Singapore remains a sampan, but an upgraded 2.0 version: PM Lee

PM Lee speaking to the Singapore media at the Shangri-La hotel before departing Paris for Warsaw, 30 Oct, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
PM Lee speaking to the Singapore media at the Shangri-La hotel before departing Paris for Warsaw, 30 Oct, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

PARIS - Singapore is small, and while it is no longer as poor and defenseless as it used to be, it must continue to work hard to improve, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

Hence, he did not agree with a description that Singapore today is akin to a "cruise ship".

Speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his official visit to France, he said "my eyes popped out" when he read a commentary in The Straits Times using that metaphor.

Commentator Koh Buck Song had argued on Monday that Singapore politicians' oft-used metaphor of the country as a sampan, easily tossed about by the waves of global competition, was no longer valid. He said it risked promoting small-mindedness and cramping national self-confidence and ambition.

Instead, Mr Koh said, Singapore was more like a well-oiled cruise ship that caters to every need. Because it offers the smoothest of journeys, passengers can relax because they feel secure.

But Mr Lee warned: "Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.

"We are small, we are not as poor as we used to be, we are not defenseless, we are able to fend for ourselves and to make a living for ourselves, and we are better off than before, and I think that we need to keep on working hard, to continue improving."

As to what might be a more appropriate metaphor, he said with a laugh: "I think we have upgraded our sampan. It's sampan 2.0."

Mr Lee and the delegation left Paris for Warsaw, the capital of Poland, on Wednesday.

Over the next two days, he will meet Polish leaders and also visit the port city of Gdansk.