away from famine. two years of war between the government and houthi rebels have led to a dire humanitarian situation. it's being exacerbated by an outbreak of cholera which has affected hundreds of thousands of people. venezuelan president nicolas maduro has banned protests ahead of sunday's controversial election for a new national assembly. opposition groups have vowed to defy the ban. they claim the country's sliding towards dictatorship. the us has ordered the families of its embassy staff to leave ahead of the vote. following a vote in the house of representatives, the us senate has also overwhelmingly backed new sanctions on russia, iran, and north korea, despite president donald trump objecting to the legislation. the bill will now be sent to the white house for the president to sign into law or veto. now on bbc news another chance to see an episode of hardtalk first broadcast in february. stephen sackur talks to singapore's prime minister lee hsien loong. welcome to hardtalk from singapore.
i'm stephen sackur. this city state 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 globalisation, 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? theme music plays. 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 countries
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 — and 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, they settle 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 particularly felt — that it was important notjust economically, because it's 40% of the world's gdp brought in the participants — but also strategically because it deepened 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 — actually, just 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 anymore?" 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 non—starter. 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 a 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 singapore'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 united states, our airforce is there, 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 that 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 particular, 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, infact, 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 few 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 these 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 its future leadership. in 2008, 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. the truth of the matter is that in 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 victoria and albert 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 there, good morning. yesterday was one of those days where there was sunshine and then it clouded over and there was quite a bit of rain. in fact, mid—afternoon in london, really atrocious weather for a time. and you can see here there was quite a lot of rain across many parts of the uk, but some sunshine in between. but those showers when they came along started turning quite heavy
and thundery in the afternoon and on into the evening. now, they tend to fade away for many eastern areas overnight. but we‘ll keep some showers going in northern and western areas, temperatures dipping down to around about 12 degrees in aberdeen, 13 or so in london, iii—is for cardiff and for plymouth. showers from early on across scotland and northern ireland, northern england too. there‘ll be some brighter weather for a time across east anglia and the south—east, but some showers in the south—west will be merging into a longer spell of rain into the afternoon. but through the afternoon it‘s sunny spells and showers again across scotland. always heaviest in the north and west. lighter the further east you are. sunny spells of sunshine here. about 17 degrees, but it is quite breezy. dry in the northern england for a time. but we‘ve got this wetter weather developing across the south and west. and the winds will be picking up here as well. turning increasingly cloudy across the south—east. temperatures getting up to, what, 19—20 degrees, but the rain looks like it will hold off until later on. so, it‘s good news at the oval. a bright start, but clouding over all the while. the breeze will be quite noticeable and eventually there is the risk
of some rain through the early part of the evening. that rain will be creeping its way in from the south. and there will be some rain pushing into northern england for a time, as well. some of that will be on the heavy side. through the small hours of the morning it clears to the north sea, although it may well linger towards kent and sussex. and all the while some showers keep going across western scotland and northern ireland. but a drier swathe in between and by dawn on saturday many places around about or 13—14 degrees. most of those showers in the north—west are closest to this area of low pressure which will be a key features for things over the next few days. afairamount of isobars on the charts. it will be breezy and there will be cloud and outbreaks of rain. i think it‘s always going to be wettest on saturday towards kent and sussex. and there will be some rain later on towards the south—west of england. a lot of cloud ahead of that, but there should be some brighter weather in northern england and north wales, and all the while those showers keep going across western scotland and northern ireland.
17—18 degrees here, might get to 21—22 in the south—east. unsettled again on sunday. we‘ve still got low pressure to the north—west of the uk, that‘s where the heaviest showers are going to be. showers are slightly fewer and further between across the south—eastern corner, but there‘ll be one or two. top temperature around about 21—22 degrees. so, through the weekend, on the cool side, breezy too, a little bit of sunshine and also showers and some of those could be quite heavy. this is bbc news. i‘m james menendez. our top stories: the world‘s worst humanitarian crisis deepens. yemen‘s war leaves millions on the brink of famine. now disease threatens many more. many in yemen are dying needlessly because they cannot get the most basic treatment. after more than two years of war, half the health facilities in the country are not functioning. the us orders the families of its embassy staff to leave venezuela ahead of sunday‘s controversial election. critics say the country is sliding towards dictatorship. check this — this is our life.