By Preethiba, Commentary Associate Editor
Singapore commemorated its 200th year since the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles last year yet some may wonder what the Singapore Bicentennial celebrations actually signify for Singaporeans. On the surface, these celebrations seek to foster the unique Singaporean identity by recollecting and revisiting the nation’s 700-year rich history, but it is something more.
The celebrations fundamentally aim to get Singaporeans to reflect on the key traits that their forefathers embodied, which enabled the city-state to flourish and lead by example today. These traits include the spirit of openness and a belief in multiculturalism.
It is easy to dismiss these ideals as being unrealistic in today’s volatile environment. This is precisely because world powers are turning inwards, retreating to protectionism, thereby threatening the spirit of openness.
From the U.S’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the horrific white supremist shooting incident early last year, there has thus been a surge in hate crimes and violence against various ethnic groups.
In light of this, for Singapore to ensure prosperity and stability, it has to continue preserving the traits that have been at the forefront of the Singaporean narrative.
The Spirit of Openness
By cultivating an open and accessible environment, Singapore has managed to attract people from around the world, including those from China, India, Europe and the Middle East. These disparate groups came to Singapore to seek their fortunes, but went on to build their homes, families and eventually, a nation.
Today, the spirit of openness is waning, as major powers in the West seem to be rejecting the notion of free trade and economic cooperation.
Nevertheless, Singapore cannot afford to shut its doors. As a small country with no hinterland, Singapore’s survival is largely dependent on an open world order and cooperation.
Therefore, not only should it remain committed to its principle of openness, it should also strive to be a leading advocate of globalisation.
Professor Mahbubani, a former academic and diplomat, concurs with this view. He urges Singapore to focus on “confronting the protectionist camp’s narrative”, by “making the strengths of global partnership clearer to the ordinary Singaporean in the street.''
To fulfil this goal, I think that Singapore should continue to actively forge stronger partnerships with the rest of the world.
The EUSFTA (European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement) is a prime example of our nation’s relentless efforts in securing partnerships.
Closer to home, Singapore can do more to tap on the vast opportunities available in the ASEAN region, such as in the e-commerce and financial technology, by strengthening cooperation in these sectors. The benefits of these partnerships will certainly be felt more immediately among Singaporeans due to the highly integrated nature of the region, and would help cement their belief in an open global order.
While efforts to boost support for globalisation is underway, it is also crucial for leaders to monitor the ill effects of this double-edged sword, such as the displacement of mid-tier workers and the issue of sustainable growth. It is only with the effective management of these undesirable consequences can globalisation continue to maintain a strong foothold and garner the support of citizens.
Belief in Multiculturalism
In a survey conducted in 2016, close to 50% of Singaporean youths expressed concerns that the high influx of foreign talent has diluted the cohesiveness of the society. This was despite the fact that over 60% felt that they have contributed greatly to the growth and development of Singapore.
As Singapore becomes home to a more diverse group of migrants outside of our traditional Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) category, the need to embrace and assimilate them into the Singaporean society without eliminating their original roots constitutes an increasingly important balancing act - for both the government and our society.
Though our belief in multiculturalism has generally remained in the face of challenges, anti-foreigner sentiments in countries such as the UK, which culminated in the form of Brexit, could influence mindsets within our country as well. A glance of Britain and its economy since 2016 proves how disastrous anti-multicultural sentiments are to the development of a country.
Despite the relative stability and harmony in Singapore, we should not be overcome by complacency and short-sightedness. Instead, citizens and the government alike should continue working hand-in-hand to safeguard this principle which has to date enabled the city-state to prosper.
As the bicentennial celebrations ended, the Singapore spirit continues and serves as a reminder to not forget the fundamental values that have led Singapore to its success and development.
Preethiba (Associate Editor)
Preethiba is a Year 2 Economics major. She likes reading and catching up on current issues and discussing political and economical issues. She is also an avid football fan, you go Liverpool fan!