Policies, hard work behind Singapore's harmony: President Halimah Yacob

President Halimah meets Xi, reaffirms strong and growing Sino-Singapore ties

President Halimah Yacob and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting in Beijing's Great Hall of the People yesterday. The leaders reaffirmed the strong and growing Sino-Singapore ties. Beside President Halimah is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu. With Mr Xi is State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (fourth from left). PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Singapore's racial and religious harmony today is the result of decades of hard work and deliberate policies that came from holding firm to an early vision of a united Singapore that is for all races, President Halimah Yacob has said.

In an interview with China's People's Daily newspaper ahead of her three-day visit to Beijing that began yesterday, Madam Halimah was asked about Singapore's experience in building a multiracial and multi-religious society.

Race, language and religion have been fundamental issues since the beginning of Singapore's nationhood, and Singapore's founding fathers enshrined their vision of a multiracial and multi-religious society in the Republic's Constitution, noted Madam Halimah.

"Ever since then, we have worked hard to make Singaporeans one united people, regardless of race, language or religion," she said.

President Halimah met Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People here yesterday, and both reaffirmed the strong and growing ties between Singapore and China.

Frequent high-level exchanges between leaders from both sides, such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to Beijing for the second Belt and Road Forum last month, show the vigorous development of bilateral ties, said Mr Xi.

Mr Xi added that Singapore stood out as a bright spot in Asia and the world for being a multiracial society with communities living in harmony, and Madam Halimah replied that this compact evolved "through a process of understanding, respect and tolerance among each other".

She told People's Daily that government policies, ranging from public housing to education to national service, enabled Singaporeans of different races, religions and economic backgrounds to co-mingle throughout life, while the public service recruits and promotes strictly on merit.

"Harmony is not achieved easily or by chance," she said. "It is the result of continuous hard work and deliberate policies based on the rule of law, meritocracy, justice and equality."

Singaporeans also saw the value of forming a common national identity based on core values such as fairness and meritocracy, while celebrating multi-ethnic diversity and maintaining one's own cultural and religious practices, she added.

The Government has also worked to ensure that all ethnic and religious groups enjoy fair political representation and the social space to pursue their faiths, she said, while strict laws safeguard against actions that denigrate ethnic and religious groups and undermine social harmony.

Besides meetings with top leaders such as Mr Xi and Premier Li Keqiang, Madam Halimah is in China to attend the inaugural Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations (CDAC), which Beijing said aims to deepen cooperation among Asian countries, such as in the fields of culture, tourism and media.

More than 2,000 officials and representatives from 47 countries throughout the region are scheduled to attend the CDAC, which kicks off today.

With many societies around the world currently experiencing discord, distrust and division among communities, the conference is timely as there is an urgent need for dialogue, said Madam Halimah.

"For our global community to thrive, we need peace, harmony and cooperation among countries and peoples regardless of ethnic, religious, historical, social and economic backgrounds," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2019, with the headline Policies, hard work behind Singapore's harmony: President Halimah Yacob. Subscribe