Singapore Government Press Release

Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts,

36th Storey, PSA Building, 460 Alexandra Road, Singapore 119963.

Tel: 3757794/5

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ADDRESS BY PRIME MINISTER GOH CHOK TONG AT THE PMS FORUM ORGANISED BY THE NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY STUDENTS' UNION ON TUESDAY, 11 MAY 1999, AT THE NTU MAIN LECTURE THEATRE AT 7.30 PM

 

'WHITHER SINGAPORE?'

 

Background of Global Change

The world has changed dramatically in the 1990s. And the pace of change will quicken.

2 Take the Internet, for example. Its web pages, emails, chatrooms and netphones have removed the barriers of geography and distance. It will revolutionise the way we work, live and play.

3 Even the way wars are fought have changed. A country can be brought to heel with air power alone.

4 In economics, the borderless world has led to mega-mergers and cross-border strategic alliances between companies.

5 Against this background of rapid change, I want to explore two questions:

(1) whither the Singapore nation? And,

(2) whither the Singapore economy?

The Multi-racial Singaporean 'Tribe'

6 Last week in Parliament, I spoke of the difficulties in creating the Singapore 'tribe'. I used 'tribe' in the metaphorical sense of an extended Singapore Family with its distinctive core values and social characteristics, and sharing a common destiny. It is not a test-tube approach to create the Singapore 'tribe'. We cannot just put all the DNA from our different communities into a test-tube, shake it vigorously, and presto, we have the Singapore Man or the Singapore Woman. The word 'tribe' is within inverted commas, to describe vividly our desire to achieve our long-term goal of becoming one family, one people and one nation based on multi-racialism.

7 It will be an extended family forged by widening the common area of the four overlapping circles in our society. The four circles, each representing a community, will never totally overlap to become a stack of four circles. But they are closely linked to one another, forming a clover leaf pattern.

8 This overlapping-circles approach to building a nation and common identity is diametrically opposite the melting-pot approach. The melting-pot approach would have meant absorption of the minority communities by the majority community. Our Chinese have no wish to force Malays, Indians, Eurasians and others to speak, dress and eat like them. Nor would the other races want to be like them. The overlapping-circles approach maximises our common ground but retain each race's separate identity. I call the people bonded by the four overlapping circles the Singapore 'tribe'. But to avoid any confusion, I shall use the clearer term of "Multi-racial Singaporean Tribe".

Emerson - Concepts of Nation

9 Rupert Emerson, the Harvard Professor whom I quoted in Parliament, has two concepts of a nation.

10 The first is:

"a single people, traditionally fixed on a well-defined territory, speaking the same language and preferably a language all its own, possessing a distinctive culture, and shaped to a common mould by many generations of shared historical experience".

11 This is the classical concept based on geography and homogeneity of a population. It is less relevant in the modern world. People now migrate freely and members of the same tribe have settled in different countries. Many countries now systematically take in migrants, like the United States, Canada and Australia. They pride themselves as multi-cultural countries.

12 The second concept is more relevant to us. By this definition, a nation is:

"a community of people who feel that they belong together in the double sense that they share deeply significant elements of a common heritage and that they have a common destiny for the future".

13 This is the concept we want to work on in building the Singapore nation.

14 We are not starting from scratch. We have been at this for 33 years now. It is an ideal we must pursue. It will be a long journey. Though the divide between the races can never be totally removed, we can lower it to the extent that our common characteristics and values bind us as one people despite our differences of race and religion.

Singaporean Traits

15 Already, Singaporeans have developed certain features and traits of social behaviour which distinguish them from other tribes. The Singaporean has incorporated into his language popular words of other races. Singaporeans will understand him but not non-Singaporeans of the same race.

16 Our NS men training in Taiwan who ask for 'roti' in Hokkien will not get his bread. And if they want to make a report to a "mata", they will not be directed to one unless they ask for a "keng chat".

17 The Singaporean mixes his English with a generous sprinkling of Hokkien and Malay. We call this language 'Singlish'. When he enjoys his food, instead of saying "it's delicious", he exclaims "shiok". When someone gets into trouble, he will say "sure kena".

18 He has exotic tastes - curry fish head, chilli crab, char kway tiao, mee-pok, nasi lemak, laksa, mee siam. I think Singapore also has the highest per capita consumption of durians in the world.

19 When it comes to food, he does not believe that he should eat like the Romans when in Rome. As soon as he reaches his overseas destination, he will look for Singaporean food. For a Singaporean Chinese, if there is no Chinese restaurant, an Indian one would do. Only as a last resort would he settle for fish and chips, boiled spinach and mashed potatoes.

20 I know of many Singaporeans who lug along packets of instant noodles, and a bottle of sambal belachan, when they travel.

