BEIJING: With many societies currently experiencing discord, distrust and division, Singapore President Halimah Yacob said there is an urgent need for better communication and dialogue between different communities.
She made these comments in an interview with China’s official People’s Daily, as she started a three-day visit to Beijing from Tuesday (May 14), to attend the inaugural Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations.
The conference, which aims to boost exchanges and promote cooperation between countries, will be attended by representatives from 47 Asian countries and those outside the continent.
Mdm Halimah said the conference is a timely opportunity for leaders to exchange experiences and share perspectives on how to celebrate unity in diversity, and promote harmony, peace and prosperity.
This is especially as many societies currently experience division among different communities, often caused by a lack of mutual respect and understanding.
“People all over the world think of themselves as peace loving and tolerant of other groups, yet enmities and conflict exist,” said Mdm Halimah.
“There is an urgent need for better communication and dialogue among different communities."
When asked about Singapore’s experience as a multi-racial and multi-religious society, Mdm Halimah said race, language and religion have been fundamental issues for Singapore from the very beginning of its nationhood.
The goal of Singapore’s founding fathers was to build a united country for all races, with citizens given full and fair opportunities to fulfill their aspirations.
“Harmony is not achieved easily or by chance,” said Mdm Halimah.
“It is the result of continuous hard work and deliberate policies based on the rule of law, meritocracy, justice and equality."
So, even as Singapore builds a common Singaporean identity, Mdm Halimah said the country celebrates the diversity of its multi-ethnic cultural heritage.
“We are especially concerned that the minority communities, who are non-Chinese, are not marginalised, discriminated against or put at a disadvantage by the majority," said Mdm Halimah.
"Singapore is unique – our population is majority ethnic Chinese, but we see ourselves as a multi-racial country, not a Chinese one."
Singapore and China mark 30 years of diplomatic ties next year and Mdm Halimah added that Singapore looks forward to working with China to enhance existing cooperation and expand into new areas.
This includes smart cities and third-party cooperation under the Belt and Road initiative.
“Close and mutually beneficial relations between China and Singapore will show the world that China is able to cooperate with countries big and small," said Mdm Halimah.
“Taking advantage of cultural similarities and yet appreciating the differences in their ethnic and religious compositions, and respecting the diverse world views and priorities of countries that result from their different populations, cultures, histories, and strategic perspectives."
On Tuesday, President Halimah also met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, where she accepted his invitation to make a state visit to China next year.
This comes as both leaders said they looked forward to marking the 30th anniversary of Singapore-China diplomatic relations in 2020.
According to Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mdm Halimah and President Xi also reaffirmed the substantive and multi-faceted relations between Singapore and China, noting that both countries share a long tradition of close friendship and cooperation.