Singapore must remain a "shining red dot" - small, but a capable and serious country - to maintain its place in the sun, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday.
Because the country is strong and special, it is successful and respected in the world, able to stand tall and hold its own besides much bigger nations, he added at a Chinese New Year dinner in his Teck Ghee ward.
"If we are small and unsuccessful, small and weak, I think people may be polite with you, people may say the right thing to you. But you can be sure people will also be able to take advantage (of) you," he added.
"But if you are small but a shining red dot, that's different. Then they will know this is a serious country, may be small but it's capable, may not be huge but it knows what it is doing. "It can succeed, it can look after itself, it can contribute and cooperate with the others," he said.
This was why others are willing to work with and befriend Singapore, and why it must stay special - a word Mr Lee repeated six times in his speech.
He noted the unusual choice of topic for the festive event but highlighted that the date - Feb 15 - was Total Defence Day and over 70 years since Singapore surrendered to Japan in 1942.
In a Facebook post later, he called on Singaporeans to "stay united, keep ours a special country, and show the world what Singapore can do".
"Then we can overcome challenges, remain a shining red dot, and our children can live and prosper in peace and harmony for many years."
In his speech, Mr Lee stressed that Singaporeans should learn from the pioneer generation who lived through the nation's formative years that included the Japanese occupation and Confrontation with Indonesia.
Those experiences taught the pioneers "that it was our own responsibility to defend Singapore and we must do it and nobody else will do it for us", he said.
That was why, after Independence, Singaporeans supported the Government's building up of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and introduction of national service (NS), so that Singapore would remain safe and at peace with its neighbours.
Being strong is the basis on which Singapore can make friends, Mr Lee said, and also why it has enjoyed peace for 50 years.
But he cautioned that vigilance must be kept up, as there will be external challenges from time to time.
When that happens, the nation must be able to handle the challenges with confidence and be "united as one people", he said.
One crucial reason it has been able to do so and build up the SAF is because Singapore maintains "very special standards".
"People know that we are determined to fight for our interests, to defend our place in the sun," he added.
He also listed three reasons Singapore is special: people know that it strives for excellence, Singaporeans are willing to work together and cooperate for the common good and not be divided by external forces or difficulties, and Singapore tries "very hard" to cooperate with friends and neighbours around the world and also in the region.