SINGAPORE: Singapore’s approach to navigating through a turbulent environment has always been to stay calm and collected, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, who was speaking at a Chinese New Year celebration at his constituency on Saturday evening (Feb 4).
Mr Chan said that in 2016, Singaporeans witnessed the relative shifts of powers globally and as a small country, there will be differences in expectations on what Singapore should do.
“We must never make this mistake to assume that people elsewhere are illogical, just because they have chosen something or someone that are not within our conventional expectations,” the MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC said. “For us in Singapore, as a small country, we have to understand why they voted in that way and the deeper underlying forces that are shaping their choices for their own societies,” he added.
Mr Chan also said Singapore should be careful not to pass judgments on other people’s choice of their leaders and systems. “Their choice of their leaders and systems is for them to decide. Our job is to understand them and their situation and to figure out what is the best way for us to work with them on the way forward for a win-win partnership.”
Likening Singapore to a boat in the ocean, Mr Chan stressed that watching the waves and reading the tide is important. However, he said the country must also have its own compass and an anchor in its values to stay its course.
“I know that the year of Monkey was filled with changes and uncertainties. There were uncertainties in our external environment and there were also uncertainties in our economic situation,” he said. “Some of the uncertainties in the geopolitical environment would have spilled over to the uncertainties in our economic situation.
“We as Singaporeans are keenly aware and reminded that regardless of what we do in Singapore, there will always be some things that will be beyond our control - that happen beyond our shore - that will have a great impact on our country and our situation in Singapore.”
Mr Chan added that for a small country like Singapore, peace, stability and order in the different parts of the world are important, “so that we can live harmoniously with our neighbours and the powers beyond”.
“Many people have asked are we pro-country A or pro-country B? Are we anti-country A or anti-country B?” Mr Chan said. “Let us be very clear-eyed about this. We are neither pro-country A nor anti-country B. We are just pro Singapore. Everything that we do must start from the basic premise on what is of the best interest for Singapore.”
He added that another guiding factor is belief in the rule of law, as well as the freedom of passage and navigation. Singapore also seeks to maximise the partnerships it has with all countries big and small. It is also why the country has spared no effort to have bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements.
"But in order to identify win-win projects, we must be very sharp to what other people's interests and expectations are," said Mr Chan. "For a small country, there is no other choice. We must know what they expect; what are their interests; never be complacent and continuously find mutually beneficial projects for us to (bring) the relationship forward.
“What has worked in the past may not always work in the future, but we must constantly look for things that work even better for mutual interest moving into the forward ... Once in a while, there will be challenges between us and other countries, but what will remain unchanged is for us to be very clear-eyed about our interest and their interest, play for the long haul, stay in for the long haul, remain open, remain inclusive and that will continue to guide our approach to foreign relations with other countries."
SINGAPOREANS MUST REMAIN OPEN, CONNECTED WITH REST OF THE WORLD
Additionally, Singaporeans must remain open and connected with the rest of the world, Mr Chan said. He noted while last year was challenging, this year will also have its challenges. “(We must be) open to ideas, open to business opportunities from beyond our shores (and stay) connected to people, connected to ideas and connected to business opportunities all over the world,” he added.
Mr Chan, who is also labour chief, said Singapore will continue to focus on reducing the need for manpower. "We have to challenge ourselves in all our businesses to reduce the need for manpower. We have to go for quality growth that's based on innovation rather than manpower growth. There is no choice for us but this," he said. "Our ability to take in any more foreign manpower will depend critically on our ability to integrate them into social system. That will be the determinant to how much foreign manpower we can absorb in Singapore."
He concluded: “We have every opportunity and every condition possible for us to have a head start in this race for the next lap. There is no reason whatsoever that Singapore cannot win. We have a good education system, we have a good training system and we have a cohesive Government, people and business relationship. So if anybody can overcome these challenges, Singapore has every chance to do so.”