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Opinion and Editorial

Countries will strive to become less dependent on others

Lee Hsien Loong
Filed on June 10, 2020

Sustainable social support will give people confidence to cope with the uncertainties and to make changes to their lives

COVID-19 is not only a public health issue. It is also a serious economic, social and political problem. It is in fact the most dangerous crisis humanity has faced in a very long time.

Because of COVID-19, the global economy has virtually ground to a halt. Governments have spent trillions of dollars to support businesses, economies and jobs. Yet, tens of millions of jobs have been lost. Families are experiencing hardship. We are in a totally unprecedented situation.

Singapore has taken a severe hit too. Our GDP is likely to shrink between 4 and 7 per cent this year, our worst contraction ever. To protect workers, households and companies, the Government has intervened decisively through four successive Budgets. We are injecting almost S$100 billion - 20 per cent of our GDP.

We will not be returning to the open and connected global economy we had before, anytime soon. Movement of people will be more restricted. International travel will be much less frequent. Health checks and quarantines will become the norm. It will no longer be so easy to take quick weekend trips to Bangkok or Hong Kong on a budget flight. Industries that depend on travel, like aviation, hotels and tourism, will take a long time to get back on their feet, and may never recover fully.

Countries will also strive to become less dependent on others. Especially for essential goods and services, like food or critical medical supplies. This will have strategic implications. Countries will have less stake in each other's well being. They will fight more over how the pie is shared, rather than work together to enlarge the pie for all. It will be a less prosperous world, and also a more troubled one.

Now, we have to prepare for a very different future. Companies big and small will be hit hard. Some industries will be permanently changed. Many will have to reinvent themselves to survive. Workers too will feel the pain. Retrenchments and unemployment will go up. Some jobs will disappear, and will not come back. Workers will have to learn new skills to stay employed. The next few years will be a disruptive and difficult time for all of us.

Beyond COVID-19, and the economic challenges, we also have to deal with other important external and domestic issues. Externally, we have to navigate the changing strategic landscape. COVID-19 has worsened relations between the US and China. Actions and counter-actions are raising tensions day by day.

It will become harder for countries to stay onside with both powers. It will be a more dangerous world for a small country like Singapore. We must ensure our security, and protect and advance our interests when dealing with other countries, big and small. We must also work with like-minded countries to support free trade and multilateralism, and enhance our voice and influence in the world.

Sustainable social support will give people confidence to cope with the uncertainties and to make changes to their lives. At the same time, everyone must have the incentive to be self-reliant, and to progress through their own efforts.

Once in a while, nations and peoples are severely tested, as we are now. Some buckle under pressure and emerge from crisis diminished. Others grow more determined as they face fearful odds, discover reserves of strength in themselves, and emerge from crisis transfigured, renewed.

-Lee Hsien Loong is the Prime Minister of Singapore. This is an excerpt from his speech to parliament

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