Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Singapore's value lies in its 'unique culture'

The cultural similarities and differences between members of Singapore's Chinese community and their China counterparts are what make Singapore interesting and relevant to China, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo told the House.

While Singaporeans have much to learn from China in terms of culture and language, they must maintain a sense of dignity and pride in their own unique culture, she added.

She said: "Our value lies in our independent viewpoint and unbiased voice. It creates valuable opportunities for us to share perspectives with our Chinese friends that they are unlikely to find elsewhere."

Speaking in Mandarin on people- to-people ties between both countries, she said Chinese Singaporeans feel a cultural affinity with mainland Chinese, with both groups speaking the same language and celebrating common festivals.

But one key difference is Singaporeans' diverse yet inclusive cultural make-up, she said.

"The experiences and outlook of Chinese Singaporeans are rooted in a multicultural society where each community enjoys our common space and interacts respectfully with one another," she added.

This sets Chinese Singaporeans apart from ethnic Chinese elsewhere and makes thecommunity relevant to China, she said. For example, Singapore's successful implementation of social management policies in a multiracial society with a Chinese majority has been a useful reference for China.

But if Singapore cannot make its system work, China will be much less interested in it, she said. With many Chinese all over the world, "a few undistinguished millions in a small island in South-east Asia cannot be more than a curiosity".

"Ultimately, to be of value, Singaporeans as a community must be outstanding, confident and cohesive," she said, urging Singaporeans to demonstrate their independence and uniqueness as a nation.

Mrs Teo also updated the House on Singapore's strong political and economic ties with China.

China is Singapore's largest trading partner, and has been China's top foreign investor since 2013. Last year, two million Chinese tourists visited Singapore, and a million Singaporeans visited China.

Both governments also cooperate on large-scale projects, she said, like the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. The third government-led project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, aims to develop modern connectivity and modern services in the western Chinese city and Singapore is optimistic that the project will play a pathfinder role in China's development, Mrs Teo added.

Charissa Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore's value lies in its 'unique culture''. Print Edition | Subscribe