21 Singaporeans not only chase after the 5Cs, they also display 2Ks in their social behaviour - Kiasu and Kiasee. And if he is a Singapore man, there is a third 'K' - Kiabo.

22 These are special qualities of the Singaporeans. They may not be the most endearing, but they do distinguish us from other people.

Other Nationalities

23 Other nationalities have also their own peculiar characteristics.

24 Most people think the French are unfriendly. But they are not unfriendly, only difficult to know. They don't smile in public, or without a specific reason. To the French, a person smiling without cause is either an idiot or condescending.

25 To the German, time is sacred. If you turn up five minutes late for an appointment, he considers you rude.

26 German society dictates the range of acceptable social behaviour. Adults admonish misbehaving children in the street, even if they are strangers. In Singapore, when adults do this, they will end up in a quarrel or fight with the child's father.

27 The Italians like dramatic gestures. Individual Italians are prone to display a wide range of emotions. But no one takes their display seriously. They are meant to impress the onlookers.

28 So, whether we are kiasu or kiasee, these qualities define us as Singaporeans.

29 But we need more than social characteristics to bind us as a nation.

Common Elements of Different Heritage

30 We need to lower the divide between races. We can do this by building on the significant common elements of our different ancestral heritage. Though our race, language, culture and customs are different, we have many significant common practices.

31 We respect our elders. We believe in family as the basic unit of society. Our cultures teach us to put society before self. We also believe in resolving differences through consensus and not conflict.

32 Parliament debated these significant common elements in 1991 and enshrined them as our five shared values.

33 I am tempted to ask you to name the five shared values, but some of you may not pass. To remind you, they are:

(1) Nation before community and society above self.

(2) Family as the basic unit of society.

(3) Community support and respect for the individual.

(4) Consensus, not conflict.

(5) Racial and religious harmony.

34 Our grandparents and parents have passed on these values to us. We are passing them on to our children. They are also being taught in school. They will contribute to the evolution of the multi-racial Singaporean tribe.

Common Elements of Singapore Heritage

35 Apart from sharing the common elements of our different ancestral heritage, we have the beginning of a common Singapore heritage. Modern Singapore has a history going back 180 years. Singapore has existed as an independent country for 33 years now. Our shared history provides a common national heritage which we can build on.

36 The most momentous event of our shared history is separation from Malaysia. The image of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew shedding tears at his press conference after separation must be deeply etched in every Singaporean's mind.

37 The Maria Hertogh riots on 11 December 1950 and the racial riots on Prophet Mohammed's birthday on 21 July 1964 are two other defining events in Singapore's short history. We talk about them to remind younger Singaporeans who were not born then of the importance of racial tolerance. 21 July is now marked as Racial Harmony Day, to remind all Singaporeans that racial riots must never happen again in Singapore.

Israel's Masada

38 We should not under-estimate the power of defining events in shaping the character of a country. Let me illustrate with Israel's Masada.

39 Masada is a historical place near the Dead Sea. It has a legendary status in Israeli mentality, and is the national symbol for Israeli independence.

40 Sometime in the 1st Century BC, the Judean King Herod built a fortress on Masada, a mountain of several hundred metres. It was to protect Israel from Egypt and Cleopatra.

41 Shortly after Herod's death, Roman legionaries took over the fortress. In 66 AD, a group of Jewish Zealots captured the garrison, and drove out the Romans. They were later joined by others.

42 For almost two years, these Zealots numbering about 1000, including women and children, created havoc for the Romans. They raided the Roman encampments surrounding Masada's base. They also fended off repeated attacks against their fortress by the Roman troops.

43 By the Year 72 AD, the Roman Emperor Vespasian lost patience with this "nuisance". He ordered the region's Governor to crush this embarrassing outpost of Jewish resistance. The Governor took with him more than 15000 soldiers and thousands of Jewish slaves for the campaign.

44 The Zealots on Masada put up a good fight but proved no match for the superior Roman force. When the Romans broke through the crumbled walls of the fortress, they were met with silence. Instead of surrendering, the Jews had chosen to take their own lives.

45 With the fall of Masada, the state of Israel came to an end for a period of almost 1900 years. It came into being again only in May 1948, after the end of the Second World War.

46 Today, the Israeli Defense Force take their oath of allegiance on Masada and vow: "Masada shall not fall upon!"

National Heroes

47 We do not have a Masada for our NS men to take their oath of allegiance. We also do not have national heroes to serve as a unifying symbol. We have singled out Major-General Lim Bo Seng and Lieutenant Adnan Saidi for their bravery during the Second World War. But they were defending Singapore for the British, not independent Singapore. So they cannot compare with freedom fighter Jose Rizal, whom the Filipinos regard as the father of modern Philippines.

