Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President (April 2023)
Mr Speaker, The last time Parliament opened in 2020, we were in the heat of battle against COVID-19. I am grateful we have come through the pandemic well with minimal casualties, livelihoods intact, and our people united. Not many countries can say this. We owe much to our healthcare and frontline workers’ steadfast efforts and sacrifices, and to Singaporeans for your trust and support. I am glad that we have smoothly transitioned to living with the virus. Last month, this House took stock of what we did right and where we need to do better the next time.
Now we must stay firmly focused on the challenges ahead. As a small country, our external environment has a huge impact on us. Thankfully, relations with our closest neighbours are stable and positive. With Indonesia, we have made major progress. Last year, President Jokowi and I witnessed the signing of a set of three bilateral agreements under an Expanded Framework, comprising the Flight Information Region (FIR) Agreement, the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) and Extradition Treaty (ET). Airspace, military training, extradition – these are three long¬standing sensitive issues in our bilateral relationship, going back decades.
Airspace is vital for Singapore and politically important to the Indonesians. The FIR agreement provides both sides a workable way forward. The DCA covers SAF training, including in traditional areas in the South China Sea.
It is particularly important for our Air Force and Navy. The ET is something that Indonesia has long pressed for, but it was not straightforward to do because our legal systems are so different. If we had left these issues unresolved, they would have festered, and quite likely one day turned rancorous. This would have soured the entire relationship, which would have benefited neither side.
I am very happy to have now settled these issues with President Jokowi. We signed the agreements in Bintan a year ago. Now, both governments have ratified them.
So we are almost there. Both governments have submitted the new FIR arrangements to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) for approval. Once ICAO has done so, all three agreements (FIR, DCA, and ET) can come into force simultaneously. By putting these longstanding issues to rest, Indonesia and Singapore can move forward with greater confidence and trust; and focus our energies on collaboration. We are working on promising new areas, like the digital economy, sustainability, and renewable energy. We are making headway.
We signed several MOUs on them when President Jokowi visited Singapore last month. With Malaysia, we also have a broad cooperation agenda. It spans many different areas like trade, investments, and connectivity. At the same time, we have some significant bilateral issues to tackle, including: Singapore’s development works at Pedra Branca, delimitation of our maritime boundaries, water issues, and airspace issues.
I hope to make progress on them with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. It is important that both sides manage these issues well and not allow any single issue to dominate and disrupt our overall bilateral relationship. I am glad that we are maintaining frequent exchanges at all levels with Malaysia. I hosted PM Anwar in January for his introductory visit and we met again recently in Boao in Hainan Island and took our discussions further.
Also last month, at the invitation of His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, President Halimah made a State Visit to Malaysia, where she was very warmly received. Our two countries have much to gain by working together. Both in new areas, like the green and digital economies, and also on ongoing projects like the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link between Singapore and Johor Bahru. We are building the RTS Link marine viaduct across the Straits of Johor, starting from both sides and meeting in the middle.
Construction is progressing steadily. The next big milestone is when we complete the drop-in span to join up both sides of the marine viaduct. I look forward to witnessing this with PM Anwar before too long. So with our immediate neighbours – Indonesia and Malaysia – relations are stable and encouraging.
But further afield, the situation has turned much more troubling, even dangerous. Singaporeans need to realise the gravity of the external situation. We are facing not just one storm, but several. Let me highlight three big ones: First, the war in Ukraine. After more than a year, the war is deadlocked, with no good outcome in sight. Neither side can win, nor can either afford to lose.
In fact, things have been at a stalemate since last November. The Ukrainians are understandably reluctant to stop fighting before they reclaim all of their territory, but this will be very difficult. The Russians are most unlikely to be defeated entirely despite heavy losses. They have a large population and can still conscript more troops and mobilise more resources. There is always a danger of the conflict escalating.
