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Exclusive Interview With Singapore Prime Minister. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired June 11, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, he almost made enemies out of his friends at the G7 Summit in Canada. So, will President Trump
make friends out of his enemies when he comes face to face with North Korea's leader right here in Singapore. My exclusive interview with the
leader hosting this historic nuclear summit, the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in the city state of Singapore, which is playing host to what
could be a highly significant summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
And as he has done from the beginning of this process, the North Korean dictator seems to be setting the tone. An extraordinary walk-about
downtown for his reclusive leader from the hermit kingdom, waving and looking confident just hours ahead of the meeting. It's the only country
besides China that he's visited as leader.
All smiles, he even took a selfie with Singapore's foreign minister. President Trump was holed up at his hotel preparing to meet this canny
adversary after the G7 Summit in Canada with his closest allies went so badly that analysts are now asking themselves whether the Trump
administration is actually trying to wreck the Western alliance.
He and his top advisors heaped unprecedented abuse on their host, the Canadian prime minister. Meantime, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was
telling journalists here that they plan to offer Kim unprecedented guarantees. Here is a little more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique than have been provided -
that America has been willing to provide previously. In each of those two countries, there are only two people that can make decisions of this
magnitude and those two people are going to be sitting in a room together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And this extraordinary summit is being hosted by Singapore. As we said, the leader of this prosperous and tiny country met with both Kim
and Trump before they met each other.
And Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tells me what he learned from them and what their meeting could mean for this region and the world. We sat down
at the Istana, or the palace, for an exclusive and surprisingly candid interview.
Prime Minister Lee, welcome to the program.
LEE HSIEN LOONG, PRIME MINISTER OF SINGAPORE: Hello.
AMANPOUR: How important is it for Singapore to be hosting the summit?
LOONG: We are the host. We are the tea and coffee pourers. We don't participate in the summit. We don't have an influence on what to discuss
or on the outcome, but we hope that by providing a venue, which is neutral, which is agreeable to both sides, we enable a productive summit to take
AMANPOUR: What does it mean for you to host this in terms of the security of this area? You are quite far - I mean, you're quite far. You are 10
hours by plane from the Korean Peninsula.
LOONG: Fewer by missile.
AMANPOUR: That's a good way to put it. Fewer by missile. Have you felt that you've lived under the shadow of this threat?
LOONG: No. Our concern is not that we are going to be targeted. We are not participants in the Korean tensions. But if there are tensions in
Northeast Asia on the Korean peninsula, it's going to destabilize the region and Southeast Asia is not going to be let off scot free nor the
So, I think if this meeting can have a constructive outcome and we can have contributed something to that, I think it's a duty we should do.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you for a little bit of vital color about the main participants - that would be the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un,
who you've met and also -
LOONG: Only once. Yesterday.
AMANPOUR: Exactly. So, I would like to ask you what you took away from that meeting? What did he say to you about this moment about a potential
shift in North Korea's trajectory?
LOONG: Well, he's a confident young leader. He came and he said, well, thank you for hosting and we hope that it will be a historic occasion. I
think he wants to go on to a new path.
What he's prepared to deal and how an agreement can be worked out, well, that's a complicated matter, but I think he has an intention to do
something and that's why he is meeting Donald Trump.
AMANPOUR: He is quoted saying that this was arranged like a family affair. I mean, he seems to be really complementary. He said that that this could
be Singapore cementing itself in the history of peace and prosperity.
[14:05:00] LOONG: Well, he was being generous in his opening remarks. We are just the host. It's an opportunity for the two sides to meet. We
provide a safe place. We make sure that the security is arranged. We make sure the world can be here.
And we hope that, in this environment, they will have a sense of the way the region is, the potential for the prosperity and the stability and
security in the region in Asia and what that can mean for the world and, therefore, a sense of responsibility they have - two sides to come to some
kind of a constructive outcome.
AMANPOUR: What about President Trump? You met with him after he landed a few hours after you met with Kim Jong-un. It's not the first time you met
LOONG: I've met him before. I gave him lunch today.
