Lawrence Wong at Forbes conference

Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (left) at the Forbes Global CEO Conference gala dinner.  The chat will be moderated by Rich Karlgaard, Futurist and Editor-at-Large, Forbes Media.  (PHOTO: Forbes Global CEO Conference)

Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (left) at the Forbes Global CEO Conference gala dinner. The chat will be moderated by Rich Karlgaard, Futurist and Editor-at-Large, Forbes Media. (PHOTO: Forbes Global CEO Conference)

SINGAPORE – “You know, I don’t go into a job and I don’t immediately think about what my legacy will be.”

Amid laughter from the audience, C-level executives gathered at the Forbes Global CEO Conference gala dinner, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong – who has been appointed to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – answered a question from Jenny Johnson, Franklin’s CEO and President Templeton.

“If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s that every leader has a different style… and whatever that approach is, it needs to be adapted to the circumstances and needs of the society or organization at the time. So my goodness predecessors…they will have a different leadership style that suits the needs of their time,” Wong, who is also finance minister, said on Monday (September 26). “For myself, I believe that I’m not just here am to lead but also to serve and I see myself very much as a serving leader doing my best to serve Singapore and the people of Singapore.”

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He added that ensuring success year after year is difficult; “The better you are, the more successful you are, the more difficult the path”.

“We want to build a Singapore that endures, endures and thrives for generations to come. And I hope to do that,” Wong said during the call, which was moderated by Rich Karlgaard, Futurist and Editor-at-Large. Forbes Media.

When he could take over as prime minister, Wong, who is also finance minister, said, “We haven’t decided yet… It’s very clear that we’ve settled the succession issue in our team… I’m honored to be elected.”

He added: “The Prime Minister has said he would like it sooner and he keeps reminding me he is thinking about it. But I have also said that we will do it at a time when we are ready.” … We will inform the Singaporeans in due course.”

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Growing Tensions

Wong also spoke about the growing tensions between the US and China and that combined with the invasion of Ukraine and the disruptions to energy and food supplies, there is a sense that “we are entering a new era in the global order”. Despite these challenging times, “we (Singapore) can continue to be a bastion of stability, opportunity and innovation.”

Still, Singapore is concerned, Wong said.

“The US-China relationship is the most consequential relationship in the world and is shaping the tone of global affairs,” he said. “Unfortunately, relations are deteriorating and we see that day by day, and countries are divided on many issues… so we’re worried.”

Singapore, he said, has “encouraged both sides to maintain open lines of communication, particularly and also at the highest level.”

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Don’t choose sides

Later, when asked again about US-China tensions, this time in the South China Sea, he stressed that it was not an “exercise for Singapore to choose sides.”

“This is an exercise for us to make very clear what Singapore’s interests are and continue to uphold Singapore’s interests and the interests of Singaporeans,” Wong said. “For example, as a small open country, it is in our interest to maintain a rules-based multilateral system. It is in our interest for the freedom of navigation and upholding the law of the sea.”

He added that on issues affecting the country’s national interests, “we speak up and … we will do our best to protect our interests in different areas.”

“Doing this from time to time may mean that our position is more aligned with the US position. On other occasions, it may mean that our decision is in line with a Chinese position, but it’s not about taking sides,” Wong said. “It’s just about securing what is good and right for Singapore.”

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