Call for dialogue between nations to tackle issues of division

The way to solve the problems of division in today's highly connected, globalised world is for nations to talk and learn from one another's experiences, President Halimah Yacob said yesterday.

No longer can a country just focus on improving its domestic situation or pretend differences like race and religion do not exist, she told reporters as her three-day visit to China came to a close.

Today's reality is that with the swift travelling of news around the world, fault lines exposed in one country can spread and cause divisions abroad, she noted.

The worst thing, Madam Halimah said, is to live in a world so divided that everybody retreats into his own group whether delineated by race, religion or other identifications.

If that happens, it will be a very fragmented world and a matter of time before it affects each and every country, she added.

Pointing particularly to race and religion, she said they evoke powerful emotions that may not be rational, and cited how the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka last month were the work of well-educated individuals.

But Madam Halimah finds hope in platforms such as China's Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations.

It serves to bridge divides and generate greater understanding, trust and respect such that complicated issues like these can be dealt with in a concerted way, she said.


The inaugural conference in Beijing yesterday sought to deepen dialogue and discourse among Asian nations on issues such as governance, education and culture.

In the same vein, Singapore will host its first International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) on June 19, with leaders from academia, government, religious groups and the civic sector gathering to discuss ways to forge stronger interfaith understanding and develop new ideas on fostering greater harmony in societies.

"We provide platforms for people to come together, share their ideas, engage with each other, share experiences and, hopefully, at the ICCS, it will rally people to start actions on the ground in their own countries," Madam Halimah said.

Despite the differences in characteristics and history of each civilisation, at the core, they share similar goals, such as to improve the lives of their people and make sure they have dignity and respect, she added.

"All civilisations, regardless of what they are, have these core values, and this is where civilisations can work with each other," she said.

But each country also needs to develop its own set of core values, which will enable it to address the infinite number of issues that can potentially divide, including those of class and political beliefs, said Madam Halimah.

For Singapore, she noted that they are very clear: equality, justice, respect and understanding each other.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Call for dialogue between nations to tackle issues of division'. Print Edition | Subscribe