Thursday, 19 May 2016

Understand issues first, then react: Tan Chuan-Jin

Chuan-Jin calls on citizens to adopt ‘corresponding approach’ during online discussions
By Toh Ee Ming, TODAY, 18 May 2016

As the Government increasingly taps online platforms to engage citizens and disseminate information, Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday called on the public to find out more about an issue and understand it first before reacting — the same mantra adopted by policymakers in gathering feedback.

Speaking at the third Singapore-China Social Governance Forum at Shangri-La Hotel, Mr Tan noted that “conversations happen online whether or not we are there”. To engage effectively and reach out to more people, the Government has to go to “where the chatter is and to also create our own online conversations”, he added. “We hope that as people respond to our efforts, they can also adopt a corresponding approach as they join in discussions on specific issues or policy matters, which is first to know or to be aware, then to understand or appreciate, before reacting,” Mr Tan said.

The forum was attended by about 100 senior officials from Singapore and China. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Mr Meng Jianzhu, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China, delivered keynote addresses. Several Singapore leaders including Mr Tan and Senior Minister of State (Home Affairs and National Development) Desmond Lee, and their China counterparts spoke about the various aspects of social governance, such as urbanisation, technology and the legal system.

Mr Tan also touched on the “spread of mistruths” on the Internet. “With the myriad alternative content and websites out there, we are very conscious of the stiff competition our online avenues face for the attention of the people,” he said. “We are also conscious that, unfortunately, there will also be misleading information on Government efforts. When this happens, we will need to leverage our online channels to clear the shroud and swiftly dispel confusion.”

In his speech, Mr Teo said that while social media can transmit important national messages quickly to a wide audience and facilitate greater discourse, there is the danger of creating echo chambers where people “only read and hear from those who share the same views, reinforcing their own biases and shutting out other views”.

On managing diversity, Mr Teo noted that Singapore’s laws provide the framework for “governing how citizens relate in a peaceful and harmonious way to each other in a diverse society”.

He added: “Rather than using the law as the main avenue, over the years, we have established formal institutions and policies, as well as informal structures to facilitate social discourse, interaction and understanding. These help us foster social cohesion and harmony, and to manage issues or differences through discussion, compromise and consensus.”

Singapore, China share ways to tackle similar changes
Officials stress need to guard common space while allowing diversity of views
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

When an elderly woman was taken off public assistance in April, an online article implied it was because she was dying from terminal cancer.

Not true, said the Government, publishing a rebuttal on its website to set the record straight: the woman had Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and owned a fully paid-up flat.

The episode earlier this month was highlighted by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday when he set out how the Government uses the Internet to counter misinformed views.

He made the point at the third Singapore-China Social Governance Forum held here, attended by 100 officials from both sides looking for fresh ways to govern in a diverse society.

The biannual forum is a key cooperation platform which Singapore and China take turns to host.

China is widely seen as a country of one people and one language, but it is not so, said its officials.

With 56 ethnic groups, 1.3 billion people and a territory of 9.6 million sq km, China is in fact incredibly diverse, said its Political and Legal Affairs Commission secretary-general Wang Yongqing.

In multiracial Singapore, the Government manages a diverse society too, but on a much smaller scale.

Still, both face similar changes, said their top officials, citing four areas where they have useful experiences to share and adapt for themselves.

First, Singapore and China need to ensure that different ethnic groups live side by side in harmony.

Second, migration trends mean new migrants need to be integrated into existing communities.

Rapid urbanisation in China, for instance, has caused its urban population to swell by 21 million a year in the last 15 years.

Third, both need to tackle economic inequality to ensure the less well-off are not left behind while the wealthy gets richer and richer.

Singapore does it by ensuring everyone can access good education and training, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in his keynote speech at the forum's opening.

Fourth, views and interests have become more pluralistic, and officials on both sides spoke of the need to guard the common space while accommodating this new diversity of views. This is why the Singapore Government has adopted a strategy of engagement and consultation, said Mr Tan.

Ministers and ministries have a strong social media presence, while still meeting people in person.

"With today's technology, conversations happen online whether or not we are there," said Mr Tan.

To reach out to more people more meaningfully, "we have to go where the chatter is and create our own online conversations", he added.

The strategy lets the Government understand the differences in society, while making people aware of different viewpoints.

Singapore's approach, however, is still a work in progress, he said, adding that it is finding new ways to have discussions as values evolve.

China is also harnessing the Internet to make sure its governance is systematic and coordinated, said Chinese delegation leader Meng Jianzhu, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

"There must be information exchange, resource sharing and cooperation between different sectors of society," said Mr Meng, who is also secretary of the CPC Central Committee's Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

Several junior ministers on both sides also spoke in closed-door sessions on the rule of law, cyber security and urbanisation.

All said diversity can be a source of strength if managed wisely.

"We celebrate and draw strength from our diversity," said Mr Teo.

"But we also recognise the importance of managing our diversity well so we can continue to reap the benefits, rather than be pulled apart by our differences and retreat into exclusivism and extremism."

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