Ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for the invitation to join you this evening to commemorate Singapore’s Bicentennial year.
2 The series of Bicentennial activities and programmes over the course of this year have been an opportunity for Singaporeans to reflect on how we came to be, how far we have come, and how we can go forward, together.
3 Building Singapore is a never ending, whole-of-nation effort. In keeping with the Bicentennial theme, I would reflect on three key attributes relevant for our business community that have kept us going.
b. Multiracialism and multiculturalism
4 Beyond our strategic location, Singapore’s early success as an entrepot was founded upon our openness and connectivity.
a. Singapore has always been a place of opportunity attracting aspiring and enterprising individuals and businesses from the region and beyond.
b. Many come here because they believe in Singapore as a land of opportunity, founded on the bases of openness and connectivity.
c. The ideas and investments of enterprising people induced a virtuous cycle that created more opportunities for our people here.
d. Our openness has helped us make the most of our strategic geographical location, strengthening our connectivity - linking us to trade, people, and markets all over the world.
e. As a people and economy, we have always stood for openness and connectivity; in turn, openness and connectivity have stood us in good stead through the years.
5 Particularly in the last few decades, the world has seen a tremendous increase in the level of prosperity that has uplifted many lives.
a. This was brought about largely through the globalisation and integration of the world’s economy, where the world was able to optimise our production at the international level.
6 Today, the world’s economy is at a crossroads – the fundamental question in the coming years is whether the world would be more integrated or more fragmented. Lately, many parts of the world have been agitating for a retreat from globalisation.
a. This has arisen from very real mounting domestic pressures, due to the sentiment that the benefits of international trade have not been evenly distributed.
b. However, for a small economy like Singapore, we cannot afford to close our doors and minds to the world.
7 As the winds of globalisation weaken, we will need to navigate our way forward even more carefully.
a. To create good jobs for Singaporeans, we will need to continue to stay open to trade and investments and play our part to uphold a rules-based trading system.
b. Many of our existing trade agreements were designed for the trade in physical goods and services, and we are working to update these for a digital era.
i. We are working with like-minded partners to introduce new partnerships called Digital Economy Agreements to set out rules to support digital trade and facilitate collaboration on data and emerging technologies.
c. Agreements such as RCEP are important signals that go beyond economics and trade. They have geostrategic significance in signalling how we want to create interdependence and continue to work together as a network to grow our countries. This stands in contrast to the counter-efforts to isolate and fragment.
d. These trade agreements also show that very different countries at varying stages of development can work together to leverage each other’s strengths.
8 We have many ambassadors and high commissioners, diplomats, here with us this evening.
a. Thank you for partnering us in our growth story.
b. Singapore wants to continue to work with your economies to uphold and improve the global rules-based trading system.
c. This spirit of openness, and not one of nativist or parochial mindset, is important to Singapore. It will also benefit all of us.
Multiracialism and multiculturalism
9 Complementing our openness to trade, Singapore’s people come from many different communities.
a. Our forefathers were of diverse origins and brought with them different cultures and traditions.
b. The shared experiences and mixing of different cultures have played a major part in shaping our journey towards a collective Singaporean identity.
c. While we may not have a sufficiently long shared history or common ancestry as a national identity; we instead believe that a forward-looking identity with a set of shared values is in fact a stronger proposition.
10 As our founding PM Lee Kuan Yew stated upon our independence, we are not a Malay nation, not a Chinese nation, not an Indian nation.
a. We have always pursued a policy of integration – such as in schools and housing estates – and not form racial enclaves and uphold the rights of the minorities.
b. Our Singaporean Chinese, who forms the majority of our population, has a responsibility towards the rest of our minority Singaporeans. Often, we have to lean forward to make sure that the interests of our fellow Singaporeans – especially those of the minorities - are protected.
c. This must remain the case today, so that we can protect and continue to weave our social fabric, and also welcome people who can contribute meaningfully to Team Singapore, regardless of their background.
