america's most senior law officer, the attorney general, jeff sessions, has denied lying on oath to a congressional hearing over his contact with russians during last year's election campaign but he's withdrawn from all investigations into russian interference. donald trump has said the controversy is a "total witch hunfﬂ the russian government says the syrian army, backed by russian air strikes, has completely retaken the city of palmyra from the islamic state group. palmyra, famous for its ancient ruins, has changed hands several times during the conflict. thousands of chinese people have been blocked from seeking justice ahead of the annual national people's congress in beijing this weekend. authorities have staged a nationwide effort to stop some of the most marginalised members of society from reaching the capital. now it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk from singapore. i'm stephen sackur. this citystate is one
of the remarkable economic success stories of the last 50 years. if you want to find a place that has ridden the wave of globalization, well, this is it. but storm clouds are gathering over singapore. president trump is challenging assumptions about global free trade, security tensions are rising across east asia. i have an exclusive interview today with the prime minister of singapore, lee hsien loong. is singapore feeling vulnerable? prime minister lee hsien loong, welcome to hardtalk.
let's start with the international political climate. donald trump is now president of the united states. he talks about protectionism, he talks about ripping up trade deals that have been bad for america. how dangerous is this new political climate for singapore? we are watching it very carefully. we of all countries depend most heavily on trade, our foreign trade is 3.5 times our gdp — probably the highest in the world. we have free trade agreements with many countries, including the united states. we participate actively in the wto. and we have depended on the system which america has built and upheld to maintain an open, global intercourse of trade, commerce, investment, finances, which have prospered most country most of the time. there is a new mood in america, president trump reflects that,
and we will have to watch carefully what policies he pursues. tell me your reaction when donald trump says things like this, "the globalised trading system has led to the greatestjob theft in the history of the world"? well, there are many views on that. in singapore's case, it has not done that to us. i think in america's case, there are many american companies which have prospered because they are all over the world — there is a base in america. but this is a view which segments of americans hold and i think the president reflects that. worried? alarmed? it depends what he actually does, because campaign rhetoric is always slightly overheated. and then when the administration comes in, the ysettle in and they confront the realities and they have to make the choices... but prime minister, we already know one key act that he has already taken, which is to walk america away from the trans pacific partnership, a deal which singapore
was very much a part of. now the americans want no part of it. yes, we were disappointed by that because we all spent a long time negotiating it. it was a hard—won deal, carefully balanced and americans bargained hard and so did the other countries and we felt... singapore particular felt that it was important notjust economically — because it is 40% of the world's gdp brought in the participants — but also strategically because it endeepened america's engagement in asia and gave a rationale for america to take a close interest in asia and try to make things work out well in asia. what signal does it send of america's feelings about its engagement with asia? well, i think it shows that, on this issue, mr trump was following through on his campaign rhetoric but i do not believe that the administration is planning to pull back from asia or to pull back from the world. i mean, on the contrary, he said he wants a muscular
engagement and we will have to see what that means. let me quote you your own words from time magazine last autumn — actuallyjust before trump won the election but it was clear that he stood a chance — you said that "if the united states went back on the tpp trade deal, how would anyone believe in the americans any more?" you said it was not just about trade, it's about strategic issues too. well, america is a reality, it is still a great power and i think this has put a dent in the degree to which people can be confident of america's policies but it has happened and we have to live with it. last question on tpp, some other signatories, thinking of australia and new zealand, have said they would not rule out a tpp—minus, moving ahead without the united states. in japan that seemed to be a nonstarter. how is it viewed in singapore? if there were consensus and 12—1,
11 countries say let's go ahead and sign the thing, just minus the us, singapore would sign. whether that happens, i am not sure because the japanese in particular made very painful concessions in exchange for american concessions. and if you have a deal in which the japanese have these concessions and americans are not party, i think that the political balance and economic balance has shifted so i would not rule it out but i think it is not so easy to achieve. we talk about uncertainty in washington — you have to live with that right now — but there is also uncertainty in your relationship with beijing. singapore, going back to your father, has always sought strong relationships with both washington and beijing. right now, i look at your relationship with beijing and it seems to me you have some major problems, perhaps symbolised recently when the chinese impounded, for a short time, some of your military vehicles because they had been
