SINGAPORE: The ongoing protests in Hong Kong have reached a “breaking point” and Singapore is watching the developments “with concern”, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Nov 18).
“Unless calm is restored, dialogue commences and constructive actions taken, there will be grave doubts about Hong Kong's future and the sustainability of its current governance model,” said Mr Chan in his comments to reporters at The Treasury.
Hong Kong has been rocked by months of unprecedented protests, which started initially from opposition to a controversial extradition Bill, but later evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms under Chinese rule.
Clashes between protesters and police have turned increasingly violent, with schools emerging as the new battleground in recent days.
“We watch with concern the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong. This is especially so for those of us with relatives in Hong Kong,” said Mr Chan.
He added that Hong Kong's continued success as an economic and financial hub is important for the region and the world, including Singapore.
“We wish Hong Kong the very best and sincerely hope that the situation will improve soon,” he said.
FOUR LESSONS FOR SINGAPORE
Mr Chan cautioned that what has happened in Hong Kong can “easily happen” to Singapore if the country is complacent.
He also explained four lessons that Singapore can draw from the recent uncertainties in Hong Kong.
The first is to have a well-functioning political system, which works closely with the public service to anticipate challenges, execute policies well, resolve problems and improve people's lives.
“Regardless of political systems and party interests, the exercise of leadership must be to put people’s and country’s interests foremost,” the minister said.
Feedback channels will also be required to enable responsive and responsible governance, he added.
“Only with a well-functioning political system, the right political culture and a well-oiled feedback-to-action mechanism can we make adjustments to policies as necessary, execute decisively and communicate effectively.”
The second lesson is that long-term policy making as the success of any government cannot be measured just by the short term, he said.
“Our success must also be determined by our ability to enable the next generation to do even better than us,” Mr Chan added.
“Today, too many governments and societies are too focused on the immediate and domestic, without sufficient considerations for the future or external.”
As an example, he cited how the access to affordable housing and essential services is fundamental to keeping society stable.
“The transfer of land ownership and properties across generations cannot be at the expense of depriving future generations’ opportunities to be rewarded based on hard work and capabilities. It cannot be that those who are rich first will be rich forever without due effort.”
Mr Chan noted how there have been suggestions for Singapore to include land sales proceeds in the Budget and allow private developers land bank for longer periods so as to complete projects.
“Our rules put national developments, especially public housing, as priority,” he elaborated.
“We are careful to not distort incentives for Government to use land sales to maximise profits. Otherwise, it is the public that will ultimately pay. We are also careful to not let private developers’ interest override wider public interest.
“Revenue from long-term land sales goes into our reserves to benefit future generations. This is the discipline we adhere to,” he said.
Mr Chan then moved on to the third lesson on social cohesion and conflict resolution.
“Unity amidst diversity requires all parties to bear in mind the wider good of the country, while championing the respective wants of specific communities.
“To insist on maximal individual gains, at the expense of the common and collective good, cannot be the Singapore way,” he said.
The “Singapore way” also includes dialogue and constructive actions, instead of violence, when it comes to resolving problems.
Mr Chan stressed that conflict resolution requires all parties to take actions that are responsible and constructive. Singaporeans are also ultimately responsible for their future.
“Regardless of what others say, we must bear the responsibilities and consequences of our own choices and actions. This is why we are against foreign interference in domestic politics,” he said.
Lastly, the minister noted that it is never easy for small city-states to survive and thrive without a conventional hinterland for supplies, markets and opportunities.
“Singapore will have to pick up the pieces ourselves should things go badly wrong,” he said.
Therefore, Singapore's continued relevance to the world is “never a given” and the country must continue to work hard, distinguish itself and stay exceptional amid global uncertainties.
This includes growing opportunities for local enterprises and workers, as well as providing value to regional and global geo-strategic affairs with principled perspectives and clear-eyed analysis of the challenges and opportunities, among others.