsel, and his outstanding partnership.

Let me say that our thoughts today are also with former President Nathan, and we join the people of Singapore in praying for his full and speedy recovery.

As President, I’ve rebalanced American foreign policy so that we’re playing a larger and long-term role in the Asia Pacific — a region that is critical to our security and our prosperity.  And as I said this morning, Singapore has played a vital role in that rebalance.  With Singapore’s support, the United States is engaging more deeply than ever across the region — including through ASEAN and the East Asia Summit.  Given its strategic location, Singapore is an anchor for the U.S. presence in the region, which is the foundation of stability and peace.

And, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for the invaluable contributions that Singapore has made to a central pillar of our foreign policy.

Today, we agreed to continue building on this progress.  The U.S. and Singapore are united in our commitment to advancing regional security and stability.  Our defense relationship remains one of the closest in Southeast Asia, with hundreds of American ships and aircraft rotating through Singapore each year.  As I told the Prime Minister, we welcome Singapore’s interest in purchasing the F-35 aircraft, and we’ll also explore the possibility of Singaporean troops training on Guam.

At the same time, we’ll continue working to strengthen regional institutions like ASEAN, in line with the principles we agreed to at Sunnylands earlier this year.  And we reaffirmed our shared commitment to building a regional order where all nations play by the same rules and disputes are resolved peacefully — including in the South China Sea.

We agreed to do more to encourage economic growth and innovation among our economies.  With a little over a decade, trade between our two countries has grown more than 50 percent.  We’re collaborating to jump start greater digital innovation, including research and development into technology and data to prove and promote Smart Cities concepts that can improve the daily lives of our citizens.  We’ll do more to connect our vibrant start-up communities so that an engineer in Singapore can collaborate more easily with an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley or Austin, Texas.

With respect to trade, this is an issue that stirs great passion.  Globalization means that economies around the world are more integrated than ever, and jobs and capital move across borders.  Automation means that goods and products can be produced with fewer workers.  And these forces of globalization and technology have not always benefited everybody evenly.  There are fears and anxieties that people may be left behind.  And these anxieties are legitimate.  They can’t be ignored.  They have to be taken seriously.  As I’ve said before, it means that we have to do everything we can to make sure that everybody shares in prosperity, that we have strong rules to protect workers, to promote high wages, to make sure that our citizens are getting the education and the training that they need.

But the answer cannot be to back away from trade and the global economy.  It is here to stay.  It’s not possible to cut ourselves off given how integrated our economies are.  And trying to pull up a drawbridge on trade would only hurt us and hurt our workers.  So the answer is to make sure that globalization and trade is working for us, not against us.

And that’s why, today, we are reaffirming our commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  I’m a strong supporter of TPP because it will reduce tariffs — taxes, basically — on American goods, from cars to crops, and make it easier for Americans to export into the fastest-growing markets of the world.  TPP levels the playing field for our workers and helps to ensure countries abide by strong labor and environmental rules.

So this is an opportunity to grow our economies and write the rules for trade in the 21st century in a way that’s equitable.  It gives us a chance to advance American leadership, reduce economic inequality, and support good-paying jobs — all while strengthening critical strategic relationships in a vital region.

So I think not only is TPP important, but the Prime Minister and I agreed that we need to extend our partnership beyond just regional efforts.  We have work to do on a global scale.  Singapore was the first country in Southeast Asia to join the global coalition to destroy ISIL, and we’re grateful that Singapore is making new contributions to this effort by providing valuable medical support to coalition forces.

As two nations on the forefront of digital innovation, we recognize the growing threats of cyberattacks, and we’re going to continue to work to strengthen cybersecurity and to promote peaceful norms on how nations should operate in cyberspace.

Singapore, the Garden City, helped to achieve the Paris climate agreement last year.  And, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your commitment to work towards joining the Paris agreement this year.  We’re also working close with the international community to reduce harmful aviation emissions and phase down HFCs.  And our two countries will continue to work to advance global health security so that the world is better prepared to address the threat of pandemics.

Last point.  We agreed to keep promoting people-to-people ties between our two countries.  We’re expanding our Trusted Travelers program to make it easier for Americans and Singaporeans to visit each other and do business together.  I welcome Singapore’s announcement of a new exchange program, which will include scholarships for students of our two countries.  And through our Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, we’re going to keep empowering young people in Singapore and across the region to become the leaders of tomorrow in their own communities in business and in civil society.

