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Hong Kong situation at a breaking point: Chan Chun Sing

HONG Kong's situation is at a breaking point, and what has happened there can easily happen to Singapore if the Republic is not careful, a Singapore minister said, as protests in the financial hub turn increasingly violent.

"Unless calm is restored, dialogue commences and constructive actions taken, there will be grave doubts about Hong Kong's future and the sustainability of its current governance model," Chan Chun Sing, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry, said during a doorstop interview with Singapore media on Monday.

"We wish them the best and sincerely hope that the situation will improve soon," he said, adding that the government is watching the deterioration of the situation in Hong Kong with concern.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrations intensified in the past week, and clashes between protesters and counter-protesters have resulted in at least two deaths in November alone. The protests have also crippled the former British colony's businesses - Hong Kong's economy shrank 3.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2019 and is expected to shrink 1.3 per cent for the full year.

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"Hong Kong's continued success as an economic and financial hub is important for the region and the world, including Singapore," Mr Chan said.

He added that there are at least four important lessons that Singapore can draw from the developments in Hong Kong, noting that his "intent is not to pass judgment on others but to draw lessons for ourselves".

The first is having a political system that finds ways for different interests to work together to improve the lives of people, he said.

Political systems that promote debate without constructive actions or that champion narrow sectoral interests without compromise for the greater good cannot be sustainable, he said.

"Only with a well-functioning political system, the right political culture, and a well-oiled feedback-to-action mechanism can we make adjustments to policies as necessary, execute decisively and communicate effectively," Mr Chan said.

Secondly, the success of a government should be determined by its ability to enable the next generation to do better itself, he said.

"All elections cannot be just about the here and now, without consideration for the long-term future of our people and country," Mr Chan said.

He cited Singapore's land ownership transfer and land banking rules as an example and said "it cannot be that those who are rich first will be rich forever without due effort".

He added that the government is also careful to not distort incentives for it to use land sales to maximise profits, as he explained why land sales proceeds should not be used to finance current budget, even though this was mooted by Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh during the Budget 2018 debate.

The third lesson is on social cohesion and conflict resolution. Mr Chan said the successful must bear in mind their responsibilities towards the rest of society.

"Violence begets greater violence," he said, adding that conflict resolution is "about all of us coming together to tackle the issues together", and that this is "the true meaning of the democracy of deeds".

Finally, he said small city-states must stay relevant in a turbulent world.

A September Reuters report noted that the size of Hong Kong's economy is 2.7 per cent of mainland China's now, down from 18.4 per cent in 1997 when it returned to China.

"City-states that cannot provide opportunities and hope for their people will fracture, city-states that have no relevance to the world will be ignored and bypassed, city-states that are unexceptional will also not last long in history. So Singapore's continued relevance to the world is never a given," Mr Chan said.

He concluded by saying Singapore must work hard, distinguish itself and stay exceptional amid global uncertainties. This means opportunities for Singapore's enterprises and workers, having principled perspectives on global geostrategic affairs, social cohesion, being responsible for its defence and security, earning its keep and ultimately, to chart its own destiny.

"This is the kind of Singapore that we want to have and this is the kind of Singapore we want to pass on to the next generation, where everyone knows that so long as we work hard, we will have the opportunities to succeed, and our children will similarly have such opportunities," Mr Chan said.