New social compact needed to help all keep pace, says Chan

Keeping Singapore's borders open and understanding the region better are key ways the country can thrive, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at The Straits Times' Global Outlook Forum 2019.

Those who are fast must see it as part of their duty to reach out to those less able, he says

Singapore needs to develop a new social compact to address the challenges of social mobility and social mixing, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday (Nov 28).

Calling on individuals and groups to redouble efforts to help "the slow to keep pace with the fast", Mr Chan said that the fast must see it as part of their social responsibility to reach out to those less able "for us to progress as a society together".

His comments, in a speech at The Straits Times' annual Global Outlook Forum, come at a time when disquiet over globalisation continues to upend politics globally.

Mr Chan said that although government policy goes some way towards helping the slow keep pace with changes, Singaporeans must also develop a sense of collective responsibility.

"Do we take the maximum that we think we should be entitled to have, or do we leave something more for those who need it more?" he asked during a dialogue that took place after his speech.

"If we have that kind of collective responsibility to one another, the kind of societal values that say it is a privilege to take care of others... and it is not just about us taking all that we can - then, I think, we will have the new social compact."

As part of this compact, Singaporeans will also be groomed to build "globally competitive teams". This will underpin the Singapore Global Network, where Singaporeans will have the opportunity to work with their counterparts overseas, or foreigners here or elsewhere.

The aim is not to shield Singaporeans from competition, Mr Chan said, but to equip them to excel amid competition that is "always global and never local".

The full-day forum at the Raffles City Convention Centre saw experts and ST correspondents discuss the US-China trade war, prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula, the impact of climate change around the world as well as developments in Malaysia and Indonesia.

 
 

During his speech, Mr Chan also underscored the need for a political leadership that puts Singapore's interests above all else. This will help the country navigate the challenges of globalisation by executing policies competently and consistently.

He elaborated on this point during the dialogue when asked how Singapore can ensure that its leaders remain united by a sense of duty to the nation. "There is no magic formula to this," Mr Chan said.

"The natural state of affairs in many other countries... is that capable people may be tempted to put their personal interests above those of the country."

He added that for Singapore to be different, it must attract people who put Singapore first. "How do we hardcode this into our DNA? It is a constant process; it is a never-ending task to find people with the correct value system," he said.

Among those who come forward, there must be a "sense of a higher purpose that they are here because the country is more important than their individual considerations".

In his speech, Mr Chan said that current global trends towards unilateralism, protectionism and trade frictions are all related in some way to globalisation, but Singapore must learn to manage these challenges as closing its borders to globalisation "has never been and can never be an option".

"For a small city-state to survive and thrive, the world must be our hinterland from Day One," he said.

He laid out several more suggestions on how Singapore can continue to manage the challenges of globalisation and benefit from them.

These include upholding the international rules-based trading system and diversifying its international partnerships and portfolio of trade relations. Singapore must also invest in next-generation infrastructure, grow new industries and equip workers with new skills, he said.

The country can also exercise thought leadership on issues like economic integration, but must never forget that people take notice only if Singapore continues to be successful, Mr Chan added. "We can have great ideas, but nobody will believe us if we are not successful," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2018, with the headline 'New social compact needed to help all keep pace, says Chan'. Print Edition | Subscribe