on exercise in taiwan. how worried are you about your relationship with the chinese. i would not say we have major problems but we have some issues and some incidents. i think the military vehicles were an incident which happened to both of us and we had to handle it. it suggested a lack of trust. well, it is a delicate matterfor both sides. and i think both sides handled it carefully and there has been a satisfactory outcome. to put it bluntly, the chinese are furious about some policy decisions you have made, not least your support to support the court of arbitration‘s backing of the philippines in a dispute in the south china sea. the chinese feel you are betraying a friendship. no, i think you misparaphrase me. because i did not strongly support the court's ruling. what i said was the court had made a strong statement and there's a difference. let's be clear, this is a respected international court, they sided with the philippines... the chinese do not accept it,
the filipino do but it was, if you read the ruling, it was a ruling in very strong terms... which side hasjustice on its side — the chinese or the philippines? i think we do not judge specific claims. no, but you respect the courts and the courts made a decision. we respect international courts. decisions are made and they can be scrutinised, they can be examined, they can be criticised. in singapoer‘s case, our interest is a freedom of navigation, rule of international law and also the cohesion of asean and the relevance of asean. i suppose, looking at this from the beijing point of view, also your decision during the obama administration period in 2015 to sign a deeper defence agreement with the americans and to the chinese that looks like a statement of intent which works against their interests. we have had this relationship with the us for a long time. we buy a lot of military equipment from them, we train on quite a big scale in the unites states,
our airforce is theer, and for more than 30 years we have had...we have hosted american aircraft and ships in the region which pass through and stop in singapore and we think it is the right thing for us to do because we believe that the american presence in the region is positive for the region and the security presence is positive for the region. it has brought about stability, it has enabled countries to prosper and to compete peacefully and therefore we believe it is in our interest to be helpful to the americans. i guess itjust indicates that at a time of, let's be honest, rising tension in the region and with donald trump talking about a new america first policy and we have discussed the protectionism aspect of that, things are getting very difficult for singapore? if america—china relations become very difficult, our position becomes tougher because we will be called to choose between being friends with america
and friends with china and that is a real worry. right now we are friends with both. it is not that we do not have issues with either but we are generally friends with both and the relations are in good working order. reading the signs, do you believe that beijing—washington relations are in danger of deteriorating? i think thar relations always require close attention on both sides and i'm sure that the chinese side do that. on the american side, i hope they will have that attention because on the american side you have many other issues to worry about — europe, the middle east, ukraine, latin america. unless you focus on this relationship both the win—win aspect as well as areas where are in contention, it can go wrong. you mentioned europe, let me switch attention to europe for a second and in particualr the looming prospect of brexit,
when you look at the united kingdom as a place to do business as a trading and investment partner, from your point of view, has brexit strengthened or weakened the united kingdom? well, we have no vote on this. from our point of view we think that brexit weakens the eu, we are not sure it strengthens the uk. you can make a living, you will not starve outside the eu but it is an enormous market on your doorstep and you cannot avoid doing business with it and if you can't influence it, you may not have strength in your influence in the world. this is what foreign secretary boris johnson said recently, let's understand what we're dealing with here, he said the world does not see britain through the prism of being a member of the european union. the nations of the world see and respect britain as a major power in its own right. looking from singapore, do you think that is true? singapore is a small country.
we also are trying to make our way in the world and we find it useful and in fact essential that we are part of a regional group — asean — it is not as ambitious as the eu, it doesn't aim for political union or total economic integration but it is a life raft which gives your voice a bit more influence in the world. britain's international trade minister, mr liam fox, has been in singapore, just over the last ferw days — did you meet him? not this time, i've met him before. i think he met your trade official. yes, he did. britain now is very eager to begin work on very far reaching bilateral trade deals and obviously, as an important trading nation in the world, they are looking at singapore. do you think singapore...are you already in negotiations? we are not in negotiations but we would be willing and happy to do that, when britain is ready. i think you have many countries with which you wish to do deals,
starting with the united states. you have to do that. but the fact is, you are doing it on your own. there is an active debate in the uk about how this trade bilateral deals should be done and what values should be brought to bear — for example, opposition figures have said, if we are going out to countries around the world looking for preferential trade deals, we must not and cannot turn a blind eye to human rights issues, to abuses, violations, in the pursuit of sweetheart trade deals. some have mentioned singapore. this is what tim farron, the leader of the liberal democrats in the uk said, he said, "if we're to seek a deal with singapore, theresa may, the prime minister, must raise issues of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in any trade talks with singapore." how do you respond to that? i don't see you being restrained in asking me any questions.
