SINGAPORE — Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has given a broad-ranging interview to The Economist as he prepares to become prime minister, covering topics such as his leadership style as well as global and regional geopolitics.

Mr Wong, who will be taking over next Wednesday (May 15), spoke to a representative of the weekly news publication on Monday (May 6). The transcript was released to the media on Wednesday.

The interview came about three weeks after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam publicly rebutted an article by The Economist that he said “sneered” at Singapore’s political succession.

Here are five highlights of the interview, that touched on topics such as global and regional geopolitics, immigration, the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) racial mix, identity politics and the leadership style of the 4G team:


On the global geopolitical scene, Mr Wong said that the situation could remain “messy for quite a few years” as the world transits into a multi-polar one after the ending of the “uni-polar moment for America”.

And while efforts have been made to stabilise the relationship between China and the United States, “mutual suspicion and distrust” remains between the two countries. 

If things deteriorate sharply, it “would be costly for both (China and US) and for the rest of the world”.

Mr Wong reiterated his view that in the context of the rivalry between the US and China: “We are pro-Singapore.”

Asked how Singapore intends to deal with a possible worsening in technological and economical bifurcation between the two, Mr Wong warned that the world must be careful about using economic tools for geopolitical purposes.

“If we are not careful, it will have profound implications to the global economy but worse still, for global stability,” he said.


Singapore, with its very diverse population, is “constantly influenced by pressures” from around the world, said Mr Wong in response to how geopolitical tensions globally play out in Singapore.

While Singapore “values (the) linkages” that the ethnic groups here have with different parts of the global community, “when we do things, it has to be on the basis of our national interest,” said Mr Wong.

This applies to all global crises, be it the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing onslaught in Gaza.

In response to a question on the rise in identity politics in the West, Mr Wong said: “We do see some of it (identity politics) here in Singapore.”

But Singapore, he said, has always maintained a “very different” approach that has worked well: Expanding common ground, and compromising when there are differences.

“And compromise cannot be a bad word, compromise cannot be an issue of dishonour to my tribe or to my identity. Because if that is dishonour, then it is all-out war,” he said.

“Not every single group may get everything that they want. But by working together by engaging, by not accentuating our differences but finding common ground, it is an approach that has worked better for all of us.”


Mr Wong said Singapore will always remain an open economy, welcoming of foreign inputs and professionals that can complement the Singapore core, add to the economy and society and generate a “net plus for all of us in Singapore”.

Asked if he could imagine a situation where citizens become a minority, Mr Wong replied: “No, not at all.”

The Economist asked why Singapore maintains a “tacit target” of the population mix when it comes to migration, instead of becoming a “post-racial” society.

Mr Wong said that while Singapore would like to evolve into a society that is “race blind”, the nation is also “very realistic about these things”.

“These instincts of race are very primal, they are very emotive, and it can be stirred up at any point in time,” he said, citing examples of how the race or religion card was played up in recent years. 


On how the governing style of 4G (fourth generation) leaders would differ from their predecessors, Mr Wong said that Singapore politics in Singapore has evolved from the days of a dominant People’s Action Party (PAP) under the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

He said the days when the PAP was dominant “are over and we cannot go back to that period”.

Singapore has a “highly educated, very sophisticated, very discerning” electorate, whose majority would like to see the PAP remain in power yet also want more opposition voices in Parliament.

“This is the new reality of our political landscape, which means that as a party, for me now, eventually as Prime Minister, eventually leading the party into elections, we will have to do our best to engage Singaporeans, we will have to do our best to involve them in decisions that they care deeply about, and in shaping our future.”

Asked if he has the “iron” in him to govern Singapore — a reference to a quote by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew on governing here — Mr Wong said that when the time comes to take hard decisions, he would do so, “so long as the decision is in the interest of Singapore and Singaporeans”.

Elaborating on his leadership style, Mr Wong said he would get the insights and perspectives from those around him, before “thinking about what makes for the best decisions and outcomes for Singapore ”, even if those decisions are not “the most popular”.


Mr Wong said it has been a “long-standing… very valuable” Singapore tradition to retain some of its more experienced ministers whenever a leadership transition happens.

“It has never been a problem with preventing the new prime minister from setting the tone of leadership and making his own decisions,” said Mr Wong, when asked if having Mr Lee Hsien Loong in the next Cabinet would hinder the 4G leaders from “exerting authority”.

Mr Wong said tapping Mr Lee’s experience and international network is part and parcel of how he, as a leader, would harness the “collective energies” of every team member and every Singaporean to give the nation the best chances to “shine ever more brightly in a dark and troubled world”.

Mr Wong said that as with the past political handovers, there will be a transition for the new Prime Minister to take over as secretary-general of the PAP.

Capping off the interview, Mr Wong said that what has happened in the last 60 years for Singapore “has been nothing short of a miracle”.

“And my mission is to keep this miracle going for as long as I can. And to make sure our little red dot shines brightly for as long as possible.”


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