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THE accelerating pace of economic competition in the world will mean that Singapore will have to move faster to seize good jobs and tap business opportunities, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday.
He identified two other significant challenges - the threats to international safety and the changes in demographics - which he said present the Republic with uncertainties that are just as demanding as those that the pioneer generation had to deal with in the early years of independence.
He made these points in a major speech in his capacity as the first adviser of the People's Action Party (PAP) Policy Forum (PPF), a main pillar of the ruling political party and a key platform for activists to be involved in the policy-making process.
In his address to some 300 party members and guests, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Heng said that the fates of big economies in Asia such as China and India would have a major impact on Singapore.
"If China succeeds, we have many opportunities to ride on her growth. But it also means that we will face many competitive pressures, for an economy with 1.3 billion people will have a far deeper talent pool and market than (Singapore's) economy of just over five million people," he said at a dinner marking the PPF's 10th anniversary.
"China will be able to do many things that Singapore is aspiring to do. Conversely, if China gets stuck in a middle-income trap, the consequences on the rest of Asia and on us will also be negative, and we may then face slower growth of our markets and other forms of instability," he added.
India, too, with its vast population of 1.1 billion, will exert the same set of forces - be they positive or negative - in the coming years, said Mr Heng.
"Can we be ahead of these changes so that older Singaporeans can age with assurance and dignity, and all Singaporeans can bring the best out of one another, and give our utmost care and support to one another, whatever our age?"
All these challenges as a whole describe a "new world", and Singapore and Singaporeans of today "must be the new pioneers" to succeed in this different environment, he said.
Singaporeans must live the "pioneering spirit", which he described as being able to understand and face challenges, and have the ingenuity and sense of togetherness to turn problems and constraints into opportunities.
"I believe that this pioneering spirit, this sense of togetherness in our society, will enable us to put forward our best ideas and devote our energies to realise our aspirations - to build a caring, kind society and a society of opportunities for all," he said.
His message for the PAP was to continue to be "the champion of great ideas", given that these ideas come from all parts of society and the party had a duty to listen closely to the hopes and wishes of the people.
"Every idea that is good for Singapore counts. We must continue to connect with and work together with all parts of society so that, working together, we can realise the big ideas and overcome the big challenges," he said.
Earlier, PPF chairman Benjamin Tay reiterated the forum's objective of helping activists to do a better job of serving Singaporeans and helping policy-makers develop even better policies for the good of the country.
He promised to continue the PPF's momentum over the past decade and said that his council members and activists would step up efforts to gather views from the ground and come up with new policy proposals.
Each of the PAP's 87 branches can elect up to two members to join the PPF. There are also 10 members each from the party's Women's Wing and the Young PAP.
PM Lee, the PAP's secretary-general, did not give a speech at the dinner but took part in a closed-door dialogue with PPF activists, at which they had the chance to ask him questions on the future of Singapore and the party.