Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event

Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow soldiers,
A very good morning to all of you

1. In 1965, The Float @ Marina Bay in front of us did not exist. The reservoir upon which this platform is floating on did not exist. The constantly evolving and unfolding skyline on the shores of this reservoir, that you see in front of us, also did not exist.

2. Singapore has come a long way since independence. In the last 54 years, we have built a home that we can be immensely proud of.

3. We are here today as a strong nation and united people. But this was not something that happened by chance or that happened effortlessly. Indeed, few in 1965 would have bet that we could be where we are today. We were never the “perfect nation” or the “perfect economy” as some commentators may wish to label us now. Instead, we know and will never forget that we are always a work in progress.

4. Our history has not always been this rosy nor easy. 78 years ago to this day - 15 February - was one of the darkest moments in our history. Singapore came under Japanese Occupation. Today, we remind ourselves that we must make sure that this never, ever happens again; that Singapore will forever remain safe, secure and sovereign.

5. 78 years ago, thousands of civilians and prisoners of war were forced to march from the city centre near the current Nicoll Highway all the way to Changi Beach, where Sook Ching happened. Few returned.

Our aspirations

6. In 2010, we had our first Basic Military Graduation Parade here at this very same floating platform. Today, when our National Service recruits graduate from BMT, they do a “reverse march” from Changi to here - a reminder of the painful journey that our forefathers took. That journey was done in pain; but it must not be in vain. Our graduating recruits, their descendants, will march back from Changi into the city centre with pride to honour their contributions and sacrifice. In the march here, our soldiers will pass East Coast Park and various familiar places they grew up with. When our soldiers climb the Benjamin Sheares Bridge or cross the Marina Barrage, they will see our skyline and we can imagine our own future – even when they are at their most tired physically and emotionally. When the recruits stand here, they pledge - in the presence of their buddies by their sides, their families in front of them, and with the nation watching all around them – that we will commit to making sure that no Singaporean will ever live under the rule of another nation.

9. This floating platform will be the site of our future NS Square. We envisaged the NS Square in the heart of the city, so that we will always remember the foundation of our success. And that is Total Defence and its six pillars comprising Military, Civil, Economic, Social, Psychological and Digital Defence.

Total Defence

10. Our strongest defence as a nation is collective defence, when every one of us plays our part. This is the essence of Total Defence.

11. With the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), we have been put to the test in the past few weeks. We have done reasonably well thus far against an unknown enemy, but we certainly still have room to improve and we must never be complacent.

Economic Defence

12. In terms of Economic Defence, our supply chains and stockpile were tested in the last two weeks.

13. Our strategies of stockpiling, complemented by local production, diversification of supply sources and working with trusted partners, were planned and executed over many years. We did not do too badly. But we can certainly improve. We will need to constantly update our assumptions. Not just to prepare for the last contingency but always for the next one. Not just to prepare for a localised crisis, but also against the backdrop of a global emergency. Our economic resilience will continue to be tested in the coming months by the disruptions to our supply chains and markets. We must rise to the occasion to allow our enterprises to continue to flourish and for our workers to earn their livelihood.

Civil Defence

14. In the past weeks, many Singaporeans have stepped up to play their part in collective defence. They have selflessly pitched in to help, demonstrating what a strong Civil Defence means. Our healthcare workers remain at the forefront, risking their personal health to hold the nation’s line of defence. Our Home Team officers, guarding us and our borders, not just against terrorism and illegal immigrants, but also a virus that we do not fully understand yet. Our community leaders and volunteers, manning mask collection centres all around the island, taking care of the vulnerable, or helping with contact tracing and manning helplines. None abandoned their stations or duties. Indeed, all answered the call and more.

Social Defence

15. COVID-19, as in any virus, is not nationality, race, language or religion-based. Neither does it respect borders or territories.