The US and NATO countries are supplying Ukraine with more and more sophisticated military equipment like longer range artillery, the Patriot air defence system, and main battle tanks. If the Ukrainians, using these Western-supplied weapons, make a breakthrough on the battlefield, we cannot predict how Russia may react. What does this mean for the rest of the world? Even short of worst-case scenarios, the impact is bad.
The war continues to disrupt global energy, food and fertiliser supplies. We are all feeling it, in higher prices. There are also significant implications on international relations. Relations between Russia and the NATO countries (the US and Europe) have completely broken down, and will not return to normal anytime soon. Two months ago, Russia suspended its participation in the New Start Treaty, its only remaining nuclear arms control treaty with the US. For China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has presented a difficult problem.
The US and Europeans want China to use its influence to get Russia to stop the invasion. China would prefer not to aggravate Europe and the US, by providing military support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. But China is hard-pressed to condemn Russia’s invasion, or pressure Russia to stop fighting. It shares a very long land border with Russia, and it has to consider its own substantial relations with Russia. So the war has made it difficult for China to improve relations with Europe, even though I think both sides would like to do. It has also complicated China’s already very troubled ties with the US.
Which brings me to the second big issue: US-China relations. When I visited China last month, this was on everyone’s minds. Likewise, in all my recent meetings with US visitors. Between the US and China, there is deep mutual suspicion and fundamental mistrust. In America, the Democrats and Republicans disagree with each other on almost everything. But they are united on one issue: China.
The prevailing view in America is that their efforts to work out a cooperative relationship with China have failed, and China’s growing strength and assertiveness is becoming a grave threat to US interests and values. And therefore the US must go for “extreme competition” and maintain “as large a lead as possible”, in their words, over China in foundational technologies, such as semiconductor chips, quantum technology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and green technologies — all the things that count. It is not just the US government. Negative perceptions are prevalent amongst the population too.
The latest Pew survey found that over 80% of adults in the US have an unfavourable view of China, and nearly 40%, 4 in 10, would describe China as an enemy of the US rather than as a competitor or partner. Surveys in China similarly show that Chinese public perception of the US has deteriorated. More consequentially, China’s leaders have become convinced that the US is seeking to “contain, encircle and suppress” China, in the words of President Xi Jinping. They believe that Washington wants to hold back China’s growth and weaken the Communist Party of China’s hold on power. They say the East is rising and the West is declining, and they think the time has come for China to take its rightful place in the world. They consider issues like Hongkong, Xinjiang and Tibet to be China’s domestic matters, vitally affecting its security and integrity, on which they see no room for discussion or compromise.
But the most dangerous flashpoint of all is Taiwan. Singapore is good friends with China and we are also old friends of Taiwan. Singapore rigorously upholds our “One China” policy, and continues to support the peaceful development of cross-strait relations. China considers Taiwan as the most important issue, and the “One China” principle to be the reddest of its red lines. But in the West, an alternative narrative is gaining currency: that the problem in cross-strait relations is a broader ideological issue of democracy versus autocracy.
This is even though most countries, including most Western countries, have officially adopted “One China” policies. This difference of views is very worrying. Right now tensions over Taiwan are high. All sides continue to make moves, responding to one another. After Dr Tsai Ing-Wen met US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy during her stopover in the US, China launched three days of extensive military exercises all around Taiwan. A CCTV report described them as “comprehensive and precise simulated attacks on the key targets in the island and surrounding waters”.
The risks of a miscalculation or mishap are growing. US-China relations will not improve anytime soon. Even if the two powers avoid a direct conflict, which thankfully I believe neither side wishes to see, enduring enmity and bad relations between them will be very costly for both, and will mean big trouble for the rest of the world. It is a very worrying outlook, but we still hope that relations between US and China do not get worse, and that both sides can keep lines of communications open, and with time, gradually repair their relationship on the basis of mutual respect and trust.
The third big issue is that the global multilateral trading system is under siege. This has very serious implications, especially for small, open economies. For Singapore, a stable, well-functioning international trading system is vitally important. We cannot survive other than as an open economy. We rely on the free flow of trade and investments across the world, and a common set of rules that applies to all countries, no matter their size.
