SINGAPORE - Singapore is exceptional, and it must remain that way in order to survive, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday.
As a small country, if Singapore is not exceptional it will be pushed around by others, he said.
"If we just want to be as good as our neighbours, habis liao (die already)," added Mr Lee, mixing Malay and Hokkien into his speech at the annual May Day Rally at The Star Performing Arts Centre.
Singapore's economy is in a unique position now and is taken seriously by much larger countries. It is the largest foreign investor in China and Indonesia, countries which are 250 times and 50 times bigger than Singapore respectively, said Mr Lee.
He also noted that world leaders came from all over the globe to attend founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's funeral service in March.
"Would they have done that if Singapore had been an ordinary country, if (the elder) Mr Lee had been an ordinary leader?" he said.
The high regard people have for Singapore has helped the nation make friends in other countries, given it a voice about events that affect it, and allowed it freedom of action to advance its interests.
Investors see potential here and workers enjoy more opportunities to advance, said Mr Lee.
But to stay exceptional will be "the most difficult job", he added.
To succeed, Singapore will need three key ingredients: a successful economy, hardworking and skillful workers, and outstanding leadership.
Education and training through the SkillsFuture initiative will be critical, failing which workers will face a bleak future, said Mr Lee.