I’ll note that I had a chance to meet one of those young Singaporean leaders at a YSEALI summit in Kuala Lumpur last year, a remarkable young woman named Carrie Tan, who is helping underprivileged women become financially self-sufficient.  When Carrie talked about coming together with young people from across Southeast Asia, she said, “We bonded in our common endeavor to seek to understand and learn from one another in pursuit of our aspirations to a better world.”

Young people like Carrie give me hope.  And, Prime Minister Lee, based on our work together, I am confident that Singapore and the United States will continue to advance our shared aspirations for a better world for many years to come.

With that, let me turn it over to you, Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:  Well, thank you, President Obama.

President Obama, distinguished guests, I am very happy to be here on an official visit for the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.  I’d like to thank President Obama for his gracious hospitality and for his attention to our bilateral relations, as well as to the wider Asia Pacific, and specifically also for his good wishes on the condition of our former president, Mr. S.R. Nathan.

The President and I had a substantive conversation on a wide range of issues.  We affirmed our strong multifaceted and longstanding partnership.  Our strong economic ties are underpinned by the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.  Singapore is America’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, where the U.S. is Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor.  And many American companies run their regional headquarters in Singapore, and there are many Singapore companies also which are in America.  And the relationship deepens year by year.

In the defense area, we have robust cooperation under the ambit of a MOU in 1990, and the Strategic Framework Agreement, which we concluded in 2005.

Last year, we concluded the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which expands cooperation into new areas, like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber defense, and counterterrorism.

We are also deepening security cooperation between our agencies in areas like counterterrorism, cybercrime, corruption, transportation security, and illicit trade enforcement, and expanding into new areas like cybersecurity, where our agencies are signing an MOU to work together to protect national security and our economic interests against cyberattacks.

We also share an interest in Smart Cities, so we’ve discussed how cities can use technology to tackle problems from health care to transportation to delivery of public services.  And there’s a lot of interest from companies on both sides.

Underpinning the ties between the two countries are the friendships and the relationships between our peoples.  Thousands of American students are studying and working in Singapore.  Thousands of Singaporeans are studying and working in America.  And last Sunday, I hosted a National Day reception for Singaporeans in our embassy here, and 600 people showed up.  It’s fitting to mark this special occasion of our 50th anniversary that we are launching a scholarship for Singaporeans and Americans to enable undergraduates to do some exchanges in each other’s country and grow our young people closer together, and to get to know each other’s societies, cultures, strengths, and opportunities to cooperate together.

We’ve recently implemented a Trusted Traveler program that will also facilitate travel by Singaporeans to the U.S.

The President and I also discussed the TPP.  And just now you heard the President give an eloquent explanation of why it is important to America and also to Asia.  It’s an integral component of America’s rebalance to Asia.  Apart from the economic benefits — trade, market access, standard setting — it’s also vital from a strategic point of view and a strong signal of the U.S. commitment to continue its deep engagement in the region.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of the President and his team to push for the TPP, which grew from a small FTA — which Singapore had started together with Chile, Brunei and New Zealand, the P4 Group — and now the TPP will be a free trade agreement encompassing 40 percent of the world’s population and one-third of the world’s GDP.  We are near the finish line, and we hope that the countries — particularly the U.S. — will be able to ratify the TPP as soon as possible.

Finally, the President and I discussed our partnership in tackling global challenges, like counter-terrorism.  It’s a problem for all countries.  Every day in the newspapers you read of new attacks somewhere — America, Europe, the Middle East, closer to home in Indonesia and Malaysia.  We, in Southeast Asia, are very concerned about this because the terrorists are active in many countries in the region.  Several hundred, perhaps a thousand, from Southeast Asia are in the Middle East fighting ISIS.  And we have witnessed attacks in both Indonesia and Malaysia that were mounted by ISIS followers under orders from ISIS operatives in the Middle East to launch attacks in their home countries.

So the efforts to counter ISIL, or ISIS, are crucial.  And that’s why Singapore is a member of the coalition.  And we are making a modest contribution to the effort, and we’re going to be sending a medical team to Iraq.  We have already been participating with air-to-air refueling, image interpretation, and in other ways.  And now we are going to send a medical team into Iraq.