This has helped us greatly to compete against bigger countries, attract investments from around the world, and to grow. For the last few decades, there was a broad international consensus supporting globalisation. Countries were lowering tariff and non-tariff barriers, harmonising rules, seeking win-win economic cooperation. APEC economies talked about their vision of an FTAAP, a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. Even when countries clashed on political or security issues, they still continued to do business with each other. From time to time, countries might violate the rules set by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but even then, the exceptions had to be justified and defended.
Now things have changed. All over the world, countries are prioritising domestic and national security considerations. Countries no longer talk about trade being win-win. Too often, when countries quarrel, their bilateral trade becomes embroiled in these disputes. They impose restrictions on imports or exports.
It depends – if you need my imports more than me, I restrict my exports. If it is the opposite, we will restrict your imports. Sometimes it is high-tech items like semiconductor chips or sophisticated machinery; sometimes it is agricultural products like bananas, barley or wine. They seek to inflict maximum political pain while blandly denying any hostile intent.
It is a vicious cycle. Countries trust others less and less to play by the rules. Therefore they are increasingly going their own way, and “on-shoring” or “friend-shoring” supply chains. This then triggers a tit-for-tat response from the other side.
We are once again heading towards a world where protectionism is the default and trade rules are secondary, like what happened in the period between the First and Second World Wars. The economic cost to the world will be very high. The IMF recently estimated that fragmentation of the global economy could in the long run reduce global GDP by 7% cumulatively. 7% is a very high figure – but I think it is a conservative estimate, because the reality is probably worse. 7% is the effect on goods and services not traded, but deglobalisation will also impact on the exchange of ideas and innovation, technology development and diffusion, as well as capital flows and cross-border financing. All of which add to growth, prosperity, and human well-being.
And these are all vital for economic growth, especially for an open economy like ours. A deep decoupling of the world economy will undo what has taken countries decades to collectively achieve. What can we do? The current global situation, both strategic and economic, is graver than we have experienced for a very long time. Singapore has survived difficult periods before: The Cold War between the US and Soviet Union, and closer to home, the proxy fights in Vietnam and Cambodia; the Asian Financial Crisis, then the Global Financial Crisis; public health crises like SARS, and most recently COVID-19. But what we have now is unprecedented: a hot war in Europe; deepening hostility between two superpowers which are closely interlinked with each other; and protectionism undermining the foundations of the multilateral trading system.
These three simultaneous crises will set in train a whole series of changes and shocks that will severely disrupt the world, our region, and surely Singapore. In such a troubled environment, what can we do? First and foremost, we must remain one united people. We have come through repeated challenges over the last six decades, because we worked together, took adversity in our stride, and kept faith with one another. We painstakingly created a harmonious multi-racial and multi-religious society.
We avoided the schisms and factions that have troubled other societies. In recent years, we have tackled sensitive issues that could easily have caused deep rifts among our people. Two years ago, we allowed Muslim nurses to wear the tudung with their uniforms. Last year, we repealed Section 377A of the Penal Code while safeguarding the institution of marriage. We handled these issues firmly and fairly, in a way that maintained mutual trust and understanding between different communities, and kept ourselves together. You may think: “Nothing happened, so what was the fuss about? We should just have done it – and a long time ago”.
But look at what has happened elsewhere – opposing groups getting worked up, mobilising their followers, pitting citizens against each other and dividing society. This could easily have happened here too, and it can still happen to us. Many foreigners, especially our critics in the West, don’t understand this about us. In Singapore, when faced with a divisive issue, our approach has always been to find a middle way, bridge the differences, strike compromises and heal divisions. Not grand posturing; not playing cultural or identity politics; not dividing and polarising people. Our instinct always is to keep Singaporeans together.
We have to keep on thinking and acting like this. Please do not take our harmony for granted. It is a very precious thing, and very fragile. We must continuously work on it, and build up our social cohesion and national strength. The troubled external environment will create new stresses and strains in our society.
High inflation because of the Ukraine war will cause difficulties for many households, especially lower- and middle-income families. Tensions between China and the US will expose our population to emotional pulls, commercial pressures, and influence campaigns, from one side or the other, to take their point of view and support their cause. The fracturing of the global trading system will mean slower, more uncertain growth, and greater disruption to industries and jobs, businesses and workers. We must not allow these pressures to divide Singaporeans along fault lines in our society, whether old or new, like: the “haves” versus the “have nots”; the “liberals” versus the “conservatives”; the “locals” versus the “foreigners”; “new” versus “old” citizens; and above all, differences between races and religions. In this new troubled world, it is all the more important for us to close ranks. Divided, we stand no chance.
We must do our best to see eye-to-eye on the fundamentals, and try to appreciate each other’s perspectives, even if we cannot always agree. We must not shy away from hard choices, but deal squarely with difficult issues based on facts and sound analysis. We must nurture the deep and precious trust that we have – between the Government and the people, and also among Singaporeans; and work hand-in-hand towards a shared vision of our future. This is what Forward Singapore is about – bringing Singaporeans together to refresh our social compact, and come up with a collective roadmap for our way forward.
Members have heard DPM Lawrence Wong and other 4G ministers outline the Forward Singapore agenda earlier. We will make sure meritocracy works for all; we will leave no one behind as Singapore progresses; we will enhance safety nets against the uncertainties of life; and we will fashion a common understanding and purpose that binds us together. All this is absolutely essential, and the government will fully back this agenda with policies, programmes and resources.
It is an ambitious agenda that will not be easy to realise even in good times. In these turbulent times, it is all the more important that we get it done, and get it right, so that we can stay united as one people, one Singapore. But just being united will not be enough.
It is equally important that we have the go-getting spirit of self-reliance and enterprise, to create prosperity for our nation and achieve the best we can in a very troubled world. This has always been our attitude. Long ago in 1968, Singapore was heading into a major storm. The British forces were here, they contributed about one fifth of the economy. They were soon to withdraw from Singapore. Our unemployment was already 10%, dangerously high.
We faced the prospect of mass unemployment and economic collapse. Mr S. Rajaratnam had just become Minister of Labour, and was girding Singaporeans for tough measures and hard times ahead. Speaking in Parliament at the end of the debate on the President’s Address in 1968, he said: “Industrial development requires at all times a sustained effort, a willingness to mobilise savings, a readiness to take risks, a propensity for innovation, a passionate vision of the future, a willingness to make the painful adjustments required by modernisation and, most important of all, a readiness on the part of the people as a whole to postpone immediate rewards for greater gains in the future.”
“If we are not prepared to pay this price”, he said, then there “will be little or no economic development”. Raja went on to say: “… We in parliament, can, if we like, fool the people… into believing that we can bring them prosperity without the tears and effort…” But he warned that if we did that, then “we would go the way of many independent countries – into bankruptcy and despair”. Only in Singapore, we don’t have an “escape hatch”, the hinterland, that many other countries have. This mindset of grit and self-reliance was crucial. Because Singaporeans heeded Raja’s words and set our hearts and souls to nation-building, we survived the withdrawal of the British forces, we overcame many more subsequent crises, and we created today’s Singapore. Now, once again, we are headed into very difficult times.
Raja’s rallying call more than 50 years ago remain just as valid and critical for us today. I can hardly improve on the words that the drafter of our National Pledge used. Again we need “a sustained effort, a willingness to mobilise savings, a readiness to take risks, a propensity for innovation, a passionate vision of the future, a willingness to make the painful adjustments required by modernisation and most important of all, a readiness on the part of the people as a whole to postpone immediate rewards for greater gains in the future”. This formula has long worked for us, and it will continue to do so. There is good reason to be confident that Singaporeans have not gone soft and forgotten these fundamentals. Last June I visited Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
Africa is not the first place that comes to mind when Singaporeans think about venturing overseas. But there, I met several young Singaporeans living and working in Rwanda. One was running a poultry farm supplying chickens to restaurants in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Another was working with start-ups to raise financing.
A third had started a distillery brewing premium spirits. Not just any hooch but premium spirits. I asked him what it was, he said it is a special rum and he is hoping to make his rum brands as famous as single malt Scottish whiskeys.
And there were a few more too, including some women, who dared to take the path less travelled, and strike out on their own in these less familiar lands. Last week, at the reception after the Opening of Parliament, I met a student from NUS. He had spent a year in Silicon Valley on the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme, and he found it exhilarating. He picked up new skills, and was inspired by the culture of innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people he met.
I asked about his plans after graduation. He told me he intends to start his own business, together with a few of his NOC – Silicon Valley classmates. He doesn’t know if his business will succeed. But he is prepared to take that leap of faith to start a business of his own. And in my daily work, interacting with Ministers and their staff, I come across young officers who are passionate about their work, feel a sense of mission serving the nation, and are keen to improve the lives of Singaporeans through their ideas and efforts.
Many young Singaporeans think and act the same way. Growing up in Singapore, they have benefited from a good education system, opportunities, exposure, stimulation. They have made the most of it; they know that nobody owes them a living; they will work hard, and blaze their own path forward. Raja would have been proud and delighted. But we are not just asking Singaporeans to work harder as individuals. We have a strategy to make a living for our nation as a global city and an international hub.
It will be tough, because globalisation is going the wrong way. Countries with larger populations and bigger domestic markets are turning inwards. It will cost them, but maybe they can afford to do so. But Singapore cannot turn inwards. We are a small island state. A little red dot. That is our reality.
Our survival depends on our being able to do business with the world, to deliver value to others. So our strategy must be to double down on staying open and connected to the world, and continue making ourselves useful as a global city and an international hub. We must work hard to form good relations with other countries, big and small, and find ways to work with them. Even with wars, tensions, and protectionism in the world, countries still need to trade, there will still be opportunities, and therefore we can still make a living.
Hence, Changi can still be one of the busiest and best airports in the world; our Singapore port can still be a highly efficient and reliable transhipment hub, connected to other ports all over the world; we can still be a financial centre, financing trade flows and infrastructure investments in the region and beyond; our city can still be a magnet for talent and enterprise, a centre for technology and innovation, and a base for trusted services and advanced manufacturing. All this, we can still be. We just have to work harder and smarter than before. In a world of troubles, not every country will prosper, but Singapore will not perish. Of course, we must make the right moves to continue thriving.
Staying open and connected means exposing ourselves to competition from the world. We must be able to do things more competently and efficiently than our competitors to maintain our edge. This means continually upgrading existing capabilities, and building new ones; transforming and restructuring our economy to stay abreast of technologies and industries.
Take for example artificial intelligence, a rapidly developing field. You have all heard of ChatGPT, and maybe even have tried it out. It didn't write this speech for me yet, though it probably can already summarise it quite well. But ChatGPT is just one AI application out of many. AI will affect jobs across all sectors, including white-collar jobs.
Some will be enhanced; others will be eliminated. At the same time, AI technology will create immense opportunities to improve productivity across the board. To respond to AI and many more technologies to come, our businesses will need to adapt and transform, to develop new ways of operating, and explore new markets. Our workers need to upskill and reskill, to do the new jobs which will replace the old ones.
We need to complement our own talent with skilled professionals from all over the world, who have the expertise and experience to help us make this transformation. And we have to integrate these foreigners into our workplaces and communities, so that they fit well into our society. It will be challenging – we will feel tensions; we will experience disruptions. We will have to manage the problems, and deal with the trade-offs thoughtfully and sensibly.
But we have some things going for us. Most importantly, we stand out compared to our competitors. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the EIU, recently ranked the business environment of countries for the next five years. Singapore came in top amongst 82 countries that EIU looked at from across the world. Singapore has ranked top now for 15 years in a row.
Businesses, investors, and talented individuals, in the region and beyond show great interest in Singapore. They want to come here, to bring in their talent, capital and investments. We welcome them, we must welcome them – how can there be any doubt? Take pharmaceuticals for example. After COVID, every country wants to be able to make its own vaccines, but not every country can.
We have a strong base of biomedical activities, from R&D to manufacturing, and the prerequisites for building vaccine plants. EDB has secured several vaccine projects. Everyone has heard of Pfizer-BioNTech. Many of us have taken their COVID-19 vaccine. But you may not know that Pfizer and BioNTech are two companies, and that both, separately, are making major investments in Singapore to produce drugs and vaccines for the global market. Other pharmas and other industries are keen on Singapore too.
They value the Singapore brand, they have a good view of Singapore, and that is how we can continue to create good jobs for Singaporeans. Which brings me to my next point – we must uphold Singapore’s good reputation and standing in the world. When I meet foreign leaders and business people, whether here or on my trips abroad, many express their admiration for Singapore. They are not just being polite; they are effusive. They talk about having read Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s books. They tell me how they wish their countries could become like Singapore.
Many Singaporeans take this good reputation for granted. They are glad to carry our red passport. Overseas, they are proud to identify themselves as Singaporeans and not be mistaken as someone else.
But they do not realise how important this high standing we enjoy is to us, nor how astonishing it is for a small island state with no natural resources to enjoy its standing. What do I mean? Based on our land size, Singapore is barely visible on the world map. By country population, we are hardly worth mentioning. China and India are each 250 times our population.
US and Indonesia are more than 40 times. Malaysia is 5 times bigger than us. Even compared with other major cities, by population size, we are not in the top fifty in the world. If we did not stand out from the rest, there would be no particular reason why other countries and investors should pay much attention to this little island, and no particular reason why Singaporeans should enjoy a quality of life and a standard of living that we can be proud of and is among the highest in the world. And yet they do, and we do. Why? It is because of the strong international reputation that Singapore has built up over the years.
People know that the Singapore system works and COVID-19 has made our track record stand out even more. People know our people are of high quality; our workers are hardworking, skilled and reliable; our professionals are competent, honest and trustworthy. People know that we honour our commitments; we act based on principles, which we uphold consistently; our leaders speak with the mandate and authority to deliver on what they say, because they enjoy the support and confidence of the people. Our policies do not chop and change, or get reversed from one election to another — thus when Russia invaded Ukraine, we took a clear principled stand to oppose this flagrant violation of the UN Charter.
We did the same decades ago when the US invaded Grenada, and Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Any part of the world, any power, any decade — same answer from Singapore, because that is where our enduring interests lie, and people can depend on it. People know that we make useful contributions on global issues. For example: the Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) – it is an UN outfit – now is a Singaporean, Mr Daren Tang. Senior Minister Tharman is co-chairing the global commission on water governance, whose first report was discussed at the United Nations Water Conference held in New York last month. Our Ambassador for Oceans and Law of the Sea Issues, Rena Lee, presided over negotiations under UNCLOS on marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction – They call it BBNJ – Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction that means on the high seas, belonging to nobody – and the negotiations had been going on for many years.
Rena was president of the negotiations for the last five years, and last month, she successfully brought all the parties together to conclude a new international agreement – the BBNJ Agreement, or High Seas Treaty, which is expected to be adopted later this year. And there are many other Singaporeans, working in different fields all over the world, also distinguishing themselves and enhancing our international reputation. Because of all these and more, confidence and trust in the Singapore brand has grown. This is a precious asset in an uncertain world. So I ask all Singaporeans, through you, Mr Speaker, to uphold our country’s reputation, especially when you are overseas. Make full use of the Singapore brand, but remember: never sully it.