no, i'm not but that's not really the point is it? the point is whether you would be prepared to offer guarantees on your treatment of the press at home, here in singapore? whether you would be prepared to talk about wider freedoms for the press in this country? i would not presume to tell you how your press council should operate, why should you presume to tell me how my country should run? we are completely open, we have one of the fastest internet accesses in the world — we have no great wall of the internet, you can get any site in the world you wish. so where's the restriction? so if the government of britain were to make linkages between a trade deal and seeking guarantees about human rights, press freedoms, workers‘ rights, demonstrators‘ rights in this country, your reaction would be? i would wait to react until i see it. you look at the americans, they don't lack fervour
in moral causes. they promote democracy, freedom of speech, women's rights, gay rights, sometimes even transgender rights. but you don't see them applying that universally across the world with all their allies. yes, they do it when the cost is low, and then they can take a high position. but you don't think the british... you look at some of the most important oil producers in the world, do they conform? have they been pressured? you have to do business. the world is a diverse place, nobody has a monopoly on virtue or wisdom. and unless we can accept that and we prosper together and cooperate together, accepting our differences. differences in values, differences in outlooks, differences even in what we see as goals of life to be. i think it becomes difficult. let's, if we may, spend a little bit of time thinking about the values
that are represented here in singapore. it is a democracy. i think you're proud of your democracy, and yet the reality is that there has been one party in power — the party that your father founded, and was the central figure within — i—party rule, ever since the independence of singapore. most people in the west would say that for a really active, successful democracy, you need a powerful opposition that has the very real prospect of winning power. but you don't have that in this country. i would not say it is i—party rule. the government has only belonged to one party, but there are many parties in singapore. but prime minister, you know as well as i do, that the number of mps from the opposition in your parliament are just a handful. in fact, you have had to pass a law to guarantee them positions because otherwise there would be virtually none.
there are now six elected, three unelected. out of 100 or something. about 80 plus. and then we are going to increase the number to 12. but really, it's the workings of a democratic system. the population voted. they preferred pap candidates to become members of parliament. they have confidence in the pap to govern them, and govern well. as long as that happens, i can have that outcome in government. as long as the government stops functioning, or, for that matter, if i have a member of parliament that does not fulfil his duties and loses his voters‘ confidence, the situation will change overnight. it is open. well, your country is so open in terms of its economy, but so not open in some other ways. imean... just because the voters have voted for me and my party doesn‘t mean we are not open. wait a minute. look at the realities. you have an internal security act that allows people to be locked up without charge or trial. the only people we have locked in recent decades are terrorists
and islamic extremists. you have also taken legal action against teenage bloggers for things they have written online. you have human rights watch saying prime minister lee is imposing a mix of absolute control and repression over dissenting voices that was the hallmark of his father. if it was such a miserable place, you wouldn‘t be interviewing me. you would be going down the street and getting vox pops and all sorts of people would be saying terrible things about their government. and some of them would have emigrated, but the fact is, the singaporeans are happy. they have chosen this government. we are governing the country and the people to the best of our ability. and millions more would like to come in, if we allowed them. well, let‘s talk symbols, then. about the identity of singapore today and what you wanted to look like in the years to come.
there‘s been a lot of discussion, shall i say, inside the citystate, about your oppressive law on homosexuality. it is still technically illegal, thanks to, i think, statute number 377a, for two consenting male adults to have sex. it is a criminal offence. now i know that the singapore judicial authorities choose not to prosecute men for doing it, but why not, as a symbol of change in this country, get that off the statute book? it is a matter of society values. we inherited this from british victorian attitudes. and i‘m sure you do not want singapore today to reflect british victorian values. we are not british, we are not victorian. but this is a society that is not liberal on these matters. attitudes have changed, but i believe that if you had a referendum on the issue today, 377 would stand. the majority of singaporeans...
you have been in powerfor more than 12 years yourself. is it not your role as a leader to signal to your people that singapore can, and must, adapt to changing social mores? on social moral issues, i think the government‘s role is not to lead. it is — people believe this, they believe this — some of theme believe this fervently, it is a vexed issue in every society. let me ask you personally. i don‘t wish to sound rude in any way, but... you never are... if any of your children or grandchildren were, would that change your perspective? would you then think it were acceptable for — for consenting adults to be criminalised in this way? i think it is a law which is there.
