SINGAPORE: The question of the Singapore identity is “particularly pertinent” as a new global situation is emerging, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah said in Parliament on Friday (May 18).
Global changes she cited include the rise of China, the "introspection" of America and the political sea change in Malaysia. She also mentioned economic shifts, such as how technology is disrupting old jobs and creating new ones, as well as social issues like income inequality and an ageing population.
Responding to the President’s address, Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance, Education and Law, said that Singapore’s ability to deal with these challenges around the world goes “to the very heart of our identity”.
"Do we, this generation of Singaporeans, have what it takes to deal with these challenges and come out ahead? In this time of change, what anchors us? Who are we and what do we stand for? What kind of future do we want to make for ourselves?" she said.
Ms Indranee then highlighted values and defining characteristics that make up the Singaporean identity.
She first spoke on Singapore’s pursuit of excellence and exceptionalism, especially given its small size and lack of natural resources.
“If we want anyone to pay attention to us, if we want to have a place at an international table, if we are to secure our position in the world, then we have to be better than merely good,” Ms Indranee said.
She cited how the country has excelled as an aviation hub, with Changi Airport voted the world’s best for six consecutive years and Singapore Airlines awarded the number one airline globally by Tripadvisor.
Ms Indranee also highlighted how Singapore has performed exceptionally in music and sport, citing how it has produced child prodigies such as 11-year-old violinist Chloe Chua as well as swimmer Joseph Schooling who won the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
"TO BE SINGAPOREAN IS TO CARE"
But Ms Indranee stressed that being Singaporean is “not just about achievements”, and that the triumphs are the "manifestations of something much deeper and more fundamental".
"Above all, to be Singaporean is to care ... about family, about others, about country,” she said.
She added that the debate for the presidential address highlighted various problems such as social mobility, inequality and the lack of social mixing but "the real point to note is that we care that it is becoming a problem and we are determined to do something about it".
"That is the essence of being Singaporean. We care enough to want to do something. If we see something wrong, our first instinct is to help, to fix it, to improve the situation,” she said.
Ms Indranee added that Singaporeans love the environment and nature, highlighting how the country has become a “City in a Garden” with green spaces such as UNESCO world heritage site Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay and the upcoming Rainforest Park at Mandai.
She highlighted how Singaporeans love animals, and cited how the Facebook page Campus Creatures featuring animals around schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and universities has gained popularity.
Ms Indranee also talked about how much food is a defining characteristic of the Singapore identity.
“Before we have finished one meal, we are discussing the next,” she said. “We have our traditional hawker food but young Singaporeans are coming up with creative new concepts.”
To illustrate her point, Ms Indranee cited successful enterprises such as Windowsill Pies, set up by brothers Jonathan and Sean Gwee as well as salted egg yolk fish skin and chips from Golden Duck by Singaporean duo Jonathan Shen and Christopher Hwang.
However, Ms Indranee added that Singaporeans are “by no means perfect” and that some of the characteristics of the Singapore identity are negative.
She cited how Singaporeans are “champion complainers”, kiasu, impatient and can sometimes be inconsiderate and selfish.
Despite this, Ms Indranee maintained that the positive attributes of the Singaporean identity far outweigh the negative ones.
In concluding her speech, Ms Indranee urged young Singaporeans to help write the next chapter of the Singapore story.
“Earlier generations have done much. Now it is your turn. You have the qualities, the values and the opportunity to do so," she said.
“No matter what our background, each of us has a role to play, each has something to contribute to make Singapore a better place. As in an orchestra, each instrument taken alone may not sound very musical, but together they produce a soaring symphony,” Ms Indranee added.