SINGAPORE: Singapore is doing well and the Government is fulfilling the tasks it set out to accomplish, but “do not assume that Singapore will always continue to be successful”. This is why its leaders must not take the “wrong approach” in making incremental, instead of bold, changes, said President Halimah Yacob on Monday (May 7).
In her speech to open the second session of the 13th Parliament, Mdm Halimah noted that the fourth generation leadership team is taking shape and the new leaders are conscious that Singapore is at an advanced stage of development.
“We may feel that we have more to lose now. We may be tempted not to go for bold changes, but instead be content to tweak things at the margins,” the president said. “That would be the wrong approach.
“Singapore has a lot going for it. It is a vibrant global node in the heart of a thriving Asia; a multi-cultural society with people from diverse backgrounds living harmoniously side by side. We need to keep alive the spirit of our pioneers and be constantly driven to do better, with each generation surpassing the previous,” she added.
She highlighted significant developments in the country’s external and domestic environments that must be understood and dealt with.
GLOBAL AND REGIONAL TENSIONS
The first: Strategic changes. The centre of gravity of the world economy is shifting to Asia as a result of China rising and India taking off. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also generating renewed interest among international investors and these trends bode well for Singapore, she said.
But much depends on the relationship between the United States and China, which “underpins regional and global peace and prosperity” – a relationship Mdm Halimah described as “dynamic”.
“Trade frictions are just one aspect of US-China bilateral tensions that affect the rest of the world – especially small, open economies like ours,” she said.
Regional tensions, such as the developments in the Korean Peninsula and terrorism, continue to be an important area of focus, the president said.
Closer to home, ties with the country’s immediate neighbours also need attention.
Mdm Halimah said: “Relations with our immediate neighbours – Malaysia and Indonesia – are stable and multi-faceted. Our histories and heritages are intertwined. We have grown our partnerships in recent years, and will continue to strengthen them.
“We must tend these bilateral relationships carefully, especially during election seasons, and avoid becoming embroiled in their domestic politics.”
TEXTURE OF SINGAPORE SOCIETY “CHANGING”
Domestically, the president said the texture of Singapore’s society is changing as the population ages, which will place heavier demands on the country’s healthcare and social security systems.
“We have seen income inequality and social stratification break the social compact in many countries. If the same happens to us, our politics will turn vicious, our society will fracture and our nation will wither,” Mdm Halimah said.
“We must tackle inequality, particularly the increasingly dissimilar starting points of children from different family backgrounds, before the problem becomes entrenched in our society.”
She also pointed to religious polarisation, xenophobia and extreme nationalism as “divisive forces” that have grown stronger in many parts of the world, and the online space used to spread falsehoods and misinformation.
Singapore, she said, must not allow itself to succumb to these forces.
“All these developments that I have outlined can affect us in unexpected ways. We need to watch them closely, tackle them resolutely, and make progress together,” the president said.
“We already have policies and programmes to respond to these shifts. These tasks will occupy us beyond this term of Government.”