S'pore status as financial hub still secure: LKY

SINGAPORE - Singapore's role as a financial centre is secure for now and one reason the Republic has been successful over the years is due to the confidence that people have in the country, said former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on Wednesday.

"It would be very stupid of us to shake this confidence," said the 89-year-old. He was speaking at the Standard Chartered Singapore Forum alongside another octogenarian, former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who is 85.

The hour-long dialogue, attended by some 600 people at the Shangri-La Hotel, was moderated by Standard Chartered Bank's group CEO Peter Sands.

Mr Lee said that the confidence in Singapore rests on its strong institutions, the government's sound policies and the country's open trading area. It is also easy to predict what Singapore is going to do in "any given situation", he said.

"To be able to build institutions, you must have stable governments for a long time. So even if you have changes in government, you don't have changes in policy," said Mr Lee. "I don't see any developments that would change this situation in the short term - five, 10, even 15 to 20 years."

Singapore's role as a financial centre of the world is also secure for the foreseeable future, said Mr Lee, although he cited Shanghai as one city that could pose a "real challenge" to Singapore in the long run once China opens up its capital markets.

The Singapore government, he added, is not worried about other ASEAN economies surpassing Singapore anytime soon.

"If you look at the per capita GDP, they've got a long way to go," Mr Lee said. "We've got institutions, we've got rule of law, and not the vagaries of change with every ruler. I don't see any capital in ASEAN, including Yangon, displacing Singapore."

Unlike Japan, Singapore is making up for its low total fertility rate by bringing in foreigners, he said.

The advantage that the Republic has over others, however, is its ability to maintain "quality control" over the types of people who come in. "So we have bright Indians, bright Chinese, bright Caucasians . . . so the increase in population means an increase in talent," said Mr Lee.

Another topic that was discussed at length during the dialogue was the long-running eurozone crisis.

When asked by Mr Sands for his take on how Europe's leaders should tackle their problems, Mr Lee said the European Union has to either integrate further "to make it work", or endure the "painful process" of hiving off some of its members.

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