16. In times like this, we close ranks and help one another in our Social Defence to continue to undertake, to promise to help one another, as well as exercise personal and social responsibility that we will not ostracise our medical workers, CISCO officers and frontline staff fighting this battle. Neither will we ostracise foreign counterparts who are here as part of Team Singapore.

17. We understand the fears and concerns in times of uncertainties. We will and we must help younger and newer Singaporeans to go through it together. We have done this before and we will do this again. We have lived through the Asian financial crisis, 9/11, SARS, the global financial crisis, H1N1. We have done it before and we will do it again.

18. And I have been heartened by community-led initiatives that aim to show appreciation to our many frontline workers. Youth volunteers from Youth Corps Singapore have distributed care packs, including notes of appreciation, Vitamin C, drinks and snacks in appreciation of frontline workers. Heart of God Church reached out to its community partners, Khadijah Mosque, Geylang United Temple, Nanyang Leow-Sih Association and Huang Clan Association to prepare and distribute care packs containing an assortment of fruits, vitamin C and heartfelt notes to healthcare professionals at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. There are many more such examples of Singaporeans rising to the occasion.

18. We do not yet know how long this will last or how it will pan out. But we can be confident that when each of us do our part, we make a difference not just to ourselves and our families but to someone else, particularly the youngest, oldest and weakest. When we rise to the occasion together, we can tell ourselves and our descendants proudly what kind of people and nation we can be.

Digital Defence

19. At the same time, we have also seen Digital Defence being put into action. As evidenced by last week’s panic buying, a few of the same photos and videos, shared many times over, could trigger long queues at supermarkets. Falsehoods and rumours must be countered collectively. Discipline to verify sources of information is both an individual and collective responsibility. However, we must recognise the asymmetry in human psychology – bad news travel faster than good news. Fear overwhelms more easily than calmness. And it is because of these reasons that all the more, we need to try harder together.

Psychological Defence

20. Our ability to overcome threats and challenges depends on the collective will of Singaporeans to defend our way of life, stand up for our nation and possess the fighting spirit to press on and overcome the crisis together.

21. This is our Psychological Defence. The most priceless, the most precious, and the most challenging. In times of crisis, will we at the individual and collective levels, be rattled and divided when things go wrong?

22. In times of crisis, do we panic and only protect ourselves? Or do we band together to protect and take care of each other, especially the vulnerable ones first? How do we overcome our individual fears with collective calm, make rational and sensible choices, will allow us to stand tall amongst nations, and give confidence to others to deal with us through good times and tough times. To fear is human. To overcome fear by ourselves alone will always be tough. Just as all of you national servicemen have been trained, we train ourselves to overcome fear through collective action and always have the confidence that we will never fight the battle alone. This is how we must do so for our nation as well, that no one will ever fight this alone. We will always overcome this together as one. So likewise, to avoid being paralysed by fear and tunnel vision of current challenges, we must also remember to focus on the hope for our collective future even in the toughest moments. This was what our forefathers did throughout the Japanese Occupation. That even in the darkest moment, they never gave up on a better future for their decedents and that is us, who have benefited from their contributions and sacrifice today. In the past weeks, we have seen the best of many and the worst of a few. It is our job to make sure that those who have done well, those who are strong, continue to reach out to those who are weak and help everyone to overcome this collectively.


23. Finally, challenges do not define us. Our responses to challenges will define us.

24. We are never done building Singapore, neither will we ever be done strengthening Total Defence. Through each and every of these challenges and crises that we face as a people and nation, we will emerge stronger. We will emerge stronger for the world to see a shining red dot that inspires confidence and distinguishes ourselves from the rest.

25. Our collective spirit and resolve over these past weeks have demonstrated that, when every one of us plays our part and helps one another, we fear no challenges. Nothing will set us back. Every challenge is an opportunity for us to once again prove our Total Defence in action, and our collective will to transcend all challenges. May we all emerge stronger from this all. Thank you very much. And thank you for serving the nation and doing your part in our respective stations in life.

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