It is also important to fundamentally address a root source of violent extremism in order to counter the underlying ideology of ISIL, as well as to address the issues of extremist and exclusive views being propagated by ISIL.

So these are major issues which we have discussed amongst our two countries, and we look forward to working together and taking our relationship even further forward.


First question is Margaret Brennan.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Given the Republican nominee’s recent comments about the Khan family and his statement that, if President, he would consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, does it make you question his fitness to be President?

And secondly, sir, on Libya.  You’ve said in the past that the worst mistake of your presidency may have been your failure to plan for the aftermath of that 2011 NATO intervention in Libya.  Do you see your new decision to bomb ISIS there as a direct result of that?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Yes, I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as President.  I said so last week, and he keeps on proving it.  The notion that he would attack a Gold Star family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country, the fact that he doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, means that he’s woefully unprepared to do this job.

And this is not just my opinion.  I think what’s been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans, including the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, and prominent Republicans like John McCain.  And the question I think that they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?  What does this say about your party that this is your standard bearer?  This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe.  This is daily, and weekly, where they are distancing themselves from statements he’s making.  There has to be a point in which you say, this is not somebody I can support for President of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.

And the fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.  I don’t doubt their sincerity.  I don’t doubt that they were outraged about some of the statements that Mr. Trump and his supporters made about the Khan family.  But there has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world.

Because a lot of people depend on the White House getting stuff right, and this is different than just having policy disagreements.  I recognize that they all profoundly disagree with myself or Hillary Clinton on tax policy or on certain elements of foreign policy.  But there have been Republican Presidents with whom I disagreed with, but I didn’t have a doubt that they could function as President.  I think I was right, and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn’t do the job.  And had they won, I would have been disappointed, but I would have said to all Americans they are — this is our President, and I know they’re going to abide by certain norms and rules and common sense, will observe basic decency, will have enough knowledge about economic policy and foreign policy and our constitutional traditions and rule of law that our government will work, and then we’ll compete four years from now to try to win an election.

But that’s not the situation here.  And that’s not just my opinion; that is the opinion of many prominent Republicans.  There has to come a point at which you say, enough.  And the alternative is that the entire party, the Republican Party, effectively endorses and validates the positions that are being articulated by Mr. Trump.  And as I said in my speech last week, I don’t think that actually represents the views of a whole lot of Republicans out there.

With respect to Libya, I have said on several occasions that we did the right thing in preventing what could have been a massacre, a blood bath in Libya.  And we did so as part of an international coalition and under U.N. mandate.  But I think that all of us, collectively, were not sufficiently attentive to what had to happen the day after, and the day after, and the day after that, in order to ensure that there were strong structures in place to assure basic security and peace inside of Libya.

The good news is, is that we now have the beginnings of a government in the Government of National Accord.  They are serious about trying to bring all the factions together to start creating a basic security structure to begin to monitor Libya’s borders and to cooperate internationally to deal with issues like ISIL penetration on their territory.  And at the request of that government, after they had already made significant progress against ISIL and had essentially pushed ISIL into a very confined area in and around Sirte, it is in America’s national security interest in our fight against ISIL to make sure that they’re able to finish the job.  And so we’re working in partnership with them to assure that ISIL does not get a stronghold in Libya, even as Libya begins what is going to be a long process to establish a functioning government and security system there.

So the good news is that they recognize this terrorist organization in their midst is contrary to their national interests as well as the world’s.  And we’re hopeful that having completed this process of driving ISIL out, they will then be in a position to start bringing the parties together inside that country.  And not only us, but the Europeans and other countries around the world have a great interest in seeing stability in Libya, because that — the absence of stability has helped to fuel some of the challenges that we’ve seen in terms of the migration crisis in Europe and some of the humanitarian tragedies that we’ve seen in the open seas between Libya and Europe.

Q:   Thank you, PM Lee and President Obama.  First question is for Prime Minister Lee.  You’ve spoken about the continuation of the U.S. rebalance being a significant part of peace and stability in Asia.  How do you envision this continuation proceeding in the next 50 years, and what role do you see Singapore playing in this context?  What are some of the hot-button issues that we’re likely to face as the U.S. hopefully continues its rebalance?

Second question.  You’ve mentioned the strong bipartisan links that Singapore has had with nine different U.S. Presidents from both sides of the political divide, a very strong record there.  How would we address a U.S. leader which adopts the stance that it’s more closed off, more anti-globalization, for example, if we see that in November?

President Obama, I have a question about the military collaboration which has been a cornerstone of the relationship between Singapore and the U.S., especially coming on the heels of the latest announcement of the medical team to the global coalition against ISIS.  With the rising threat of terror in Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, the potential for military confrontation in the South China Sea, how do you see Singapore featuring in U.S. plans to address this going forward?

And last question.  “Four more years” is a phrase that I think you’ve been hearing a little bit in the past few weeks and months.  And while that’s not possible — (laughter) — if it were, how would you continue developing relationships with Singapore?  What would be your key focus going forward, maybe the next 50 years, as well?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:  Well, 50 years is a very long time.  Fifty years ago — 50 years ago, nobody imagined what the world would be like today or what Singapore would be like today, and that we would have such a deep and broad relationship and so many things to do together.

We would like to build on this for the next 50 years.  It depends on how each of our countries does in Singapore, whether they’re able to remain stable, prosperous, open, successful; in America, whether you remain one of the dynamic, vibrant, leading economies in the world — in a world in which there are other powers, other centers of creativity and technology and science and progress, but yet it’s a unique participant with a history of contributing to the world not just for your own interest but because you believe that the world should be a better place for all countries.

And if America can do that, and if Singapore can maintain our success, then I think there are many opportunities for us to make common cause together.  And then, the rebalancing, which the President has enunciated and executed, will sustain and endure for many years to come.  It will be a very different world.  The countries will grow; other countries will slow down.  Demographics will have a big factor to come.  I mean, if we look at Japan, their population has been shrinking and they will have to do something, somehow, to turn it around.  Otherwise 50 more years of population shrinking and you have a very small country left in terms of economy, in terms of influence internationally.

Singapore, too, has demographic issues.  America has a demographic change — the population is not shrinking, but the composition is changing.  And in this situation, we have to adjust to a new world, maintaining our position and our ability to compete, and yet knowing that it’s not going to be the same as it was in 1946 when America was about half the world’s GDP — or one-quarter of the world’s GDP.

So that’s the crucial factor over the next 50 years.  As for what we do over bipartisan links, if there’s a U.S. leader who is more closed off and wants to turn inward, I don’t think this is the right forum or indeed there is any right forum for me to talk about U.S. politics in public at this moment.  We will work with whoever is the U.S. administration, whichever party.  We’ve worked with five Republican and four Democratic administrations.  And our experience of American elections, presidential elections, has been that many pressures build up during the election campaign.  And after the elections, in a calmer, cooler atmosphere, positions are re-thought, strategies are nuanced, and a certain balance is kept in the direction of the ship of state.  It doesn’t turn completely upside down.

The Americans take pride in having a system with checks and balances so that it is not so easy to do things, but it is not so easy to completely mess things up.  (Laughter.)  And we admire that and sometimes we depend upon that.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  He’s absolutely right.  (Laughter.)  The wisdom of our Founders.

With respect to military cooperation, obviously Singapore is a small country, but as I’ve said before, it punches above its weight.  Because so much of our work in the Asia Pacific region is not a matter of active conflict, but rather creating an architecture, a framework of rules and norms that keeps the peace and that has underwritten security for the region and for us for many years now.  And Singapore is so often the adult in the room, the level head, that can help us work with a wide range of countries around certain issues, help defuse tensions.  In many ways, the diplomatic work and collaboration that we do with Singapore is as critical, if not more critical, than the work militarily.

But what is also true is the nature of threats today, when you think of cyber threats or our concern about enforcing sanctions against North Korea to ensure nonproliferation of nuclear materials, or being able to counter-message ISIL in a place like Southeast Asia, and ensure information-sharing with countries where there may be a budding terrorist threat — those are all issues of military finesse and intelligence and precision, and those are areas where Singapore excels.

So in addition to being a very important logistical hub and center for our operations, the partnership that we’re able to maintain helps us to work with a whole range of other countries much more effectively than we would if Singapore weren’t there and we were having to just try to gather up all these countries individually.  And that’s where ASEAN and the East Asia Summit I think has also been very important, because it is institutionalizing many of these practices in ways that hopefully avoids conflict in the first place, which would be in everybody’s interest.

