SINGAPORE - As the global balance of power shifts and economic disruption hits many societies, Singapore can stay afloat and succeed if it follows a few guiding principles, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said on Saturday (Feb 4).
Singapore and its people must have a keen eye on global trends, understand them, and figure out how to best work with other countries, he said.
The country must also stick to its principles: being pro-Singapore, believing in the rule of international law and freedom of navigation over air and sea, and maximising partnerships with countries big and small.
In a 30-minute speech at a Chinese New Year dinner, Mr Chan laid out the way forward for Singapore amid testy relations between and involving major powers and the changing global economy.
Alluding to recent geopolitical shocks like the Brexit vote and the election of United States President Donald Trump, Mr Chan said that Singaporeans must understand why people in other countries voted the way they did, as well as the deeper trends shaping these societies.
One lesson is the importance of sharing the fruits of economic growth with those who are less successful, he said at the dinner for over 900 residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC, where he is an MP, and Radin Mas.
"When a country grows, if there are not sufficient economic opportunities for the middle class and the next generation, there will be trouble," he said.
The world of foreign relations is also changing, and to survive, Singapore needs to "watch the waves and read the tides carefully".
Setting out the key tenets of Singapore's foreign policy, Mr Chan stressed that Singapore is "neither pro-country A nor anti-country A. We are just pro-Singapore."
And on Singapore's belief in the freedom to navigate in the air and at sea, he said: "If I stay in HDB flat, I would like to be assured that I and my family can walk in and out of our flat... without fear of harassment."
Singapore must also stay successful so that it continues to be relevant to the rest of the world and can enter win-win partnerships with others.
He said: "Once in a while, there will be challenges between us and other countries. But what remains unchanged is for us to be very clear-eyed about our interests and their interests. Stay in it for the long haul, remain open, remain inclusive."
As a small country, Singapore would like to see peace, stability and order so it can live harmoniously with its neighbours and bigger powers beyond, Mr Chan noted.
This is why Singapore has supported China's development and its integration into the world order, as well as embarked on bilateral projects with China, he added.
For the same reason, Singapore also supports the United States' continued engagement in this part of the world, he said.
"We want to be friends with both. The Pacific Ocean is big enough for us to find common ground, to work on common projects together," he added.
Overcoming economic challenges
Singapore has to adopt a similar approach of staying open and connected in dealing with economic challenges such as rapid advances in technology that change business models.
The country is in a good position and can do well if it does three things, said Mr Chan, who is deputy chairman of the Committee on the Future Economy, whose report is expected in the coming fortnight.
One, businesses must challenge themselves to reduce their need for manpower.
Quality growth should be based on innovation rather than manpower growth, he said.
Two, firms should expand beyond Singapore.
Three, Singapore has to create an environment that enables innovation.
"Unlike other countries, we have no option of closing our borders and thinking that our local market will be able to support our economy," he said.
"We must remain open and connected with the rest of the world. Open to ideas, open to business opportunities beyond our shores, connected to people and connected to ideas."