AMANPOUR: I think everybody around the world has been quite stunned by the rhetoric, the tweets, the whole atmosphere around the G7 Summit.
AMANPOUR: About how he behaved to his allies, about name calling on Twitter afterwards. So, I guess, what kind of Trump, which Trump were you
prepared to meet? And which Trump did you meet for lunch?
LOONG: Well, I think it's the same Donald Trump whom I have met on previous occasions. He speaks his mind. He has opinions. He has his
views, very firmly held views on trade, on the ways America has been taken advantage of and the way he wants to make America great again. And I
understand. I mean, that is what he stood for. That's why he was elected president.
AMANPOUR: Do you think America has been taken advantage of?
LOONG: I would take a different perspective. I think America deliberately took a very generous approach at a time when it was a very dominant player
in the international scene, much more dominant than it is today, after the war and for decades after the war.
And it took a generous approach with the Marshall Plan in Europe, with the maintenance of the Pax Americana in the Asia-Pacific in order to allow
other countries to prosper, so that America could benefit from a stable and prosperous world and not be back in the 1930s, which led to the 1940s,
which led to a lot of blood and treasure spilt by America.
And that formula worked for America and has worked until now. Now, today, America is a much smaller share of the world economy. New players are
The Chinese economy, by some measures, are same size as America's. By others, maybe half the size. The Indians are coming up. The other
emerging economies are coming up.
So, some Americans are asking themselves, do I still have to carry this burden for the world? Why can't I just calculate for myself? Is it
sensible for me to make all these services, sacrifices, what some scholars call global public goods between nations to uphold the system so that
everybody can benefit from it?
And it's a legitimate question, how you want to rebalance the benefits and what America can - how America can get more out of it.
But to abandon the whole system and to say, well, I'm now going to go win- lose, item by item, and I want to win every single match, but I really don't have an overall view of the global game, that's a very different kind
of world, which America will find itself in if it goes that way over several terms of a presidency.
AMANPOUR: Did you express that to the president?
LOONG: Well, I think he knows our position. He has his views. So, I think he's heard that from many people. I didn't feel that it was my place
to try and shift him dramatically.
AMANPOUR: And yet, what the president does and what America does can dramatically shift your region.
Just on the denuclearization, what did he say to you about what he expected to come out of this one-day summit, one-day meeting. He said he'll know
within a few minutes if Kim Jong-un is serious, if there is a deal to be made.
LOONG: Well, he didn't say very much because his officials are still negotiating what does it come out from the meeting, but I think he is
hoping for a positive outcome. And the key thing is he needs to assess whether Mr. Kim is serious or not.
And if he is serious, I think something can be worked out. And if it's not worked out immediately, you can come back at it; and at some point, you
will be able to reach a consensus or reach some kind of an agreement, if not immediately.
But if you assess that the other side is not serious, well, then you don't have a basis to start. And that is an assessment which I think both sides
will have to make of the other.
AMANPOUR: It depends on what each side is serious about, though, obviously. I mean, each side has their priorities.
LOONG: Of course, the objectives may not be the same, but are they serious about wanting some kind of a deal? And if so, then are they prepared to
have give and take, to put something on the table, to ask for something in return.
[14:10:06] And eventually, you get something and the other side gets something. And you also have to think about the people who are not at the
table, but watching anxiously. The Chinese and Japanese and the Russians. And something can be worked out if you really want to come to an outcome.
If you don't want an outcome, you just want a photo op and then you go home and either you beat your chest and declare victory on an empty document or
you go home and say the other guy cannot be - can't do business with him and that's why this path leads to a dead end, we do something totally
different which is not so benign.
AMANPOUR: You're talking about a military option.
LOONG: That's a different model. It could be a military option and there a lot of things you do short of a military option. I mean, there are many
sanctions which have been applied over the last few years and months.
AMANPOUR: You said that a lot of the key players in the region also have their agendas. They are not at the table. So, in short, since you have
great relations with all of these people in this region, what does China want?
