Singapore has to stay open, resist temptation to turn inwards: PM Lee Hsien Loong

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the recording of his New Year Message at The Bicentennial Experience. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Singapore has to stay open and connected to the world even as many societies are losing faith in globalisation, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Having benefited enormously from globalisation, it must resist the temptation to turn inwards, he cautioned in his annual New Year Message on Tuesday (Dec 31).

"A Singapore turned inwards cannot survive," he said.

He noted the state of the world worries Singaporeans, as the global slowdown has affected the economy. In November, the Trade and Industry Ministry said the economy is expected to grow by 0.5 to 1 per cent in 2019.

But PM Lee assured Singaporeans the upcoming Budget will have measures to help businesses, workers, families as well as the poor, elderly and the vulnerable.

While companies will get help to raise their productivity and build new capabilities, workers, especially mid-career PMETs - professionals, managers, executives and technicians - will be given a hand to retrain, find new jobs and stay employable, he added.

The social safety nets that protect the poor, elderly and vulnerable will be improved, and "we will help households with their cost of living", the Prime Minister said in a message recorded at the Bicentennial Experience exhibition in Fort Canning.

The showcase of important moments in Singapore's history was a key event to commemorate the country's Bicentennial year, which PM Lee said provided a vivid reminder of how much the island has changed over the centuries, and how far the Republic has come.

"Recounting this history has enhanced our collective consciousness of the past, strengthened our sense of togetherness in the present, and boosted our confidence in a shared future," he said.

One lesson to be drawn from history, he noted, is that while the Government has to stay on top of bread and butter issues, the intangible ethos of a society is even more vital in the long run.

In Singapore, the aim is to build a fair and just society, where growth and prosperity benefits everyone, and the human spirit can flourish, he said as he cited the values and qualities that impelled Singapore's forefathers to stay rather than return to their land of birth.

"Here, pathways of progress are open to all, and every Singaporean can chase his or her dreams."

"Here, we are building a society where everyone is equal, regardless of race, language or religion."

"Here, we will uplift the most vulnerable amongst us, and leave nobody behind whatever the vicissitudes of life."

"Here, each generation never stops thinking of tomorrow, so that our children can look forward to exciting opportunities, and in their turn build a better Singapore."

PM Lee said the Bicentennial also helped put into perspective what is happening now in the world and in Singapore, which had many ups and downs in the past 200 years.

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the recording of his New Year Message at The Bicentennial Experience. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Today, serious frictions exist between the United States and China. While their recent trade deal has partially relieved tensions, it will not resolve the fundamental differences between both powers, PM Lee noted.

He also said many societies are under stress despite economic growth.

This is manifested most recently in Hong Kong, Chile and France - which are beset with protests - as their people worry about such basic needs as housing and jobs.

They are also angry that the fruits of economic growth have not been shared equitably, with income gaps widening, said PM Lee.

As a result, large parts of their populations have lost faith in their economic and political systems, and are pessimistic about the future, he added. "This is fuelling nativism and chauvinism, and sectarian strife."

Singaporeans too are anxious but "we are in a better position than most countries, because for decades we have toiled to improve our people's lives. And we continue to make steady progress, year after year."

He pointed to Singapore reforming its education system by changing the PSLE scoring system, and opening more post-secondary education pathways. The quality of pre-schools is being raised, and fees being made more affordable.

In housing, first-time buyers are getting more subsidies while healthcare is improved for more seniors with the new Merdeka Generation package. Also, new facilities have been opened, including Sengkang General Hospital and Community Hospital as well as Outram Community Hospital.

In transport, MRT services have improved dramatically after much hard work, and the system is now one of the most reliable in the world, with fewer than one breakdown every 1 million km travelled on average, he noted.

PM Lee concluded his message with a call for unity, saying ideals such as uplifting the vulnerable and building a fair and just society will enable Singaporeans to remain "one united people" and prevail despite the odds.

There was never any guarantee of success at any time in Singapore's history, he noted.

"But if we stand together and keep making the effort, I am confident Singapore can continue to shine brightly in the world."

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