The Straits Times
Published on Feb 06, 2013

S'pore: Home or hotel? Country or city?


SINGAPORE is at a very difficult crossroads. Are we a country or merely a successful regional city?

That we are a tiny island with no hinterland makes it even more challenging.

Our economics is fundamentally based on a regional city paradigm. Like all regional cities such as New York, London or Hong Kong, the need to have an open-door immigration policy is perhaps understandable as the economics of a regional city presupposes it.

However, unlike other cities, Singapore is a city-state, a nation, a country.

Our politics and social contract as a country need a strong national identity and an active citizenry. We have inculcated these values in our young over the past 48 years of nation building. This is in sharp contrast to what a regional city is like, where the populace is inherently mobile and highly transient.

People congregate in a city for trade and business and move on for the very same reasons. Loyalty to the city is as thin as ice and as transient as the morning mist.

Hence, comparisons of Singapore to Hong Kong or New York begin to fall apart as we are more than just a vibrant city.

Our concept of national service and, hence, our national security and national identity is strained if we are merely a vibrant city.

Singapore is a city-state. We are a nation, a country.

We must have innovative strategies unique to a city-state. These must be bold and be able to rally the citizenry. For it is our nation after all and for us to realise.

While we are debating our immigration policy, we need to watch out for emigration and also our dismal birth rate.

What should our children live for and fight for in Singapore? How is Singapore home to them and not merely a five-star hotel?

Should they merely check in when the hotel is thriving and check out when it is not? Or is it a home they seek to build for both good and bad times?

A home where they can live, laugh, love, grow old in, die for and die in - a country.

Walter Lee