48 A country needs national heroes. Some of the first-generation leaders who fought for our independence and built up Singapore can be conferred the stature of national heroes. We shall do this at an appropriate time.

National Ethos

49 But meanwhile, we can foster the ethos of Singapore's founding fathers as Singapore's national ethos.

50 Most countries have a set of core beliefs. For example, liberty and freedom is a fundamental belief of any American. There is a historical reason for this. Most of the early Americans had come from a background of political or religious suppression. They built up America and were determined to preserve the New World as the "land of the free and home of the brave".

51 So Americans believe that their country has a divine mission to spread Democracy and Capitalism and to defend them against Communism and Statism.

52 Our founding fathers believe in meritocracy, fairness, pragmatism and integrity in governing Singapore. These are not just precepts of government. They can be fundamental beliefs of every Singaporean. They can be our national ethos.

53 To sum up, we are moving in the right direction in building our nation. If you carry on what we are doing, then in another generation or two, the Prime Minister at that time can say, "Singapore is now a nation".

The Knowledge Economy

54 Next, let me talk about the economic area. Whither our economy?

55 There is only one way to go - globalize as a knowledge economy.

56 To succeed as a global economy, we need a mindset change in several areas.

57 First is the recognition that knowledge is now the primary resource in economic development. It is the basic ingredient of prosperity. Take the example of the silicon chip. The new material for silicon chip is sand, a cheap raw material. The value of the chip lies in its design, and the design of the machine that makes it.

58 Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter from Harvard Business School was here in February to take part in our Manpower 21 seminar. She suggested a framework for explaining what the knowledge economy is about. I found the idea simple and enlightening.

59 She called the framework 'L I T'. L is for learn, I is for innovate and T is for trade.

60 We have to learn from the best in the world. But this alone is not enough. We have to improve on the learning, innovate and create new knowledge. Then we have to trade that knowledge, in the form of products and services that emanate from Singapore.

Creators of Wealth

61 You are now learning in NTU. But you are learning to solve problems which others have solved. The answers can always be found in some text-books. You must have that frame of mind to improve on what you have learnt to solve problems others have not solved. Then you can trade that knowledge and become a millionaire.

62 Let me give you two examples to encourage you to think this way.

63 Success story 1: Michael Dell of Dell Computers. At age 18, in 1983, he left Texas University to found Dell Computers, based on the concept of eliminating the middleman. Dell sells computers direct to the customers. Today the company is worth US$18 billion.

64 He said, "I believe opportunity is part instinct and part immersion - in an industry, a subject, or an area of expertise. You don't have to be a genius, or a visionary, or even a college graduate to think unconventionally. You just need a framework and a dream."

65 Success story 2: Jerry Yang of Yahoo! He is one of the two co-creators of Yahoo! In 1994, he put up a web page containing his name in Chinese characters, his golf scores and a list of his favourite internet sites. Six months later, he and David Filo hit on the idea of Yahoo! The rest is history. Yahoo! today commands the attention of 25 million pairs of eyes everyday. 32-year old Yang has a 10% stake in the company, which has a market capitalisation of nearly US$30 billion.

66 You don't need to be a brilliant engineer working at the cutting edge of technology. The key is to use your knowledge to innovate. Take the example of video-recorder. Ampex, an American company, actually invented the video recorder in 1954, not Sony or JVC. The Ampex video recorder, with its two-inch reel to reel tapes, was the size of a juke box. The Japanese realised that the big market for the video recorder was the home, not the studio. Portability was a critical success factor. So Sony came out with the Betamax in late 1974, and JVC the VHS recorder in 1976. Ampex did not reap the benefits of its invention but the Japanese companies did with their innovation.

67 This is what technopreneurship is about. We have to put a premium on entrepreneurs over employees. Entrepreneurs are the risk takers, the investors and innovators. They are the wealth creators. They think of new and better ways of doing things, creating value, wealth and jobs. They are not careerists. They chase after the satisfaction of bringing their ideas to fruition and reaping the financial rewards.

Going Global

68 Singapore cannot think like before, that being the best in the region is enough to procure us a high standard of living. In a globalised economy, we have to be amongst the best in the world.

69 More companies have to think and operate globally, like SIA and NOL. These are Singapore companies with a global outreach. They provide global services. Creative Technology is successful because its product is for the global market, not for Singapore and the region only. It has carved out its own niche in the worldwide multi-media industry.

70 PSA, too, does not now just operate a port in Singapore. It operates ports in China, India, Italy and Yemen, to link shipping services to Singapore.

71 Singapore Telecoms, too, has gone global. It has a partnership to operate the national telecommunication network in Belgium and has investments in many other Asian countries.

72 Our local banks will also have to look beyond the domestic market. We are liberalising our financial sector. More foreign banks will be gradually allowed into the domestic market. They will take away market share from our local banks.