LOONG: I think China would like the Korean Peninsula to be denuclearized. I think they are anxious about North Koreans having a nuclear capability
because it can lead to escalation, which is not within their control.
You could have escalation in terms of tensions and conflict. You could have escalations in terms of the South Koreans thinking that they too
should have such capabilities, which they have indeed on previous occasions thought so.
AMANPOUR: An arms race. Another step up.
LOONG: No, just an arms race. Nuclearization by other countries. So, the South Koreans are going nuclear, the Japanese can go nuclear. In fact,
their cabinet secretary is on record saying that their constitution doesn't prevent them from working on nuclear weapons.
AMANPOUR: Do you think -
LOONG: And that may not stop there. I mean, the Taiwanese have nuclear power plants and they have forts too. So, it is very destabilizing even if
you confine yourself to East Asia.
And if you look beyond that, to Middle East and what it could mean for Middle Eastern players watching this happen and watching the precedents
which are being set, I think it can be very troublesome for the world.
AMANPOUR: You brought up the Middle East. So, I need to ask you given that it's totally relevant right now. Given that the United States, the
big powers and Iran, came to an arms control agreement in 2015.
AMANPOUR: And the president of the United States has pulled the US out of it, which may kill the deal because of sanctions and secondary sanctions,
et cetera. How risky is that?
LOONG: I am not an expert in this. When you go in, you can have a lot of arguments. Do you want to do this? Do you not want to do this? But one
way or the other, Mr. Obama decided to do this together with the Chinese, the Russians and the Europeans.
And he did it in a way which didn't get congressional sanction. I mean, he did need congressional sanction. So, the JCPOA is not quite a treaty,
which means it can be undone without congressional sanction.
But having made this move and gone in, a fact has been created. You are now in a new situation. If you undo it, can you go back to status quo ante
or will you be in a new situation different from where we were before.
And I don't think it's easy to go back to status quo ante because the sanctions that UN impositions, the consensus which was built up
internationally is not there anymore to go back to the status quo.
AMANPOUR: What you're saying is that President Trump who wants to put on even more pressure on Iran by pulling the US out will find he won't be able
LOONG: Well, he may be able to. And if you read what his officials say, they say, well, we all powerful, we are the United States and we will do it
to banks which do business with America and companies which do business using banks in America and they all have to pay attention. And you might
be able to have considerable influence this way on this issue.
But if on many issues, the US is going it alone, that's a different kind of world which the US would be facing. And you are very powerful, but I think
your influence will be less than if you went in together with others.
AMANPOUR: What about China? There's an ongoing fisticuffs, if you like, at least verbal fisticuffs, threats of tariffs and counter tariffs with
Chinese foreign ministry said about all the flip flopping, "in international relations, every time you change your face and turn your back
is another loss and squandering for your country's credibility."
So, talking about the United States and its credibility. It's about as far as the Chinese have come in putting some color on what's going on. What is
your assessment of what's happening and the health of this region and the health of the global economy as a result of this?
[14:15:00] LOONG: Well, I think there are different layers to this problem. Donald Trump's starting point is that he has a big trade deficit
with the Chinese - between US and China and that's a bad thing and he wants to fix that. And he wants the Chinese to open up and buy more from
And if you are spending more than you are producing, that means you will have a trade deficit. If you are spending less than you're producing, that
means you'll save money or run a trade surplus.
So, America is spending more than you're producing. Why are you able to do that? Because you are the most powerful country in the world and everybody
else wants to hold US dollars.
So, it gives you an expensive, exorbitant privilege, as somebody called it. You have to look at it on a more fundamental level. Why is America running
an overall imbalance? And it's not just - and it's not mainly because of trade restrictions. That's one problem.
But there is another layer to this, which is that China entered the WTO in 2001 - and it was negotiated in the years before that - at a time when it
was 4 plus percent of the world's GDP. Today, it's 15 percent of the world's GDP
So, it's what was agreed then with a quite small player is now in effect with a very big player. And what was politically wearable then may or may
not be politically wearable now. And, therefore, there is a case to say, let's talk, let's work out a new basis.