As far as where the relationship goes, I think the Prime Minister is absolutely right — 50 years from now, it’s very hard to anticipate where we’re going, but there are certain trends that I think are inevitable.  The Asia Pacific region will continue to grow and it will continue to account for a larger share of the world’s economy.  There are going to be countries in the Southeast Asian region that look to follow the path of Singapore into a mature, advanced economy.  It is going to be a big market.  And the United States is still going to have a massive interest in maintaining itself as a Asia Pacific power and in maintaining strong bonds of trade and commerce, and scientific exchange and educational exchange.

And given the close strategic interests, but maybe even more importantly, the close people-to-people ties between America and Singapore, I think that we can anticipate that that will be just as strong 50 years from now as it is today.

Singapore has to take into account not just American interests.  China is a big neighbor and there are strong commercial ties and cultural ties there as well.  And in that sense, Singapore actually can serve as a useful partner with us and with China to assure that the U.S.-Sino relationship moves in a productive way, which I think would be in the interest of both countries.

So this is going to be a central engine for world growth.  And if we do a good job in maintaining stability, ensuring a rules-based order, continuing to promote greater transparency in reducing corruption in the region so that all people are benefitting from the rapid growth that is taking place, then I think the future 50 years from now will be bright.

Jordan Fabian.

Q :   Thank you, Mr. President.  You’re here today touting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Hillary Clinton is against it.  Her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, has now reversed himself and is now against it.  Donald Trump is, too, meaning that the next President is opposed to this deal.  So my question is, if you take both candidates at their word, how do you plan to get Congress to pass this deal during the lame duck, and what’s your plan to convince members to do so given the opposition I just described?

And secondly, security officials inside and outside the government have said they’re almost certain that the hack of the Democratic National Committee came from Russia.  Does it look to you like Russia is meddling in the U.S. election?  And what impact should that have on your administration’s relationship with Moscow?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, right now, I’m President, and I’m for it.  And I think I’ve got the better argument.  And I’ve made this argument before; I’ll make it again.  We are part of a global economy.  We’re not reversing that.  It can’t be reversed, because it is driven by technology, and it is driven by travel and cargo containers, and the fact that the demand for products inside of our country means we’ve got to get some things from other places, and our export sector is a huge contributor to jobs and our economic wellbeing.  Most manufactured products now involve a global supply chain where parts are made in all corners of the globe, and converge and then get assembled and packaged and sold.  And so the notion that we’re going to pull that up root and branch is unrealistic.  Point number one.

Point number two.  It is absolutely true, the evidence shows that some past trade deals have not delivered on all the benefits that were promised and had very localized costs.  There were communities that were hurt because plants moved out.  People lost jobs.  Jobs were created because of those trade deals, but jobs were also lost.  And people who experienced those losses, those communities didn’t get as much help as they needed to.

And what is also true as a consequence of globalization and automation, what you’ve seen is labor, workers losing leverage and capital being mobile, being able to locate around the world.  That has all contributed to growing inequality both here in the United States, but in many advanced economies.  So there’s a real problem, but the answer is not cutting off globalization. The answer is, how do we make sure that globalization, technology, automation — those things work for us, not against us.  And TPP is designed to do precisely that.

Number one, it knocks out 18,000 tariffs that other countries place on American products and goods.  Our economy currently has fewer tariffs, is more open than many of our trading partners.  So if everybody agrees that we’re going to have lower tariffs, that’s good for American businesses and American workers.  And we should want that, we should pursue it.

Number two, the complaint about previous trade deals was that labor agreements and environmental agreements sounded good, but they weren’t enforceable the same way you could complain about tariffs and actually get action to ensure that tariffs were not enforced. Well, TPP actually strengthens labor agreements and environmental agreements.  And they are just as enforceable as any other part of the agreement.  In fact, people take them so seriously that right now, for example, Vietnam is drafting and presenting unprecedented labor reforms in Vietnam, changing their constitution to recognize worker organizations in Vietnam for the first time.

So what we’re doing is we’re raising standards for workers in those countries, which means it’s harder for them to undercut labor standards here in the United States.  The same is true for environmental standards.  The same is true for things like human trafficking, where we’ve got a country like Malaysia taking really serious efforts to crack down on human trafficking.  Why?  Because TPP says you need to.  It gives us leverage to promote things that progressives and people here in this country, including labor unions, say they care about.