73 Banks are important national institutions in the economy. They are not like biscuit factories and soft drink companies. When biscuit and soft drinks factories close down, they do no great harm to the economy. But if our local banks collapse under the weight of foreign competition, we lose some control over our economy. Many of our local banks have the image of being family banks. They will have to change their mindset and look for the best people for their top positions.

74 The financial sector is a growth area. It also pays well. It needs more top-quality people.

75 There are big jobs to be done in Singapore and there are big gaps waiting to be filled.

Loss of Talent

76 This is where bright Singaporeans can make a big difference to Singapore, by running key companies which create wealth and jobs for Singaporeans. This is surely more important to the nation, at this point of our development, than their being tucked away in some corner of a research laboratory or organisations abroad.

77 Many of our bright students pursue courses which satisfy their self-fulfilment rather than the needs of the country. I can understand the excitement and sense of fulfilment in doing medicine or research. But if a disproportionate amount of our best brains is doing basic research in esoteric areas of medicine, science and even IT, there will be fewer left for other key sectors in Singapore. We have to set up a career guidance system to guide our able students to where the big jobs are in Singapore, jobs where they can make a difference to Singapore. This is to ensure that we maximize the use of our scarce higher-level manpower.

78 Here we face a problem which will become increasingly grave. In the past, most of our bright students study in Singapore universities before going overseas for their postgraduate training. But now more and more go abroad for undergraduate courses, on scholarships or on their own. In the US, the brightest are green-harvested by professors and American companies as early as in the second year. They are offered jobs in world-class research organisations, or to work as assistants to internationally well-known professors, or employed by prestigious companies.

79 I know a few parents whose children are bright, and after graduation, have preferred to work abroad instead of returning to Singapore. They consider our universities and research organisations not world-class enough for their talent and potential. These parents risk losing them to other countries.

80 This is a chicken and egg problem. If our best, who qualify to work for world-class institutions, are not prepared to come back, how can we even make our institutions world-class? How can Singapore be a world-class country?

81 We have to get the message across that our ablest can get to where they are only because there is a good level of progress and success in Singapore. This achievement is possible because we have a core group of men and women in government, in the private sector, in the public sector, and in the people sector to keep Singapore going. This core group has to be self-renewed. Without this core group to look after the house, there will be no economic growth and new wealth. And there will be fewer scholarships - government's, private sector's or parents' - to send our ablest overseas. We have to get our ablest to see this point. They are part of the virtuous cycle of Singapore's success. If more of our best stay away from Singapore, this virtuous cycle will be broken.

Foreign Talent

82 Even with our best returning, we must not close our minds to foreign talents. I know that some Singaporeans are worried. Perhaps some of you are too. You may wonder if you will lose out to foreigners in your own country.

83 I understand these anxieties fully, especially at a time like this, when the employment situation is far from rosy. But a global knowledge economy needs a large pool of the best talents available to succeed.

84 I should make it clear that our foreign talent policy is not an indictment of Singaporean workers and talents. In fact, we have every reason to be proud of ourselves and what we have achieved for Singapore. Singaporean workers are hardworking, disciplined and reliable.

85 Our managers and professionals also have a good reputation. Many have distinguished themselves in the employ of foreign MNCs. But our economy is now bigger, more sophisticated and complex. We need more knowledge, more expertise, more skills to keep it going forward.

86 Competition for talent is keen. US universities compete fiercely for talent. They give scholarships generously to attract the best students. They do not regard these as financial assistance. They look upon them as an investment. They know that better students will enhance their reputation.

87 Likewise, we have to recruit and retain the best talent in Singapore, both local and foreign. This will enhance Singapore's economy and benefit Singaporeans.

Conclusion

88 Let me end by saying that the way forward rests on our ability to create the Singapore nation, to nurture and keep our own talents as well as to attract talents from abroad.

89 The Singapore economy must possess more talents than others to succeed as a global knowledge economy.

90 This is the big picture we must focus on. We are a small city-state, a tiny speck on the map. In Asia alone, there are hundreds of cities with a bigger population than Singapore's. We do not have the advantage of a hinterland, unlike Hong Kong and Shanghai, which serve two different regions of China. We could be just another "ordinary" city in Asia, with a vision limited by our geographical and population size, or we could become an international city of excellence, growing beyond our physical and demographic limitations. The choice is clear.

91 Our future is in the hands of younger Singaporeans like you. You have to bring about the Singapore nation, the cosmopolitan city and the knowledge economy. You have to decide that Singapore is worth fighting for. You have to defend our possessions and families, preserve our values and make Singapore the best home. There will be crises along the way. But if you have tough minds and stout hearts, nothing can stop you from achieving your mission. We are doing our part. You must do yours.

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