Gird for complex challenges ahead as SG51 beckons

Singapore has, against all odds, achieved considerable success within a short span of 50 years, becoming a First World economy, a major hub in the Asia-Pacific and a respected player in the international space.

As we look forward to our 51st anniversary of independence, it is crucial that Singapore continues to be steadfast and not be lulled into complacency.

Our concerns and challenges are evolving to be less domestic and more complex and international in character, as technology engenders more profound global interconnectivity and regionalism becomes increasingly central to economic survival.

For example, while communism was a physical and ideological threat in the past, we now face the ethno-religious spectre of global terrorism.

While geopolitical challenges during the Konfrontasi period in the 1960s threatened our peace and necessitated the formation of Asean, the current South China Sea dispute now disrupts Asean cohesion, and any armed conflict can have a severe impact on regional and economic stability.

While the Internet of Things offers greater opportunities for smart living, the threat from cybercrime and cyber-infiltration is increasingly sophisticated.

The Brexit episode demonstrates how xenophobia, anti-globalisation and class divides can fracture the community and economy.

As Singapore shifts from a model of primarily paternalistic governance to a more active citizenry, how we will fare over the next 50 years depends much on a healthy relationship and constructive dialogue between the state and community, underpinned by mutual trust and respect.

While the state endeavours to be more transparent and engaging with the citizens, the citizens must be guarded against populism and cognisant of the multidisciplinary considerations and necessary trade-offs that are an inevitable part of policy formulation.

As our demographics shift beyond the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others classification model and non-traditional values come to the fore, we must learn to embrace multiculturalism, understand rather than denigrate, and eschew vitriol that can potentially fracture our community and threaten our peace.

We must not allow the construct of local-foreign divides hamper cohesion because the future of the community is one in which locals and global citizens are two sides of the same coin, standing together for the common good.

We must distil the lessons and values from our past challenges, apply them to the challenges ahead and pass them on to the younger generation.

Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Gird for complex challenges ahead as SG51 beckons'. Print Edition | Subscribe