But I think when you talk over trade issues like this, it's much better to talk in a multilateral framework. There is a WTO. There is a basis for
many countries to come together, to work in accordance with international rules, rules which give space for all countries big and small to operate
under the same framework.
AMANPOUR: You talk about them all -
LOONG: Which may not be the case if America just goes with China, which is why people say if elephants fight, the grass suffers; and when they make
love, it's disastrous.
AMANPOUR: Well, again, that's a very nice - another nice saying of yours.
LOONG: Others have said it before.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, it catches Singapore in the middle of it, doesn't it? I mean, you have to balance your relations with United States
and China. How difficult does it get for Singapore when the US and China have increasing difficulties?
LOONG: We have to be on our toes. We are friends with both. We'd like to continue to be friends with both. And it's easier for us to do that when
the two have good relations.
When the two have tensions between them and there's a feeling that you're either with me or against me, well, then it becomes harder, but we will
keep on trying.
AMANPOUR: "The Economist" cover this week shows President Trump riding a wrecking ball and they called him "Demolition Man." And the wrecking ball
actually happens to be the Planet Earth.
How concerned are you, at this point, right now, that campaign pledges are being translated into policy, that protectionism is being implemented, that
go-it-alone is being implemented by the United States and that the president doesn't seem to agree with the notion of the global institutions,
the global order as we know it?
LOONG: Well, it is a very radical stance for a US administration to take, but it's not just the president's perspective. It's the perspective of a
significant number of people in America who have elected him. They may or may not numerically be a majority, but they are not negligible.
And in the American political system, they have expressed their view. And this administration is carrying that out.
Why is there such a view? Well, you can have a lot of explanations, but one of them is at least there are people who have felt that the existing
system wasn't working for them, that the existing elites in America was not serving - were not serving them and they do want the system remade. They
don't quite know how. They're not sure what is wrong, but the status quo is no good. So, let's change.
AMANPOUR: But is this the way to change it? I mean, economists are saying how can you change something that doesn't exist?
Over the weekend, Paul Krugman and others have said, this idea of these massive trade imbalances - or rather trade deficits, this idea that it
always harms the United States, this idea that America is the piggy bank of the world that's being robbed is not actually in accordance with the
economic facts and the financial facts.
LOONG: That is so. That is so. But it is a problem when you have people who think, who believe this, who have this perspective on the world and you
have to have - a country has to have policies which are domestically sustainable. And if it is not domestically sustainable, you have a
[14:20:00] AMANPOUR: But, Mr. Prime Minister, what if these policies that the president wants to deliver for his own voters break the rest of the
world. That's what I'm trying to get at. Demolition man.
LOONG: The rest of the world watch what the US do and how the US vote with great concern. It affects us. We have no vote. And that's the way the
AMANPOUR: That's pretty blunt. And how do you - OK. I don't know what the next question after that is. How do you try to convince the president
having seen what happened at the G7? All these other leaders tried to give him the math, the facts and the figures, the policies, not just the
politics, and it went nowhere?
LOONG: I think this is something which has to play out within the American body politic. I mean, there are Americans who think otherwise. There are
many congressmen, senators who believe otherwise. Even Republicans - John McCain is not the only one who has a very different view of the world.
And it has to play out within the American political system. Yours is a system which depends on - which has elaborate checks and balances and it is
meant to be able to correct itself and prevent policy being taken to unwise extremes. And we hope -
AMANPOUR: How are they doing so far, do you think?
LOONG: I think it takes time. I mean, this is one-and-a-half years. The president has an agenda. He is carrying out his agenda. The midterms are
coming this year. That will be one sign. And then, further electoral tests will come down the road.
AMANPOUR: So, I do want to ask you because we are in an era of popular pushback. We see it all over the world. We saw it in the in the Arab
Spring. We saw it in the populist wave that we've just been discussing, whether it's in the United States, whether it's Brexit, whether it's around
Europe and elsewhere.
