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Heng Swee Keat will be oldest PM in Singapore’s history, says Global Times article




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There are concerns over PM-in-waiting Heng Swee Keat’s health, says an opinion piece in the Global Times, a publication of China’s People’s Daily. Heng would be 60 in 2021 and if elected that year, he will be the oldest prime minister in Singapore’s history. It seems Singapore’s society won’t stop worrying about Heng’s health.

As a result, the Singapore government and Heng himself have reaffirmed many times that he’s fit for demanding work. He had a stroke in 2016 but he has fully recovered.

The PAP picking Heng as first assistant secretary-general sent a strong signal that he would be the next prime minister by convention, says the opinion writer Fan Lei who is director of The Center for Singapore Studies at Shandong University of Political Science and Law and a research fellow of The Charhar Institute. But it’s still possible that current Second Assistant Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing, who is eight years younger than Heng, may be the prime minister after one or two elections, the writer adds.

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According to law, Singapore will hold another election not later than 2021, which means the reputed leader and his team will face many challenges in less than three years. Heng will be focusing on his health, backing away from Lee Kuan Yew’s political legacy, leading Singapore’s sustainable development and strengthening his own diplomatic ability.

When Heng was managing the Monetary Authority of Singapore and leading Singapore 50 (SG50) Steering Committee and the Committee on the Future Economy, he made many remarkable achievements. It is believed that it’s Heng’s economics background and outstanding leadership that helped Singapore rapidly come out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Rich working experience and a splendid resume laid a solid foundation for Heng’s political career. His educational background once again reflects the PAP’s embrace of elites. Heng joined the cabinet and became minister for education after the election in 2011, the same year he stepped into the political arena. In 2012, he led Our Singapore Conversation, a national conversation initiative, and fixed the PAP’s political foundation hurt during the 2011 election. Under Heng, the PAP retained the Tampines GRC with 72.06 percent votes in the 2015 election – a 14.84 percent increase compared to the last election. In October 2015, Heng was appointed minister for finance, offering him a chance to apply his economics background.

Singapore always attaches importance to relations with China, says Fan Lei. In 1997, as Lee Kuan Yew’s principal private secretary, Heng accompanied him on a visit to China’s Suzhou Industrial Park. Heng speaks fluent Chinese as seen during interviews with the Xinhua News Agency and other Chinese media outlets, and is familiar with China’s Belt and Road initiative and China-Singapore cooperation. In the past few years, the two countries were estranged over regional issues, and Singapore needs to be more cautious when dealing with such problems. As a result, there won’t be fundamental changes in the relationship when Singapore’s leaders change.

Washington’s tendency toward protectionism and deglobalization has upset Singapore, as the city-state largely depends on an export-oriented economy, free trade and global market. But Singapore is still much more dependent on the US than China on security, investment and technology. As China is rising, it’s a hard task for Singapore to find a balance point between Beijing and Washington. This won’t be easy for Heng as he lacks diplomatic experience.

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