So if you care about preventing abuse of workers, child labor, wildlife trafficking, overfishing, the decimation of forests, all those things are addressed in this agreement.  I have not yet heard anybody make an argument that the existing trading rules are better for issues like labor rights and environmental rights than they would be if we got TPP passed.

And so I’m going to continue to make this case.  And I’ve got some very close friends, people I admire a lot, but who I just disagree with them.  And that’s okay.  I respect the arguments that they’re making.  They’re coming from a sincere concern about the position or workers and wages in this country.   But I think I’ve got the better argument, and I’ve got the evidence to support it.

And hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settles, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won’t just be a political symbol or a political football.  And I will actually sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left.  I’ll sit down publicly with them and we’ll go through the whole provisions.  I would enjoy that, because there’s a lot of misinformation.

I’m really confident I can make the case this is good for American workers and the American people.  And people said we weren’t going to be able to get the trade authority to even present this before Congress, and somehow we muddled through and got it done.  And I intend to do the same with respect to the actual agreement.

You had a second question.  That was a long answer.  I apologize, Mr. Prime Minister, but every once in a while —

Q    The DNC hack by Russia.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Oh.  The FBI is still doing an investigation.  You’re right that there have been some assessments made that this might have been a Russian hack.

What I can tell you without commenting on the specifics is that there are a lot of countries out there that are trying to hack into our stuff — governmental databases, but also private sector databases and non-for-profit databases.  And this is why we’ve stood up such an aggressive effort to strengthen our cybersecurity.

And we have provisions in place where if we see evidence of a malicious attack by a state actor, we can impose potentially certain proportional penalties.  But that requires us to really be able to pin down and know what we’re talking about.  And so I don’t want to get out ahead of the legal evidence and facts that we may have in order to make those kinds of decisions.

More broadly, we’re trying to promote international norms and rules that say there are certain things that states should not be doing to each other when it comes to cyberattacks.  There are certain things that are out of bounds.  And those norms I think are going to slowly build and get more adherence over time.  But it’s — we’re still early in the process.  I mean, in some ways, the explosion of the Internet and its importance to our communication systems has far outstripped the legal architecture to protect them, and we’re playing catch-up.  But we’re going to have to keep on at it.

In terms of how it affects our relationship with Russia — look, I think we’ve already got a lot of differences with Russia on a whole bunch of issues.  But I think that we’ve been able to try to stay focused on those areas where we still have a common interest, understanding that we have deep disagreements on issues like Ukraine, but perhaps, potentially, we have an interest in bringing an end to violence in Syria.  How do we balance those issues — that’s pretty standard statecraft at this point with Russia.

If, in fact, Russia engaged in this activity, it’s just one on a long list of issues that me and Mr. Putin talk about and that I’ve got a real problem with.  And so I don’t think that it wildly swings what is a tough, difficult relationship that we have with Russia right now.  But it’s not going to stop us from still trying to pursue solutions so that we can, for example, implement the Minsk Agreement and get Russia and those separatists to lay down arms and stop bullying Ukraine.  That’s not going to stop us from trying to make sure that we can bring a political transition inside of Syria that can end the hardship there.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:  Can I say something about the TPP?  I don’t want to wade into your domestic politics, but looking at it from somebody on the other side of the Pacific who has been intimately involved and, in fact, triggered the whole process, because we started the P4, the little FTA on which the TPP formed, and has become this important initiative.

The economic arguments for the TPP in terms of trade — I think the President has presented them eloquently, what the benefits are to American companies.  It’s a deal which the countries have negotiated, each one providing market access on their side in return for gaining market access on the other side, each one committing to rules in exchange for the other side committing to rules.  It’s a hard-fought bargaining process.  The negotiators spent many trips, many nights, many dawns, and fought it out.

But actually, at the end of it, everybody must decide, is it a plus or a minus for them.  And I think in your case, Mike Froman did a very good job as USTR.  Our various trade representatives and negotiators did their best to make sure that they could bring back something which the political leaderships could stand by and support.  And it’s an achievement that all the members of the TPP, at the end of this, are still with us, and nobody has dropped out of this.  So, obviously, there is something in it for each one of us.