You do have a pretty strict internal logic to Singapore. You've made a little bit of liberalization in terms of some areas of free speech and
others, but not dramatic political plurality. Where do you think Singapore is going? Do you see any flexibility? Can you open up more?
LOONG: I think when you say strict political logic, it's rather a loaded term because what you really mean is why are we so repressive.
Well, the answer is we aren't. Why are we - why is the political scene like this because that's the way Singaporeans have voted and it's the
outcome of the elections.
When does it change? It changes when the Singaporean electorate decide that this government is not serving their interest, cease to support this
BAP team, and perhaps, hopefully, support another team, which will serve them better. And then, there will be a different scene.
It's not the way it is because we are clamping down and preventing other people from contesting elections. In the last elections, every single seat
was contested. And if you look at the popular vote, we had 70 percent of the popular vote. So, I don't think you can say it's because -
AMANPOUR: There is not a whole lot of tolerance for freedom of speech or public protests.
LOONG: No, you can say anything you want. You can ask me anything you want.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you. Last autumn, you prosecuted an activist by the name of Jolovan Wham for holding public gatherings without a permit,
including one that included the famous Hong Kong activist, Joshua Wong. So, again, these are political, cultural, democratic questions.
LOONG: There are arrangements. There's a Speakers' Corner. Actually, it's an enormous speakers' view. Anytime, you feel you want to relieve
your soul of some important thought, you can go there and spout forth.
But if you insist on going places where you are not supposed to do this, well, then the rules have to apply. You want to put stuff up on the
Internet, you can publish anything you want. The blogs are there, they exist in multiples.
You are still subject to the laws of sedition and libel and contempt. But you say what you want and people do say whatever they want.
And if you research what is written, you will see that actually it's quite a lively discussion.
AMANPOUR: You may laugh, you may not laugh, but when I came here, when I told people I was coming here, they wanted to know whether you still have
very strict chewing gum and spitting rules. They remember the American who was heavily penalized for chewing gum.
LOONG: Yes, we caned him. He wasn't heavily penalized for chewing gum.
AMANPOUR: He was caned?
LOONG: No, Michael Fay was not for chewing gum.
LOONG: Michael Fay went around vandalizing vehicles, scratching vehicles and causing a lot of damage and he was caned for that. You don't get caned
for chewing gum.
AMANPOUR: Finally, how did it come about? Did you get a phone call? How was Singapore chosen for this summit?
LOONG: I don't know how the decision was made. We know that they were looking at possibilities and they sounded us out. We said, well, if you
think that it is - we can be a good venue, we're prepared to step up and we will be helpful.
And then, we didn't hear anything more for a while. And after some time, they narrowed it down. And eventually, they said, yes, we'd like to come
to Singapore, which I presume both sides said, yes, we would like to come to Singapore because it's a joint decision.
[14:25:14] So, we started preparing. Then the summit was off, but we didn't call off our preparations. And the summit is on again and we think
we'll be prepared by the time it happens.
AMANPOUR: Prime Minister Lee, thank you so much for joining us.
LOONG: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: A rollercoaster indeed.
And still ahead, President Trump and Kim Jong-un will soon exchange handshakes, but will that lead to meaningful change. We will ask the man
who until recently spearheaded diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang for the United States.
And courting an adversary while going after allies? The European view on the destruction at the G7 summit. Stay with us.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to a special edition of our program. We're live from Singapore for more of our coverage of the historic summit between the
US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
We have just heard from Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who described his impressions of Kim and Trump ahead of their sit down.
My next guest is Joseph Yun. He was America's special representative for North Korea policy until he left the government earlier this year. He says
the US policy has changed substantially over the past few weeks.
But is it moving too far too fast? We will ask. Ambassador Yun, welcome to the program.
JOSEPH YUN: Thank you. Good to be here.
AMANPOUR: Can I start by asking you, if you were still -