Who is Singapore’s new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong?

On May 15, 2024, Lawrence Wong officially took over from Lee Hsien Loong and became the fourth Prime Minister of Singapore since independence and the second leader outside the Lee family.

At this time, it was only two years before his status as successor was confirmed. Before the outbreak of the new coronavirus, Lawrence Wong was not widely known to the outside world. He became famous for his good performance in handling the new crown epidemic, and then steadily rose to the top of the succession. An ordinary family and a scholar’s temperament are the more obvious labels on him. However, some Singaporean experts bluntly said that it is difficult to judge what kind of prime minister he is now. So far, people have not clearly felt his political vision.

The 51-year-old Lawrence Wong inherited a Singapore whose status as a global financial center has been steadily consolidated, but high inflation and an influx of talent have also made it one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. Its image of integrity has also been rarely affected by several political and financial scandals. Being impacted. At the international level, at a time when geopolitics brings increasingly obvious challenges, how this highly externally dependent city-state continues to maintain a delicate balance among major powers is testing the wisdom of a new generation of policymakers.

On May 13, Lawrence Wong announced the composition of the cabinet, basically retaining the lineup of Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet. In addition to Prime Minister, he continues to hold the important position of Finance Minister. The current Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong will also serve as Deputy Prime Minister and act as Prime Minister in the Prime Minister’s absence. He is also responsible for the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Strategy Group of the Prime Minister’s Office. Current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat remains in office.

The coming to power of a new prime minister is admittedly a significant change, but the ruling People’s Action Party remains unchanged and there has been no major cabinet reshuffle, which means that at the broader national level, Singapore’s existing policies will not be completely overturned.

technical officer

On December 8, 1972, Lawrence Wong was born in an ordinary immigrant family in Singapore. He has an older brother who is two years older. Lawrence Wong’s father was born in Hainan, China, and soon went to Malaysia. After finishing high school, he moved to Singapore and worked in sales here. Lawrence Wong’s mother was a teacher.

Lawrence Wong did not go to an elite high school and grew up in affordable housing. In 1994, after completing basic education in Singapore, he was able to study in the United States with a government scholarship. After studying abroad and returning to China, Lawrence Wong worked as an economist at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. From 2005 to 2008, he served as Lee Hsien Loong’s chief private secretary, which laid the foundation for his formal entry into politics.

After being elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 2011, Lawrence Wong officially entered the political arena and began a career of cheating. He has worked in various departments such as the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Communications and Information, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Education. After 2021, he will be further promoted and become the Minister of Finance. In April 2022, Lawrence Wong successfully passed the intra-party selection process, and the position of his successor was basically clear. Two months later, he was appointed as the deputy prime minister, waiting to take over.

Lawrence Wong is a technical official who is “friendly and approachable”, but is also considered to “lack statesmanship”. He has a relatively strong academic background. While studying in the United States, he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. After working, he studied for a master’s degree in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.

In terms of personal family, Lawrence Wong pays more attention to personal privacy. What is known to the outside world is that he is married and has no children. He is a dog lover and other hobbies include playing guitar and riding motorcycles. Singapore’s “Straits Times” said he was more bookish than athletic. He would go to the old Marine Parade Library to borrow science fiction and guitar books, and would fondly recall his growing up experience here and post photos of his childhood.

The outside world has spoken highly of Lawrence Wong’s work during the COVID-19 epidemic. In early 2020, when the epidemic was at its worst, Lawrence Wong was appointed as one of the co-leaders of the COVID-19 working group. Strictly restricting movement within and outside Singapore, fast tracking of close contacts, and working and studying from home… Through this series of strict epidemic prevention policies, the number of infections and deaths in Singapore is at a low level in the world, and it is regarded as a “top student in epidemic prevention.”

What is rare is that these strict epidemic prevention policies have also won the recognition and cooperation of most Singaporeans. During the epidemic prevention period, Lawrence Wong and the Minister of Health attended press conferences almost every day, explaining policies and decision-making considerations to the public sincerely, calmly and clearly. Lee Hsien Loong also publicly praised him for helping the country successfully overcome the new crown crisis.

On the road to becoming a successor, Lawrence Wong is a “dark horse”. He himself said bluntly that he “never thought he could become prime minister.” Before Lawrence Wong, Lee Hsien Loong’s confirmed successor was Wang Ruijie, but the latter unexpectedly announced his withdrawal in April 2021, citing health and age.

Lawrence Wong’s biggest challenge in the short term is how to articulate a political vision that is understandable, inclusive and progressive to the outside world.

Policy tendency

In terms of domestic affairs, in June 2022, after the status of the successor was basically stable, Lawrence Wong launched a social movement called “Forward SG”. It has incorporated suggestions and opinions from about 200,000 people in 16 months on how to build a more inclusive, equitable and resilient society. It is also regarded as the national development roadmap for the new generation of leadership.

Based on public suggestions, in October 2023, the key points report of the “Forward Singapore” plan was released, setting out a transformation plan in 7 aspects, including providing services to less affluent groups through additional financial support and improved infrastructure. , mid-career workers and the elderly. The report also reassures Singaporeans that more measures will be taken to ensure that their basic needs at all stages of life, such as those in education, housing, healthcare and retirement, are met.

The first part of the “Forward Singapore” agenda has been included in the 2024 Budget. It mainly focuses on improving the future skills plan of mid-career workers and providing more support for graduates of technical education institutes and retirement plans for the elderly. The plan will cost about 500 million yuan. One hundred million U.S. dollars. By the end of this decade, all Forward Singapore projects will cost nearly US$40 billion.

On the external front, diplomatic relations are particularly important for a city-state like Singapore. This resource-poor country of only 733 square kilometers is highly dependent on the outside world. For decades, the Singaporean government has demonstrated superb diplomatic skills, maintaining a delicate balance among major powers while benefiting from strong economic ties with China and close defense ties with the United States.

In terms of relations with China, starting in 2023, Lawrence Wong will take over the joint position of the China-Singapore Bilateral Cooperation Joint Committee, which is a platform for high-level exchanges between the two governments. In April this year, the relationship between China and New Zealand was officially upgraded from a “cooperative partnership that keeps pace with the times” to an “all-round, high-quality forward-looking partnership”. At the same time, there are plans to upgrade the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

Lawrence Wong also worked hard to improve his Mandarin. On May 14, he revealed to the media that he is actively learning Chinese and Malay in order to communicate more fluently. Singapore is a multiracial country, with Chinese and Malays accounting for 74.1% and 13.4% respectively.

“We have always regarded ourselves as the weak, and we will always be an incredible country. This can only be achieved by relying on the collective will of the people,” Lawrence Wong said in an exclusive interview with The Economist in early May. “My task is Keep this miracle going for as long as possible.”