S'pore's multiracialism not yet perfect: PM Lee

Singaporeans care for one another but need to continue working through differences, he says

After a meal with friends, Singaporeans often fight to pay for the bill "and belanja everyone".

While this is not an uncommon sight here, it does not happen as frequently elsewhere, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday as he observed that this style of giving friends a treat is one of the ways Singaporeans show they care for one another.

He was writing on Facebook about an analogy shared by Minister of State Janil Puthucheary at a Kopi Talk dialogue on the theme "Race, multiracialism and Singapore's place in the world".

Addressing some 500 grassroots leaders, Dr Janil said his friend from overseas told him people typically pay for their own share when dining with a diverse group, unlike here, where people fight for the bill.

Saying this analogy sums up the theme of the dialogue well, PM Lee said Singaporeans have developed unique ways of caring for one another. But he added that the country's multiracialism is not yet perfect and said it was important to have the honesty to recognise it.

He said: "But we also need the courage to continue working through our differences, expanding our common spaces, strengthening our ties and, most of all, looking out for fellow Singaporeans."

The closed-door session, organised by the People's Association, was held at Ci Yuan Community Club in PM Lee's Ang Mo Kio GRC.

STRENGTHENING TIES

But we also need the courage to continue working through our differences, expanding our common spaces, strengthening our ties and, most of all, looking out for fellow Singaporeans.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on the importance to have the honesty to recognise that the country's multiracialism is not perfect yet.

Also on the panel were Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman.

PM Lee said the panellists "shared very personal anecdotes from their own experiences as a Singaporean from the Chinese majority, Malay minority and Indian minority".

He added that he had chosen the theme for the dialogue because he knew these issues were on the minds of Singaporeans, from their responses to his Facebook posts on the recently concluded Presidential Election and his visit to China.

The Presidential Election this month, won in a walkover by Madam Halimah Yacob, was reserved for Malay candidates following a change to the Constitution to ensure the presidency reflects society's multiracial make-up.

This had sparked discussions about whether the race-based requirement was at odds with meritocracy.

Meanwhile, PM Lee's trip to China in the past week has also brought identity into focus.

In an interview with Singapore media at the end of his trip, PM Lee said that it is important for Singapore to maintain a distinct identity as a multiracial country, even as it shares a cultural affinity with China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore's multiracialism not yet perfect: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe