Chan Chun Sing draws lessons for Singapore from Hong Kong situation

He stresses need for well-functioning political system, long-term view and social cohesion

The situation in Hong Kong has reached a breaking point, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said, adding that there would be grave doubts about the Chinese territory's future and the sustainability of its political system if calm is not restored through dialogue.

"We watch with concern the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong," he told reporters at his office at The Treasury yesterday following one of Hong Kong's most violent weeks of clashes between pro-democracy protesters and police.

"Hong Kong's continued success as an economic and financial hub is important for the region and the world, including Singapore."

Mr Chan said Singaporeans have wondered if the recent clashes in Hong Kong and other parts of the world could happen here.

It can, "if we are complacent or not careful". He added that his intention was not to pass judgment, but identified four lessons Singapore can draw.

One, the need for a well-functioning political system and healthy political culture. While political systems need to be representative, it is more important to find ways for diverse interests to co-exist, he said.

When parties champion only narrow, sectoral interests without care for the greater good, a political system becomes unsustainable. Contestation and debate without concrete and constructive actions will not deliver solutions, he cautioned.

A functioning political system also works closely with the public service to ensure policies are executed properly, and has feedback channels to reflect people's concerns and aspirations - so the government can respond quickly and adjust polices when needed.

"Regardless of political systems and party interests, the exercise of leadership must be to put people's and countries' interest foremost, and in our case, what this Government commits to, it will deliver. It is our promise to our people in this generation, and the next," he said.


Two, policies for the long term.


Hong Kong's continued success as an economic and financial hub is important for the region and the world, including Singapore.


Mr Chan said events in Hong Kong have laid bare the drawbacks of focusing too much on immediate issues. "Elections cannot be just about the here and now, without consideration for the long-term future of our people and country."

He cited how keeping housing affordable is fundamental to stability, adding that the Government has always prioritised public housing and put the interest of the wider public above that of private developers. This ensures the transfer of land ownership and property across generations does not just benefit the rich.

Pointing to suggestions that the Government should use proceeds from land sales to finance its current spending, Mr Chan said: "We are careful to not distort incentives for Government to use land sales to maximise profits. Otherwise, it is the public that will ultimately pay."

With all land sale proceeds here going to the reserves, future generations will benefit. "This is the discipline we adhere to. This is the promise we make to future generations."

Three, preserve social cohesion.

Mr Chan urged all parties to think of the wider good of the country even as they champion the needs and wants of specific communities.

He stressed that conflicts must be resolved through dialogue and constructive actions, and not violence.


"To insist on maximum individual gains at the expense of the common and collective good cannot be the Singapore way. The pursuit of such narrow interests will instead fracture the political centre for compromise and constructive (solutions)," he said.

"Conflict resolution is not about telling the Government what we want, and have others solve the problem for us. It is about all of us coming together to tackle the issues together. This is the true meaning of the democracy of deeds," he added, referring to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's call for people to step up to solve problems together with the Government.

Ultimately, said Mr Chan, Singaporeans are responsible for the country's future. "Regardless of what others say, we must bear the responsibilities and consequences of our own choices and actions. This is why we are against foreign interference in domestic politics."

Four, small states must stay relevant. Mr Chan said history shows city-states that could not provide opportunities and hope for their people and did not remain relevant to the world have never lasted long.

"Singapore will have to pick up the pieces ourselves should things go bad or go wrong," he added. "Singapore's continued relevance to the world is never a given. We must work hard, distinguish ourselves and stay exceptional amid the global uncertainties."

This can be done by growing opportunities for its enterprises and workers and maintaining a principled perspective on regional and global affairs, said Mr Chan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2019, with the headline 'Chan draws lessons for Singapore from HK situation'. Print Edition | Subscribe