SINGAPORE: As the global geopolitical landscape is shifting - particularly with the US, China and other regional countries - Singapore must "carefully watch and navigate" these new forces, while keeping in mind not to be "short-term opportunists without principles", said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing on Saturday (Aug 12).
Speaking at a National Day dinner at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, Mr Chan said Singapore must remain principled and pragmatic and take a long-term view if it wants to be taken seriously. It must also be conscious about the forces that are always evolving, and make adjustments as and when needed.
"We need to have a clear-eyed view of where our interests are, and the cards we have on our side,” he said. “It is not helpful to start any conversation on foreign relations with the question on if we are to be on the side of Country A or should we be on the side of Country B.
“We are not vassal states of any bigger country.”
Mr Chan said Singapore should be clear of its interests and those of other countries' and to find common ground amid differences. He added that the country must remain relevant and make contributions and should not expect charity or sympathy.
"If we cannot defend ourselves and secure our lifelines, expect nobody to come to our assistance if we are not relevant or useful," he said.
For instance, Government agencies like MINDEF have long anticipated challenges like the development of long-range attack weapons and have built capabilities to defend Singapore's sovereignty.
Singapore must also remain economically successful he said; if not, no one will pay attention to the country and invite it to the table to "discuss the rules and regulations for the next lap of the global economic system".
That is why Singapore needs to explore opportunities and diversify its trade relationships, to not only tap on the growth market beyond its borders, but also to ensure that its economy cannot be held ransom by depending on just one or two countries, said Mr Chan.
“SINGAPORE HAS SURPASSED EXPECTATIONS”
On the economy, Mr Chan noted that Singapore has surpassed expectations over the last two quarters and its full-year growth forecast is now narrowed towards 2 to 3 per cent, from 1 to 3 per cent.
If it continues to restructure its industries and train workers, Singapore is on track to "move on to a new growth trajectory", he said.
But there needs to be a shift in focus - from gross domestic product (GDP) to gross national product (GNP), which is the benchmark of many countries like Switzerland, Mr Chan added.
Singapore needs to look at how its companies are able to compete globally. To this end, Government agencies like IE Singapore, the Economic Development Board and the Ministry of Trade and Industry are helping local businesses spread their wings overseas and ride on the economic growth of the countries where they have bases.
Mr Chan noted that it will take three to five years to restructure the economy towards a manpower-lean one.
While he is not worried about the total number of jobs available for Singaporeans - noting that there are always about 3.5 million jobs for 2.5 million Singaporeans - what he is concerned with is making sure that these jobs are of the right quality that can "fulfill the aspirations of Singaporeans".
The focus is to equip workers in old industries with skillsets to enter new industries, said Mr Chan. But employees must take charge of their own training.
"We are not satisfied with putting our workers in today's jobs, or even worse, yesterday's jobs. We want our people to get into the new jobs in the new economy, so that they have a longer runway to take care of their families,’ he added.
Mr Chan also spoke in Mandarin and Malay.
In Mandarin, Mr Chan said that counter-terrorism is not just about preventing an act from happening. Terrorists seek to break social cohesion and disrupt normalcy. To that end, he urged Singaporeans to stand united, regardless of race, language or religion.
"Over the past many months, our Malay Muslim leaders have stood up and took charge of the situation to mobilise their community to fight this long war on terror. I urge our Chinese, Indian communities to similarly stand on the side of our Muslim brothers (and sisters)," he said, noting that terrorism is not a challenge that should just be tackled by the Malay Muslim community.
In Malay, Mr Chan said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be making announcements with regards to the pre-school sector. But beyond new schemes and programmes, parents must also play a part.
Mr Chan encouraged parents to send their children to school regularly and to make full use of all available opportunities and, as a community, to lend a helping hand to the underprivileged. This is so that as many children as possible can go through pre-school education and get a good foundation.
Mr Chan ended on an optimistic note, using the anecdote of Singapore's many struggles in the 1960s.
"If we had overcome all those challenges in the 1960s, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot overcome the challenges that we have for this generation,” he said. “Now, we have a much more united country, a much more cohesive community. We start from a much higher economic base and our defence and security systems are much more matured than ever.
"But the same spirit that took us from the 1960s to today will be the same spirit that will take us from 2017 onwards for the next 50 years and more.”