SINGAPORE: US-China ties were already “complicated” before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the blame game between them over the outbreak will not help “solve the problem sooner”, particularly in a time when countries need to work together, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Lee was speaking on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, which aired on Sunday (Mar 29).
“It is a most unfortunate situation to be in,” he said.
“US-China relations have been complicated even before this. But if we are going to deal with this virus, you have got to get all the countries to be working together, in particular, US and China.
“Under the best of circumstances, it is going to be a very difficult challenge for mankind. But if the US and the Chinese are swapping insults and blaming one another for inventing the virus and letting it loose on the world, I do not think that that is going to help us solve the problem sooner.”
Mr Lee also added that China would look back on how it handled the response to the outbreak and believe they should “have done better”.
He said this in response to host Fareed Zakaria asking if US criticism of China’s handling of the crisis, as well as accusations of a cover up by Beijing, were fair.
“I am sure that there were many aspects of the Chinese response to this outbreak which they will look back upon and believe that they should have done better,” Mr Lee said.
“But I do not think overall that one can say this would not have happened if only the Chinese had done the right thing. Because you look at the way the outbreak has continued to grow and spread in many countries, and they do not have the Chinese government and yet they have not found it easy to keep the outbreak under control in their country.”
He added: “We are in a very difficult situation and it is most constructive for us now to look ahead and find the best way to move forward and deal with a problem which we now have.”
Mr Zakaria also asked if the world could organise itself without some kind of agenda setting in the absence of US leadership.
“The world has greatly benefited from American leadership in situations like this for decades,” said Mr Lee.
“If America is in a different mode, well, we will get by and I think other configurations will eventually work out, but it would be a loss.”
When asked if Mr Lee would prefer to see American leadership on this issue, he said: “Yes of course. You have the resources, you have the science, you have the influence, you have the soft power, and you have the track record of dealing with these problems convincingly and successfully, and in the greater good of many countries, not just the US.
“It is a pity not to put those resources to work now, to deal with this very grave challenge to mankind.”
Mr Lee also spoke about Singapore’s efforts in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, touching on contact tracing, the Resilience Budget and the impact on key sectors of the economy, among others.
The Prime Minister also said that unless something was done to stop the spread of the pandemic, COVID-19 could be around for several years.
“I do not see this problem going away in a couple of months. It has spent, taken several months to, more or less, bring under control in China. It is taking off in Europe now, and will take many months to bring under control,” he said.
“It is taking off in America now, and that is not going to disappear soon. And there are other huge parts of the world, where we do not quite know what is happening, but I think that it will happen. It will happen in India, it will happen in Southeast Asia, it will happen in Africa and Latin America.”
Mr Lee added: “By the time it goes around the world, and then finally runs its course, I think that is several years, unless something happens to abort that process.”