And I think we should also look at the other side of the economic benefit, which is not the producers — I am making, I am exporting, therefore I am earning a job — but also I am spending, I am consuming, I am importing, and because it’s freed up trade, I am getting a wider range of products, of services, of opportunities, which will improve my livelihood.  People talk about Walmart, that products come from all over Asia.  Who benefits — Walmart?  Many people in America, not just exporters, but even people living in the Rust Belt, people living in the Midwest.  These are part of your everyday invisible standard of living, and yet it’s real and it’s valuable.

So in terms of the economic benefits, the TPP is a big deal.  I think in terms of America’s engagement of the region, you have put a reputation on the line.  It is the big thing which America is doing in the Asia Pacific with the Obama administration, consistently over many, many years of hard work and pushing.  And your partners, your friends who have come to the table, who have negotiated, each one of them has overcome some domestic political objection, some sensitivity, some political cost to come to the table and make this deal.

And if, at the end, waiting at the altar, the bride doesn’t arrive, I think there are people who are going to be very hurt, not just emotionally but really damaged for a long time to come.  Mr. Abe, for example, several of his predecessors thought seriously about and decided not to participate in the TPP.  They came very close.  They prepared the ground, they walked away.  But Mr. Abe came through and decided to commit.  Why?  Because he wants to help.  He wants his country to benefit and to open up its markets, and this is one way to do it.

And you don’t do this, while it hurts Mr. Abe is one thing, but it hurts your relationship with Japan, your security agreement with Japan.  And the Japanese, living in an uncertain world, depending on an American nuclear umbrella, will have to say, on trade, the Americans could not follow through; if it’s life and death, whom do I have to depend upon  It’s an absolutely serious calculation, which will not be said openly, but I have no doubts will be thought.

I think if you go beyond that, I’d like to link up the TPP question with another question from Nicholas, which is, where do we go over the next 50 years?  And that really depends whether we go towards interdependence and therefore peaceful cooperation, or whether we go for self-sufficiency, rivalry, and therefore a higher risk of conflict.

Asia has tried both.  The world has tried both.  In the 1930s with Smoot-Hawley, with the Depression, with a very difficult international environment, you went for protectionist policies, you had a rivalry with Japan, which led to war.  After the war, because America was open, because you promoted trade, because you encouraged investments and encouraged other countries to open up, therefore the Asia Pacific has been peaceful and the Pax Americana has been a pax and not a war.

If over the next 50 years, you continue to work towards interdependence and cooperation and mutual prosperity, then 50 years from now we can say these have been peaceful years and we have made further progress together.  But if you go in the opposite direction, and you decide that this is a big Pacific but it’s big enough to split it down the middle, and one chunk is mine and the other chunk belongs to some of the Asians — China or India or Japan — I think that’s a very different world.

One of the reasons why you don’t have a — you have a manageable relationship with China now is because you have trade with them.  It’s enormous, it’s mutually beneficial; both sides want to maintain that relationship.  If you didn’t, it would be like the Soviet Union during the Cold War when you had negligible trade and while you still had to find ways to work together, but it’s much harder.

Now, the TPP doesn’t include China, although some people think it does, but the TPP points the direction towards the world, towards your whole orientation of your society.  And if you set the wrong direction, maybe in the next 50 years sometime you will turn around, but it will cost you many years and the world will have to pay quite a high price.

Q    Good afternoon, President Obama and Prime Minister Lee.  I have two questions.  The first is just a follow-up to the TPP.  I mean, a lot has been said — everyone knows what’s at stake — but what is the future of the TPP if it does not get ratified by January, the lame duck session?  The fear is that if things wait too long, it might need to be reopened up for renegotiation and that will probably kill the deal.  So what is — post-January, how can we reassure the TPP nations and the people that there is the political will to get this done as soon as possible?

The second question is for President Obama.  We are almost at the end of your eight years in office.  I would like you to evaluate the progress of the U.S. rebalance to Asia.  What is something that you’re most proud of?  Is there something that you would have done differently?  And what is your message to your successor, whoever he or she may be, to continue to engage Singapore, Southeast Asia, and the rest of the Asia Pacific?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, with respect to TPP, I thought that Prime Minister Lee’s points were right on target.  And this is an economic agreement, but what we’ve learned in history is, is that you can’t separate out economic interests and issues and security issues and interests.

And the Prime Minister is absolutely right.  We have benefitted from enormous peace and prosperity around the world, an unprecedented period where the great powers were not engaged in conflict, in part because of growing interdependence.  If you think about those parts of the world where we still see conflict, where we still see high levels of violence, they’re typically places that are less integrated into the world economy, and there’s a reason for that.

