My kids aren't interested in joining politics 'at the moment': PM Lee

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is seen in an interview with Chinese television host Yang Lan. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Communications and Information)

Although grownup, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says his four children are, "at the moment", not interested to enter politics.

PM Lee shared this in a televised Mandarin interview with Chinese television host Yang Lan ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in the first week of November. When asked if he would specially encourage or lead them in that direction, he said his children "have to find their own path in life".

"They have to choose [their lives], because a child's personality and aptitude have to be taken into consideration," he said, in a transcript translated by national newspaper The Straits Times. "Every child is different, parents would of course wish that their children can fly high, but they all have different natures, some may be more inclined towards the arts, some may be more interested in computers or science, this will have to be developed according to their interests."

Not much is known about PM Lee's children, the first two of whom — 34-year-old Li Xiuqi and 32-year-old Li Yipeng — were born to his first wife Wong Ming Yang, who passed away after a heart attack, three weeks after she gave birth to Yipeng, an albino. His two sons with his current wife Ho Ching, whom he married three years later, are 27-year-old Li Hongyi and Lee Haoyi, now 25 years old.

Lee's third child Hongyi made the news in 2007, while he was serving his National Service, when he sidestepped the usual chain of command to file a lengthy complaint in an email sent to senior military officers and then-Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean. Li, a Public Service Commission scholarship holder, studied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then spent two years working as a product manager at internet giant Google, as part of a programme allowing scholars to spend a stint in the private sector before starting work in the Public Service. He later returned to Singapore, where he now works at the Infocomm Development Authority as a consultant. According to his LinkedIn profile, he started work there a year ago.

Lee's father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, revealed in a dialogue in 2008 that Hongyi had written to his younger brother, Haoyi, to advise him not to take up a scholarship — this after Haoyi had scored 43 out of a possible 45 in his International Baccalaureate exams. Lee's sister, Lee Wei Ling, wrote in a 2011 column that Haoyi had later joined his brother at MIT. According to his Facebook page, Haoyi interned at Facebook and also spent time at Dropbox.

Watch his interview with Yang Lan in full here:

Efforts to grow population are 'still not enough'

Lee was also asked about Singapore's low birth rate, and he admitted the government's pro-family incentives are "still not enough". In comparison to his father, Lee said he is "much inferior to him in this matter — what he dares to say, I may not dare to say".

"We have encouragement, which is important, we also pay close attention to early childhood education and childcare services," he said. "This is because many women want to continue working after childbirth, so who will take care of the children when that happens? ... That is why we are opening more childcare centres, and are grooming more kindergarten teachers. But it is still not enough."

He also spoke about Singapore's casinos, and how his father previously opposed it, saying the elder Lee supported the policy later on because "the world changed, so we have to change too".

"But we think of ways to protect our people, to prevent them from spiralling down with gambling addiction," he said, saying that in the four years since they opened, the number of Singaporeans who gamble is not increasing, and has stayed at about 20 per cent of the country's casino visitors.

Corruption and high salaries

Turning to corruption, PM Lee said he views anti-corruption not as a political issue, but as a key factor in economic development. "There are, of course, times when people flout the rules, or violate the law; we don't care who it is, they will be punished by strict laws. Because if we protect the person, or cover up, or hush it, I think everyone will know sooner or later," he said. 

"The situation has changed, Singapore is different from before ... When everyone comes to Singapore, they have to understand, you need to pay fees, and fees have receipts, they are accounted for. Other than that, it will be under-table for private transactions. I think this is our advantage in competition," he added. He also tipped his hat to Chinese president Xi Jinping's efforts to fight corruption in his own country.

He also spoke on the topic of high ministerial salaries, speaking in defence of the existing, but controversial, system of pay.

"In principle, it is not about a high salary, but rather a realistic and commensurate salary," he said. "The most important jobs have to be done by the most capable and reliable people. And if you want capable and reliable people for these jobs, then you have to treat them equally and fairly. People often say they should be motivated by a sacrificial spirit, a spirit of service. Since they are doing it for the country and for the people, they must be willing to put aside their personal benefit and forge ahead selflessly. This definitely holds true.

"But at the same time, these are peaceful times, not a revolutionary period, and everyone needs to support their families and plan for their future," he continued. "Those people who are capable may choose not to make the sacrifice and hope someone else will do it. So in this context, we need a pragmatic system, a realistic wage ... so it is not just a matter of salaries, but also a matter of the system, of transparency, and of our culture of governance."