11 Whilst our diversity has been a source of strength, we must be careful that it does not form cracks in our society.
a. Maintaining social cohesion is a challenge faced by many societies, and Singapore is no exception.
b. Remember, that integration does not mean de-culturisation.
12 To many of our guests here tonight – you will be very familiar with the benefits of diversity within the workplace. This is especially important in a country and region as diverse as ours.
a. At this moment in history, there is increasing anxiety globally over the loss of opportunities to those perceived as “outsiders”.
b. Businesses have an important part to play in continuing to engender the social acceptance necessary for our manpower needs to be met in a sustainable way.
c. The lived experiences of your employees can either be a strong defence against such concerns, or they can further reinforce these beliefs.
13 As employers, we can continue to commit to fair and progressive employment practices in the workplace.
a. In particular, this includes investing in human capital development, and ensuring adequate upgrading and advancement opportunities for our local workforce.
b. As our multicultural social norms can be rather unfamiliar to foreign employees, it is important that we go beyond integrating them into our companies, but to also help them understand and connect with the broader society. So, it is not just about what happens within the workplace.
c. We recognise that many of you would already have structured processes to develop both your local and foreign employees.
d. However, as past incidents have shown, it takes just one bad example to induce an outsized reaction and perception amongst the community.
14 Businesses should also diversify your foreign workforce as an important step in managing your concentration risks.
a. We avoid depending on a single source or a few markets or customers for revenue or resources.
b. We should similarly avoid being reliant on manpower from any one place, even though it may be more expedient to recruit from a familiar source.
15 And to my final point for the evening – our right to self-determination. The annals of history have shown that bigger and more powerful states would often seek to advance their interests by projecting their influence on others via all instruments of power ranging from military, economic, cultural, diplomatic, to informational.
16 Singapore, similarly, cannot expect to be immune from such external forces. Our small size, openness, and relatively short history have always made it challenging for us to mitigate the external influences on our systems.
17 We have various existing measures to guard ourselves and our systems from foreign interference. But what is most critical is a discerning people who are aware of the existence and forms of such interference.
18 Self-determination brought us to self-governance, merger, and finally independence.
a. Our forefathers fought for the right to determine our own destiny, to be called Singaporeans.
b. We chart our own course and bear responsibility for our choices.
c. No one else can decide for us, and no one will pick up the pieces for us if things go wrong.
d. Put it another way – when others say “jump”, we do not only ask “how high?”.
19 On the economic front, we must similarly consider first what is in the interest of Singapore, even as we practise openness and connectivity.
a. Our interests are best served by remaining open to economic relations with all countries.
b. Not advocating for policies favouring any particular country.
c. Our value to the world is to be a principled partner to all. Someone the rest of the world can trust because we mean what we say, and we say what we mean. So people when dealing with us know that when a Singaporean says something we mean it and we will deliver it. That is the brand of Singapore.
20 Ladies and gentlemen, I have outlined the three key traits that have kept this tiny red dot we call home going, growing and glowing for the last 200 years. And our business community plays a critical role in advocating and realising openness, multiracialism and multiculturalism, and self-determination.
21 Our business community has always sought to serve the wider community and make an impact beyond themselves. This spirit of giving back and uplifting our communities has been integral in taking us from Singapore to Singaporean. These efforts contributed to a wider effort of building a stronger identity for the people in Singapore and set them on a path to better their lives.
a. For instance, the Chinese business community led by SCCCI has evolved from a support network to be an important part of our economic journey. This is also the same for the other ethnic and international business chambers. In partnership with each other, many of you present here today, you form an important link between the Government and businesses and support the community and social integration.
b. A stable, strong, and united community where nobody feels left behind is key to a resilient economy, and a critical factor that will enable Singapore to continue to flourish.
22 Let us continue to live our cherished values, partner each other in the journey and make this a truly special place that we call home. Thank you and have a good evening.
Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the SCCCI Bicentennial Dinner 2019
Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the SCCCI Bicentennial Dinner 2019