Saturday 27 June 2015

Singaporeans upbeat about country's future: Singapore Institute of International Affairs Future50 report 2015

Population and governance issues expected to be main challenges: Poll
By Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 26 Jun 2015

SINGAPOREANS are generally buoyant about the country's future, with nearly eight in 10 saying in a poll that they are quite or very optimistic about the years ahead.

The poll, conducted by Blackbox Research in conjunction with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), also found that they expect population and governance issues to be Singapore's biggest challenges.

The findings were published as part of a report by the SIIA - the culmination of a series of talks that started in 2013 - on developments in the geopolitical, economic and social, and environmental spheres that will affect Singapore in the next 50 years.

These issues also featured at the SIIA's "Future 50" lecture and panel discussion last night.

Mr Nicholas Fang, the think-tank's executive director and co-author of the report, said that on the domestic front, Singapore has to decide if a new social compact needs to be forged between the Government and people.

In the current political climate, with people becoming more vocal, strong leadership must be accompanied by more citizen empowerment, said Mr Fang, a former Nominated MP. He also called on Singaporeans to think about the kind of citizens they want to be.

"A lot of conversations are focused on what kind of Singapore we want. But it will be shaped by the kind of citizens living here."

Singapore has to anticipate and adapt to changes in Asia and beyond, said SIIA senior research fellow Parag Khanna, who also spoke at the event.

Citing India's growth, he said Singapore can leverage on this to make India "the next China for Singapore" as a market to export goods, services and know-how.

Dr Khanna, a geopolitical strategist who co-wrote the SIIA report with Mr Fang, said that for Singapore to be resilient, the country should invest in diversifying its economy internally, as well as its economic and geopolitical relationships externally.

But even as Singapore considers its future, it might also be an opportune time to think about its moral vision, said the third panellist last night, Dr Cherian George, a journalism professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University.

In describing the moral basis that underpins Singapore society as one that is national rather than universal in outlook, he asked: "How much does Singapore's success depend on narrowing our moral vision on our own country, and blinding ourselves to global injustice?"

Citing the issue of Rohingya refugees as an example, he said Singapore may one day have to decide if it will take in Rohingya refugees should their boats come to Singapore waters: "I think it's stretching conscience to say that we, a First World country, Singapore, can do nothing to help."

Thousands of Rohingya boat people fleeing persecution and poverty in Myanmar's western Rakhine state were stranded at sea for weeks until Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to provide them temporary refuge last month.

Singapore had said that as a small country with limited land, it is unable to accept any refugees or those seeking political asylum.

But it offered US$200,000 (S$268,000) last month to support the region's efforts in helping the refugees and may offer more help if there are specific requests.

Speaking after the event, SIIA chairman Simon Tay said Singaporeans should be more outward-looking and think of themselves as global citizens.

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