Friday 21 April 2023

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President in Parliament on 19 April 2023

Amid unprecedented global situation, remain united, be go-getters and uphold Singapore’s reputation: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2023

Amid an unprecedented global situation that is graver than what Singapore has experienced for a very long time, it is important that the nation should stay united.

Singapore must not allow itself to be divided along fault lines, or turn inwards like what other countries with larger populations and domestic markets are doing, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

Instead, Singaporeans must remain united, maintain the go-getting spirit, and uphold the country’s good standing in the world, he added.

PM Lee spent over a third of his 50-minute speech in Parliament laying out the challenges facing Singapore strategically and economically, and the implications for the country.

While Singapore’s relationships with neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia are close, stable and encouraging, the situation further afield has turned much more troubling, even dangerous, he warned.

“Singaporeans need to realise the gravity of the external situation. We are facing not just one storm, but several,” he said on the third day of the debate on the President’s Address. The address had laid out the key priorities of the Government going into the second session of the 14th Parliament.

The storms include the Russia-Ukraine war, deepening hostility between the United States and China, and protectionism undermining the multilateral trading system.

PM Lee called for continued unity as he noted that Singaporeans have come through repeated challenges over the past six decades because they have worked together, taken adversity in their stride, and kept faith with one another.

Elsewhere, opposing groups are getting worked up, mobilising their followers, and pitting citizens against one another, said PM Lee.

“In Singapore, when faced with a divisive issue, our approach has always been to find a middle way, bridge the differences, strike compromises and heal divisions. Not grand posturing; not playing cultural or identity politics; not dividing and polarising people,” he said.

“Our instinct always is to keep Singaporeans together. We have to keep on thinking and acting like this. Please do not take our harmony for granted. It is a very precious thing, and very fragile. We must continuously work on it, and build up our social cohesion and national strength.”

The troubled external environment will create new stresses and strains in society, which must not divide Singaporeans along fault lines in society, such as the “haves” versus “have nots”, or “locals” versus “foreigners”, or between different races and religions, said PM Lee.

High inflation from the war will cause difficulties for many households, especially lower- and middle-income families, he said.

Tensions between China and the US will expose the population to “emotional pulls, commercial pressures and influence campaigns, from one side or the other, to take their point of view and support their cause”.

There will also be more uncertain growth and greater disruption with the fracturing of the global trading system.

“In this new troubled world, it is all the more important for us to close ranks. Divided, we stand no chance,” he said.

“We must not shy away from hard choices, but deal squarely with difficult issues based on facts and sound analysis.”

Apart from remaining united, it is equally important that Singaporeans have the go-getting spirit of self-reliance and enterprise, to create prosperity for the nation and achieve the best they can in a very troubled world, said PM Lee.

This is an attitude Singapore has always had and has not forgotten, he noted, citing examples of Singaporeans who have ventured overseas as far as Rwanda.

“But we are not just asking Singaporeans to work harder as individuals. We have a strategy to make a living for our nation as a global city and an international hub. It will be tough, because globalisation is going the wrong way,” said PM Lee.

He noted that larger countries may be able to afford the costs of turning inward, but as a small island state, Singapore cannot.

“Our survival depends on our being able to do business with the world, to deliver value to others. So our strategy must be to double down on staying open and connected to the world, and continue making ourselves useful as a global city and an international hub.”

But staying open and connected means being exposed to competition from the world, so Singapore must maintain its edge by continually upgrading capabilities and building new ones. It must also transform and restructure the economy to stay abreast of new technologies and industries, he added.

The quality of the country’s government and leaders matters, too, he added. As part of leadership renewal, the 4G ministers are increasingly responsible for the safety and well-being of the country, PM Lee said, as he called on Singaporeans to elect leaders they trust to take the country forward.

He also urged people to embrace the outsized ambition and effort of earlier generations for the city-state to be an exceptional place in the world.

This means continuing to uphold Singapore’s good international reputation, turning opportunities into successes and keeping consistent principles.

“This is the way for Singapore to be taken seriously, and to count for more than our size. We may be a small island state, but we are not a small people, and neither are our hearts nor our aspirations. Let us think boldly, aim high, and seek far.”

Support 4G leaders to keep Singapore’s system working well, says PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2023

Singapore has built a strong international reputation over the years because people know that the country’s leaders enjoy the support and confidence of the people and deliver on what they say, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on Wednesday.

This is a key reason why the country has attracted good investments and Singaporeans enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but there is nothing that can magically prevent things from going awry, he added.

He asked people not to take the Singapore brand for granted, adding that the best chance to keep the country on the right track is to ensure that the economy is sound, institutions are in place, people stay united, and the reserves are well managed and protected.

In all of this, having leaders who are capable, dedicated and trustworthy stewards is crucial, he said, calling on people to support the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation leadership team and their leader, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

“I ask you to give Lawrence and the 4G ministers your fullest support. I ask you to give them your full support for now as members of my team, but in due course when they take over the reins as the next leadership for Singapore,” he said.

“Help me make this leadership renewal a success for Singapore and for you. Show your support for a government that works hard and works well for you.”

In a wide-ranging speech on how the war in Ukraine, worsening United States-China relations and a world trade system under siege affect Singapore, he said the quality of Singapore’s government and leaders is an important factor in helping the country to navigate the increasingly dangerous world.

Over the years, Singapore has gained a good reputation and standing because people know that the Singapore system works, he said.

Its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic well has made this track record stand out even more, he added, noting that the 4G team played a key role in tackling the crisis.

Singapore is also known to honour its commitments and act based on principles which are upheld consistently, said PM Lee, and not reverse its policies from one election to another.

“Our leaders speak with the mandate and authority to deliver on what they say because they enjoy the support and confidence of the people,” he added.

In addition, Singaporeans make useful contributions on global issues, he said.

For instance, Mr Daren Tang, the director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, is a Singaporean; Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is co-chairing the global commission on water governance; and Singapore’s Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues Rena Lee had in March successfully brought all parties together to conclude a historic deal on the protection of international waters.

All of these factors have helped confidence and trust in the Singapore brand to grow, PM Lee said, calling on Singaporeans to uphold the country’s reputation.

But he noted that there is no formula that can guarantee that Singapore’s system will continue to work well for the long term, acknowledging that attitudes and mindsets change, new stresses and strains appear, and people forget the values and experience of the founding generation over time.

That is why ensuring that Singapore has good leaders for the long term is an unending and demanding challenge for successive generations, said PM Lee.

He added that he and his older colleagues have prepared a strong and capable next team to take over, who can take Singapore further forward so that the country has the chance to produce and support new generations of leaders to come.

Singaporeans experienced first-hand the importance of strong political leadership during the pandemic, he said.

The population rose to the occasion, the public service performed magnificently, but Singapore’s response, and the results, would have been very different without political leaders who could set the direction, make the tough calls and rally the people together, he added.

“The MTF ministers were in the hot seat, but the whole 4G team played a key role,” PM Lee said, referring to the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19.

“It was a formative experience for the 4G ministers. Handling the crisis, they got the measure of each other and gained confidence in each other’s judgment and abilities.”

Increasingly, the 4G ministers are also responsible for the safety and well-being of the country, he added.

The team has a strong agenda to fulfil both domestically and internationally, but cannot do it on their own, PM Lee said, as he asked for Singaporeans’ support to see through these plans.

“Elect the leaders whom you can trust to take us forward,” he said. “Give yourselves the best chance to keep our system working well for Singaporeans for many years to come.”


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