Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook at the Busan Hilton Hotel on Tue (26 Nov). Photo: ASEAN-ROK / Yonhap News Agency

Next Budget will be “strong” to withstand global economic and political flux: PM Lee

The Government is currently working to construct a national Budget that will be “strong” enough to withstand any potential escalation in tensions between the United States and China — two of the world’s economic powerhouses — and other forms of economic and political changes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking to Singapore media at the end of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Republic of Korea (ROK) Commemorative Summit on Tue (26 Nov), PM Lee said: “If a problem worsens between the US and China, or… the current uncertainties continue, (they) could go into a recession within the next 12 to 18 months.”

“If that happens, we are in greater risk,” he said, adding: “When you have a big cloud hanging over you, nobody wants to make commitments … So we have to understand that those clouds also affect our weather, our climate. And we are preparing for that.”

“[Deputy Prime Minister] Heng Swee Keat as Finance Minister and all the other agencies are working towards preparing a Budget which will be strong and suitable to the state of the world and what the Singapore economy needs,” said PM Lee.

Whether Singapore will also be at risk for recession is tangential upon many external factors, he noted.

“The risks seem to have gone up, but right now the indicators are mixed and unemployment is still low. Corporate profits are not as buoyant as before, the leverage is going up, corporate borrowing is going up,” said PM Lee.

Singapore should thus utilise the slow pace of the economy — predicted to grow between 0.5 per cent and 1 per cent this year — to scale up its efforts at boosting labour training and productivity, he suggested.

S’pore and South Korea studying FTA upgrade: PM Lee

PM Lee also said that this year’s ASEAN-ROK meeting was different, as South Korean President Moon Jae-in seeks to build closer ties with the Southeast Asia region through South Korea’s New Southern Policy.

The expansion of a bilateral air services agreement between Singapore and South Korea was also announced during Mr Lee’s visit. The upgraded agreement will enable both Singapore and South Korean carriers to operate an unlimited number of passenger and cargo flights between any destinations in both countries.

“That’s a very significant step forward, because we have been encouraging the Koreans for a long time to do this,” PM Lee said, adding that it is “a good step for both countries, because it will mean more tourism, more business, and also enhance the status of Changi and Incheon as hub airports in our respective regions.”

“Even between Asean and Korea there is talk of an FTA,” he said. “That hasn’t been settled yet, but I hope we will make progress.”

Govt to consider introducing Korean as a foreign language in MOE schools: PM Lee

Going along the vein of strengthening Singapore’s strong bilateral ties with South Korea, the Government is also considering introducing Korean as a foreign language in the Ministry of Education (MOE) schools.

Mr Lee told reporters at the end of his five-day visit to South Korea on Tuesday that the Government has observed “some interest” among Singaporeans in the Korean language, as “people follow Korean movies and K-pop”.

He highlighted, however, that there might be practical considerations in doing so, as Singapore’s exams are conducted by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the MOE as well as the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board, and he is unsure if the Cambridge syndicate “actually run a Korean language exam”.

“But I hope Singaporeans will pick up Korean, whether or not it is a third language in schools. I think there are many opportunities – some of them actually go to Korea to study Korean,” Mr Lee said.

Currently, foreign languages offered in MOE schools include Japanese, French, German and Spanish.

Mr Lee was in South Korea on a five-day visit. He was in Seoul until last Sun (Nov 24), and in Busan for the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit — marking the 30th anniversary of Asean-ROK dialogue relations — from Mon to Tue this week.

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