SINGAPORE - A video of the recent spat between a Gojek driver and his passenger was widely followed by Singaporeans, many of whom laughed at it, but Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing sees it as a reminder of the potential faultlines in Singapore society.
Referring to the viral video of the January incident, which ended with the passenger questioning "Is it because I'm Chinese?", Mr Chan said:"Where did that come from?"
"People sometimes fall back on certain markers of their identity, which perhaps reveals certain things that we should be aware of," he said on Friday (Feb 15).
If such an incident happened in the 1960s, when racial tensions were high, it could have seen "very different consequences".
Mr Chan said that Singaporeans should prioritise the Singapore identity ahead of their ethnic identities, "but we must never take it for granted that it will naturally be so."
He cited how in other countries like America, "even after hundreds of years, the visceral feeling of difference is still quite raw".
He was speaking at the Asia Pacific Programme for Senior Military Officers (APPSMO) Alumni Distinguished Speakers' Lecture, at InterContinental Singapore.
"Our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural ancestries mean that we will always be subjected to attempts to influence and control our domestic agenda," he said in a speech.
"They can come in the form of incentives, especially with the promise of short-term returns. They can come in the form of threats, to make us afraid or to make us waver. Yet at other times, they can take the form of dividing and trying to divide Singaporeans and our society to the benefit of the foreign players," added Mr Chan.
This threat is compounded by the pervasiveness of the Internet and social media, he said.
Cyberspace is an easy and affordable channel to spread content at far greater speed, and the "impact of messages or content sharing through the ubiquitous smart phone must never be underestimated", he added.
Enemies can now use digital means to attack Singapore, destroying the economy, tearing the social fabric and targeting citizens' fundamental beliefs and commitments.
Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong had on Tuesday told Parliament there was a "curious" spike in online comments critical of Singapore on social media, when the dispute with Malaysia over maritime and airspace issues late last year was top news. Mr Tong said the posts were made using "essentially" anonymous accounts.
On Friday, Mr Chan said managing the resultant challenges to societal cohesion and stability will become even more critical, but it is not practical for Singapore to shut its doors.
"That is not the way we will defend ourselves. We will learn to operate in this new terrain, navigate this new terrain, and leverage on this new terrain for our own defences.
"However, we need to be vigilant, watchful, but never fearful," he said. "Social and psychological defence have become even more critical at this juncture of our history."
Mr Chan's speech came as digital defence was added as the sixth pillar of Total Defence on Total Defence Day, which falls on Feb 15 every year to mark the day the British surrendered the island to Japanese forces.
Mr Chan also said that the government has to help people understand the reality of geopolitics and the challenges facing Singapore.
"When things happen or when we are targeted, understanding the 'why' is more critical than just comprehending the 'what'. Know why others are feeling a certain way and why they are taking a certain action towards us," he said.
He added that in countering threats from external influences, Singaporeans must always bear in mind the country's long term interest.
"We have to remember, each time and every time, that only Singaporeans will decide our future - and not allow anyone else to coerce or decide for us," he said.