Singapore wakes up to first new leader in 20 years

By Thomson Reuters May 16, 2024 | 7:20 AM

By Xinghui Kok

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s first prime minister in 20 years held an initial cabinet meeting on Thursday after taking office with a pledge to sustain what he called the miracle of the wealthy city state amid an uncertain global environment.

After being sworn in on Wednesday night, attending a party and receiving congratulations from world leaders, Lawrence Wong posted on Instagram that the government of the Asian trade and financial centre had “a full agenda ahead”.

Continuity was his focus, he said. Wong, 51, took over as Singapore’s fourth prime minister from Lee Hsien Loong, 72, now a senior minister in Wong’s cabinet, in a protracted and carefully managed transition.

In an editorial on Thursday the government-funded broadsheet The Straits Times said: “The focus now needs to be on uniting the country in the face of global uncertainties with the aim of leaving no one behind in the pursuit of progress.”

“PM Wong must inspire Singaporeans to believe that we’ve done it before, and we can do it again, together.”

Wong said during his inauguration that the world was in flux and geopolitical tensions, protectionism and nationalism could stretch for decades. Wong said Singapore sought to be “friends with all, while upholding our rights and interests”.

“My mission is clear: to continue defying the odds and to sustain this miracle called Singapore,” he added.

Singapore’s international standing was high, he said, with a brand that was admired globally, and would strengthen partnerships and continue engaging with the United States and China “even as issues inevitably arise between them”.

Congratulations from overseas flowed in. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. looked forward to working with Wong “to further strengthen the U.S.-Singapore strategic partnership”.

China said it believed China-Singapore relations will continue to advance during Wong’s term, “bringing more support to our people and making contributions to regional peace, stability and development”.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said ties between Taiwan and Singapore are close and friendly, adding it hoped “the two sides will continue to expand their cooperative relations”. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the relationship between the UK and Singapore “will continue to thrive in the years to come”.

Malaysia, which sits north of Singapore and in the past had a turbulent relationship with the city state, also congratulated Wong.

Malaysia Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said: “We look forward to further deepening our partnership in areas of mutual interest, including economic development, education and trade.”

(Reporting by Xinghui Kok, Editing by William Maclean)