Singapore’s prime minister said on Tuesday he was not looking to woo businesses out of Hong Kong, saying it was more important to preserve calm after China’s controversial security law.
“We think it’s better for Hong Kong and better for the region – and Singapore – if Hong Kong is stable and calm and prosperous,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
“On balance, I would say I much prefer Hong Kong doing well than to have people looking for places to go out of Hong Kong,” he told a virtual event of the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Singapore and Hong Kong are two of the major hubs in Asia for international companies, which are drawn to the prosperous cities’ investor-friendly policies and rule of law.
Lee said the two cities had a “friendly competition” but not a “very serious rivalry,” pointing to advantages enjoyed by each metropolis including Hong Kong’s position as a gateway to China.
China in June defied US warnings and imposed a national security law that bans subversion and other offences in Hong Kong, which last year experienced massive and at times destructive pro-democracy demonstrations.
The move has sent a chill through activists in Hong Kong although it has so far triggered only limited corporate departures from the city.
Observers note that Singapore in effect has similar laws, with the city-state forbidding demonstrations without police permission except in the corner of one downtown park.
But Singapore, a close US ally with cordial relations across the region, has faced little international criticism.
Lee, in office since 2004, also told the US think tank that he was reconsidering his previous plan to retire in less than two years.
“I haven’t decided. I had hoped to be able to hand over by the time I was 70 years old, which is February 2022,” he said.
“But COVID-19 has taken us all by surprise and I think I have to see this through and hand over Singapore in good shape to good hands,” he said.
Lee’s People’s Action Party has ruled Singapore for six decades and, to no surprise, retained power in July 10 general elections.
But its share of the popular vote declined sharply amid concerns over an economic downturn caused by the global pandemic.
Lee is the son of modern Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew who served as prime minister for 31 years.