[But no country will sacrifice itself “to put out somebody else’s fire”, he noted.  The world is no longer in an age of such “white knights” riding to the rescue of countries in distress, he added]

Globalisation could fail despite best efforts of governments : PM Lee
The Straits Times – 5 Nov 2011
by Janice Heng

Globalisation could unravel despite the best efforts of governments, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned in an interview on Thursday.

Speaking to BBC television while in France for the Group of 20 (G-20) summit, he pointed to the possibility of a “disorderly mishap” arising from the Greek debt crisis, even as European countries try “very hard to make sure that matters are handled in a controlled and managed manner”.

“I think in this world environment, governments know they cannot disconnect themselves without a very high price,” he said.

“You do not want to wake up the next morning and find yourself in a totally new situation, and have no Plan B.”

The possibility that Greece may leave the euro zone has raised questions over the future of a unified Europe.  If covergence in Europe fails, Mr Lee said, the world will face a difficult situation.  That includes Singapore which depends on a global economy charactrised by predictability and international rules.

Asked what Singapore could do to help as a small country, he said Singapore would do its part in the international effort to solve that crisis: ” We join the fire brigade, we each do our part, and together with the homeowner, we try to diminish the problem.”

The United States is now a “much less dominant participated in the world economy”, and the rising powers of China and India are still not “anywhere near being a dominant participant” – nor, he added, do they wish to be seen as such.

This lack of a dominant power may not necessarily be a problem as  “a lot of people will say a multi-polar, global system is more comfortable for the smaller powers”.

But he noted that such a world makes it more difficult for countries to coordinate, for leadership to be taken, and for decisive action to be agreed upon.

That, said PM Lee, is the strategic problem facing the G-20: the lack of global government.

The G-20 comprises 19 countries and the European Union.  In the absence of the “threat of imminent disaster to concentrate minds”, these countries each have their own perspectives, said Mr Lee.

On a more positive note, he pointed to what he called “moral persuasion” and “mutual encouragement” going on among G-20 countries to avoid “drastic” actions like protectionist measures.

“There is a certain obligation not to do foolish things, even when holding to the line is politically difficult at home”, he observed.

Cohesion was a theme of the interview: not just at the international level, but also within individual countries.

Noting that Singapore’s social cohesion is admired, the BBC interviewer Paul Mason asked how countries could deal with domestic unhappiness and division.

He also noted that “in the West, and above all in the UK (United Kingdom), there is a fascination with the Singapore story because it is a success after all the challenges you faced along the way”.

Replying, Mr Lee said Singapore has tried to persuade its people to share a common long-term goal, which is mainted onver maore than one election term.

But, he stressed twice, “I am not holding us out as what other countries should do.”

He noted that there are “deep forces” at work beyond the control of governments, such as globalisation which is putting downward pressure on wages of the less able, and technology which is displacing even skilled workers.

Singapore’s strategy has thus far worked to raise its own standard of living, he noted.  “But how we continue to make that progress forward from this level is something we are continuing to work at”, he said.  “So I would hesitate to say that Singapore has a solution for the rest of the world.”