Build on it, enhance it for future generations. A high international reputation makes all the difference to Singapore. I have spoken about the importance of unity, a go-getting mindset, and a good reputation. But the quality of a country’s government and leaders matter too. Last week, I met the CEO of a major pharma company. We talked about his projects in Singapore.
He listed the reasons why they had decided to invest here, big time: high quality people, predictable policies, and a government that is doing the right thing. He said that ultimately, companies value good government, stable politics, and a system that works. He said: “What I want is a place that I can trust. This (Singapore) is a country you can trust, and which the world can trust.”
But there is no formula that can guarantee that our system will continue to work well for the long term. Last year when Parliament debated the importance of honesty and integrity in public life, I spoke about the importance, and the difficulty, of maintaining the ideals and values of a country beyond its founding generation. Honesty and integrity are a crucial part of our success formula; but it goes beyond that. It is equally essential, and hard, to keep the whole system working through the decades.
Attitudes and mindsets change; new stresses and strains will appear; people forget the values and the experience of the founding generation; slowly things can go awry, and start to fall apart. Nothing can magically prevent Singapore from going down this road. What we can do, to give ourselves the best chance of staying on the right track, is to make sure that our economy is sound, and our institutions are in place, and strong; our people have the skills and instincts to work hard, work together, and earn a living for ourselves; our accumulated reserves are well-managed, well-protected, earn credible returns, and give us a critical advantage in major crises; our leaders are capable, dedicated and trustworthy stewards worthy of their responsibility to Singapore, to this, and future generations. To ensure good leadership for the long term is an unending and demanding challenge for successive generations. But what I and my older colleagues can do, and will make sure of, is to prepare a strong and capable next team to take over from us. Then the new leaders can take Singapore further forward, and the country has the chance to produce and support new generations of leaders to come after them, who will be up to the job.
This, we have done. The 4G team is in place. During the pandemic, Singaporeans experienced first-hand the importance of strong political leadership. Our population rose to the occasion; the public service performed magnificently; but our response, and the results, would have been very different without political leaders who could set the direction, make the tough calls, and rally the people together. The MTF ministers were in the hot seat, but the whole 4G team played a key role. It was a formative experience for the 4G ministers.
Handling the crisis, they got the measure of each other, and gained confidence in each other’s judgment and abilities. The 4G ministers are increasingly responsible for the safety and well-being of the country. They have a strong agenda to fulfil, domestically and internationally; but they cannot do it on their own. They need the support of every Singaporean, including Members of this House, to see it through. Last year, the 4G ministers chose DPM Wong to be their leader.
I ask you to give Lawrence and the 4G ministers your fullest support. I ask you to give them your fullest support for now as members of my team, but in due course when they take over the reins, as the next leadership for Singapore. Help me make this leadership succession, this leadership renewal a success for Singapore, and for you. Show your support for a government that works hard and works well for you. Elect leaders whom you can trust to take us forward.
Give yourselves the best chance to keep our system working well for Singaporeans for many years to come. We are heading into a troubled world. This is probably the 10th time I have told you this, if there is no other message you are taking away from this speech. There is much work to be done, and to be done quickly. Our forefathers worked hard to build up the Singapore that we have today. They did not let themselves to be constrained by our small size or limited resources.
They were not powerful, but they fought hard to make our voice heard on the international stage. They were not well off, but they tightened their belts to create a better future for us, their descendants. Against long odds, they determined to forge a prosperous nation and a united people, and they succeeded. We, too, must embrace their can-do spirit and outsized ambition to be an extraordinary country, an exceptional place in the world. Maintain our international reputation and build on our trusted Singapore brand of quality, reliability, and efficiency; make full use of our strengths, and turn opportunities into successes; stand up for what we believe in, and uphold consistent principles to advance Singapore’s long-term interests.
This is the way for Singapore to be taken seriously, and to count for more than our size. We may be a small island state, but we are not a small people, and neither are our hearts nor our aspirations. Let us think boldly, aim high, and seek far. Let us work together, Government and people, to build a Singapore that we and our children will all be proud of. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.