Countries must tackle common challenges with mutual trust and respect: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, on June 21, 2019. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Countries working together on common challenges, such as global warming and global security issues, must do so on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, as well as deeper understanding, and harmony, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (June 21).

This foundation must be built within societies, as well as across societies around the world, he said.

"To combat extremist and intolerant views, we must work together to create an ever widening ripple of understanding, trust and respect," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

But building an inclusive and cohesive society is always a work in progress, both in Singapore and elsewhere in the world, he added.

"As our racial and religious demographics shift, so too must our approach to building bridges and encouraging discourse," he said on building social cohesion in Singapore.

He was speaking at the closing ceremony of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies.

Organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, the event aims to be a platform for conversations on strengthening interfaith understanding and developing new ideas to foster greater harmony in societies.

Addressing Singaporeans in the audience, Mr Heng reiterated his promise that the Government is committed to working in partnership with them to build a future where everyone plays a part and feels a sense of belonging.

"I hope that we can build a democracy of deeds, where everyone chips in with our various strengths and passions to build a society we can all be proud of," he said.

He identified three ways that Singapore learnt to build cohesion.

First, it expands common spaces and shared experiences, while preserving racial and religious diversity.

Next, Singapore stays vigilant to guard against forces that can tear society apart, including establishing institutional structures that prevent groups or individuals from exploiting racial and religious faults lines.

Another way to promote cohesion is giving Singaporeans better lives, to ensure all Singaporeans share in the fruits of progress, Mr Heng said. This includes working to address social inequality by helping low-wage workers, providing for seniors in retirement and giving children from underprivileged backgrounds a good start in life.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.