So I think there is a powerful economic case, just a basic bread-and-butter case to be made about why this is good for Americans workers and good for American exports and ultimately good for American wages, if it’s structured properly.  But I also think that there is a strong security component to this.  And what I also think is important is for people to recognize that the alternative is not TPP or some imaginary circumstance in which suddenly we’re able to sell goods around the world wherever we want, but nobody is able to sell goods to us; where we can operate anywhere around the world under fair rules, but they can’t operate here in that fashion.  That’s not — whatever is being imagined as the alternative is not the alternative.

The alternative is what we have today — a situation in which we don’t have as many protections around labor and environmental issues as we’d like; a situation in which there are countries like Japan that sell a lot of goods here, but that keep pretty restricted access for U.S. companies and U.S. workers to their markets.  And Prime Minister Lee is right that Prime Minister Abe of Japan, for example, has taken some significant risks because he knows that he needs to make his economy more competitive, and as a consequence is willing to open access that we haven’t seen in the past.  And that’s a big market, still one of the top three economies in the world.

So the last point I’d make around this is China.  As Prime Minister Lee mentioned, China is not a part of TPP.  But if we don’t establish strong rules, norms for how trade and commerce are conducted in the Asia Pacific region, then China will.  And China is already engaging all the countries in the region around its own version of trade agreements.  And they’re sure not worried about labor standards, or environmental standards, or human trafficking, or anti-corruption measures.  So you get a low-standard, lowest common denominator trade deal — and if America isn’t creating high standards, then China’s rules will govern in the fastest-growing part of the world.

That’s bad for us economically, but it’s also bad for security interests.  It’s also bad for the interests in promoting norms against child labor, or against human trafficking, or making sure that everybody is working harder to raise conservation standards.  And that’s the alternative.  That’s the option.  So I think it is very important for us to get this done.

In terms of assurances, nothing in life is certain, but we’ve got a pretty good track record of getting stuff done when I think it’s important.  And I will say this — that this actually is not just a Obama administration initiative.  This concept began in a Republican administration.  We pushed it through.  We made it happen.  We made sure that the things that I care about in terms of labor and environmental standards were incorporated into it.  But, historically, this has had strong bipartisan support.

So the bottom line is, we’ll go out there and we’re going to make those arguments, and ultimately I think we’re going to be successful.

In terms of my rebalance legacy, across the board we are just in the game.  We are focused on Asia in a way that we weren’t when I came into office.  And the countries in Asia have noticed.  Our alliances are stronger.  Our security arrangements are deeper — whether in Australia, or the Philippines, or Singapore.  Our defense budgets reflect our commitment to things like maritime security in the region.  The continuing efforts around building the East Asia Summit architecture means that there’s the kind of day-to-day interaction around a whole range of issues, whether it’s disaster relief, or public health issues, or counterterrorism.  There’s consultations that are taking place today were not taking place eight years ago.

So I think on every dimension, we are in a much stronger position to engage, influence, and learn from our Asia Pacific partners.

The thing I probably enjoy most has been our Young Southeast Asian Leaders program, just because whenever I meet with the young people from ASEAN countries, I am inspired.  It makes me very optimistic about the future and what’s going to happen over those next 50 years.  Because if you ask them about the future that they want to see, they are very much committed to an interdependent world, a world in which people are learning and exchanging ideas, and engaged in scientific and educational exchange, and a world in which people’s different cultures and backgrounds are a source of strength and cooperation as opposed to conflict and fear.

And that’s true in Southeast Asia.  That’s true in Africa.  That’s true in Latin America.  That’s true in Europe.  A lot of this fear — the choice that was posed by Prime Minister Lee between interdependence and self-sufficiency that is not achievable, and ultimately rivalry and conflict — those who opt for rivalry are folks who are looking backwards.  You talk to young people around the world, they understand that interdependence is the way that we’re going to assure peace and prosperity for all of us for years to come.

And so that may be the thing that has some of the most lasting impact.  I suspect in some of those town hall meetings I’ve had, there are some future prime ministers and presidents and business leaders and non-for-profit leaders that are going to do great things, and I’m glad to have been able to have played a small part in that.

PRIME MINISTER LEE:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.