if i remove it, i will not remove the problem, because if you look at what has happened in the west, i mean you — in britain you decriminalised it in the 1960s. your attitudes have changed a long way, but even now, gay marriage is contentious. in america, it is very contentious. even in france, in paris, they‘ve had demonstrations in the streets against gay marriage. but what‘s your personal view? would you like to get rid of 377a? my personal view is that if i don‘t have a problem, this is an uneasy compromise, i‘m prepared to live with it until social attitudes change. we are also almost out of time. a few questions on singapore‘s future and — and its future leadership. in 2008, you — you gave an interview where you indicated that you did not think singapore was ready
for a muslim, non—chinese prime minister. do you still feel that today? i think that ethnic considerations are never absent when people vote. it‘s like that in america, certainly in the last election. in singapore, it is better than before, but race and religion count. and i think that makes it difficult. it is not impossible. and i hope one day it will happen. and you don‘t think singapore is ready today? if you asked if it could happen tomorrow, i don‘t think so. should the situation arise, one person who could be considered would be tharman shanmugaratnam. yes. now, he and i have discussed, as it happens. yes, yes. he told me he didn‘t believe he would ever be pm of singapore, and polls suggest that most singaporeans think he is the best qualified person to be the next prime minister. my sense is that singaporean voters will look for a good man, a man who can resonate with them, a man they can identify with. could it be mr tharman? it could be someone like tharman. but he‘s your deputy... yes, it could be tharman. but these are factors which voters
take into consideration when they go into the ballot box and when they identify with them. and i think there are very few countries where you can say that race doesn‘t count at all. that‘s race. but let‘s talk about name as well. it is the matter is that singapore, your father led this country for more than 30 years. you have led it yourself more than 12 years. do you think it will be difficult for singapore to move beyond the lee family? nobody is immortal. i will have to hand over the role of prime minister and there will have to be a successor. prime minister, again, this is a little personal, but you did have a health scare last year. two years ago. yes. you recovered, and we all understand that you are feeling well. do you intend to go on and on?
no i don‘t. i‘ve said many times. so tell me about the succession. your father always said that organising the succession is crucial. and i think you‘ve said that too. so how will that look? it is a difficultjob. i‘ve assembled a team ofjunior ministers. some about 50, some in their 405. and amongst them, they must work together, and need to build a team, and build the trust of singaporeans, and amongst themselves, they must throw up and acknowledge and support a leader. will you pick that person? i cannot be that person. they must decide who they will work for. if i pick the leader and they don‘t support him, when they decide that their off, will become the curator of the albert victorian museum or something like that, well, that is the end of singapore. prime minister lee hsien loong,
thank you forjoining us. thank you very much. hello. the winter months were quite dry. the first week of march is trying to turn that around. and certainly, during friday, many of us will see some wet weather at some stage of the day, and all the way through the weekend it is looking very unsettled. we‘ll get to that. this is how early friday is looking. and we‘re dragging in some rainfall from the south, so already across a large part of southern england, south wales, edging through the midlands, and into east anglia,
as the day begins. another area of wet weather producing a bit of hill snow for parts of the far north of england and southern scotland. let‘s take a look around things at 8:00am in the morning. so a wet start across southern england, but you can see that rain advancing through more of wales, the midlands, east anglia, at this stage. it is only going to move further north, so eventually it will get into northern england. but, as you can see, some of us in northern england and into southern scotland seeing some rain, and some snow as well. some of us, even modest elevations, could be waking up to a covering of snow here. further north, in scotland, it is a frosty start. still a few showers in the far north. so, as we go on through friday, we are taking rain northwards through england and wales. eventually, by late afternoon, and into the evening, that should be across much of northern england. we will pivot an area of rain, starting just to flirt with the eastern side of northern ireland, through northern ireland by the end of the afternoon. the best of the sunshine, without a doubt, will be in northern scotland.
turning a bit dry, though, in the afternoon in south—east england, and it actually could feel quite mild, given any brightness. one or two spots mayjust reach 13 or even 14 celsius. a few heavy showers reaching through parts of south—west england and wales as we go through friday night. the rain marching further north, across into southern scotland, eventually into the central belt, staying with us into northern ireland. frost—free for most as saturday begins. will be frost, though, across northern parts of scotland. so that takes us on to the weekend, and friday. well, the theme of the wet weather continues into the weekend. we will see more rain at times. some of that could be quite heavy and persistent, and particularly on saturday, with this area of low pressure just stalling its rainfall from northern ireland and into parts of scotland, whereas further south there will be still some areas of rainfall or showers, but it is not going to be a washout all day long. but we will see raining for much of the day, we think, into northern ireland and southern and eastern parts of scotland. and, particularly through eastern scotland, it will be quite cold with that rainfall, and there will be quite a lot
of snow developing into the grampians. further south, it is showers. and then, on sunday, it looks like it turns a little bit better. still a few showers around for scotland and northern ireland. we see another area of rainfall pushing its way through england and wales, with temperatures at around seven to 10 celsius. soggy for the weekend. hello you‘re watching bbc world news. i‘m james menendez. our top tory this hour: president trump accuses his critics of a "witch hunt" against his attorney general. butjeff sessions has bowed to pressure, removing himself from the investigation into alleged russian meddling in the us election. welcome to the programme. our other main stories this hour: freed from is for the second time — russia and syria say their forces have reta ke n the ancient city of palmyra. fighting corruption from the air — why campaigners in ukraine are turning to drones.