Singapore must be open to a mix of talent and ideas, retain multiculturalism: Heng Swee Keat

For a city state like Singapore to thrive, businesses must continue to innovate and internationalise, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said
For a city state like Singapore to thrive, businesses must continue to innovate and internationalise, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat saidPHOTO: COURTESY OF INDRA ISWARAN
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat interacting with Mrs Indra Iswaran's family members after speaking at the launch of her book, They Came From Jaffna, on March 23, 2019.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat interacting with Mrs Indra Iswaran's family members after speaking at the launch of her book, They Came From Jaffna, on March 23, 2019.PHOTO: COURTESY OF INDRA ISWARAN

SINGAPORE - Singapore must strive to be a place where talent and ideas congregate, remaining open to the world amid the changing economic and geopolitical landscape, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Saturday (March 23).

"No one group or country has all the ideas or expertise to tackle the many challenges that the world is facing. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, we need to remain open and collaborate to achieve better outcomes together," he said at a book launch.

For a city state like Singapore to thrive, businesses must continue to innovate and internationalise, he said.

Young people must also be given the opportunities to be global-ready, and must acquire a deep knowledge of Asia, for Singapore to truly benefit from Asia's growth as global economic weight is shifting towards the region.

Mr Heng also said that Singapore and many other countries have benefited from globalisation, but increasingly people in many countries are questioning the value of it.

"People feel that they are left behind. They are frustrated that wages are stagnating and lives are not improving. They lost faith in their political systems and governments. These have led to a weakening of social cohesion," he said.

"These winds of change remind us about the importance of remaining open to the world and being resourceful."

Singapore's multi-racial, multi-cultural society, and openness to diversity is its strength as this has inculcated a global mindset, Mr Heng said at Grand Hyatt Singapore.

He was speaking at the launch of food heritage book They Came from Jaffna: A Historical Culinary Journey And Enchanting Tales Of Roots, Routes And Vivid Memories As Told By A Pioneer's Granddaughter.


PHOTO: COURTESY OF INDRA ISWARAN

It was written by 69-year-old Singaporean Mrs Indra Iswaran, who has Tamil roots in Ceylon - present day Sri Lanka. It includes more than 300 recipes reflecting the multicultural interactions she has experienced. She was born in Ipoh and moved here in 1968 after getting married.

The book, which is supported by the National Heritage Board, also traces the journey the Singapore Ceylon Tamil community made to come to Malaya and Singapore, such as Mrs Iswaran's grandmother Meenachi who "braved the winds of change" and sailed from Jaffna, a city in Sri Lanka, in the 1890s.

Mr Heng picked up on that phrase from the book and said that for Singapore, braving the winds of change also means ensuring society remains multi-racial and multi-cultural, even as tensions and fault lines such as religious polarisation, xenophobia and social stratification have been growing stronger in some parts of the world.

 
 

The Internet has also been used to spread misinformation and fake news, and to sow distrust between communities.

"If the same happens to us, our society will fracture, and our economy and way of life will suffer. So, divided we fall, but united we stand," Mr Heng told around 170 guests at the event.

Highlighting the contributions of Ceylon Tamils here, he said these have been disproportionate to the size of the community, which started as a "minority within a minority" in post-independence Singapore.

One of the nation's founding fathers S. Rajaratnam, who drafted the National Pledge, was from the Ceylon Tamil community. And many educators, engineers, medical professionals, academics, legal professionals, senior public servants and members of the judiciary are of Ceylon Tamil heritage, Mr Heng noted.

The community understood that talent and effort are rewarded regardless of race, and thrived, he said.

Remembering and preserving Singapore's heritage, as Mrs Iswaran has done for the Ceylon Tamil community, will allow the Republic to draw on its strengths, said Mr Heng.

 
 

It is fitting to launch the book during Singapore's Bicentennial year, which marks 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore.

"As we commemorate our Bicentennial year, it is a good time for us to reflect on our rich history and learn from our past, so as to chart our future together," he said.

Mrs Iswaran said in a speech that she was grateful for the chance to record and share her family's story.

"Each of us has a beautiful story to tell of the past," she said. "Do not be afraid of telling that story because it helps to conserve history for generations to come."