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PM Lee: Singapore must stay open and connected

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Singapore must resist anti-globalisation sentiments, and instead stay open and connected to the world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his New Year Message on Tuesday, as he promised support for various groups in the upcoming Budget 2020.

SINGAPORE must resist anti-globalisation sentiments, and instead stay open and connected to the world, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his New Year Message on Tuesday, as he promised support for various groups in the upcoming Budget 2020.

In contrast to societies elsewhere that “are under stress”, with their citizens worried about basic needs and angry about inequality, Singapore is making steady progress, he said, citing improvements in education, housing, healthcare and transport.

“At the same time, we are keeping a close eye on more immediate risks and pressures,” he said, noting that the global economic slowdown has already affected Singapore. “This year, we avoided a recession. Our economy is still growing, but less vigorously than we would like,” he added, without sharing any estimates of full-year gross domestic product growth for 2019.

“In the upcoming Budget, we will support businesses to raise their productivity and build new capabilities. We will help workers, especially mid-career PMETs (professionals, managers, engineers and technicians), to retrain, acquire new skills, find new jobs and stay employable.”

The Budget will also help households with their cost of living and improve social safety nets for the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Delivering his message at the Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning, Mr Lee said that the commemoration of Singapore’s history throughout the Bicentennial year “has strengthened our conviction that Singapore will have a bright future”.

It has also put today’s world in perspective, he added. Singapore has experienced many ups and downs over 200 years, while the outlook today is once more fraught with uncertainty. The recent trade deal between the US and China “has partially relieved tensions, but it will not resolve the fundamental differences”.

Meanwhile, citizens in societies such as Hong Kong, Chile and France “have lost faith in their economic and political systems, and are pessimistic about the future”, fuelling nativism, chauvinism and sectarian strife.

“Singaporeans too are worried about the state of the world, and we also have our own domestic concerns. But we must resist the temptation to turn inwards,” said Mr Lee. “Globalisation has benefited Singapore enormously. A Singapore turned inwards cannot survive.”

Apart from policy improvements and Budget support – “practical measures to improve the lives of Singaporeans” – the “intangible ethos” of a society is even more vital in the long run.

These are values such as fairness and justice, with growth benefiting everyone; having “pathways of progress open to all”; equality, regardless of race, language or religion; uplifting the most vulnerable; and focusing on the future. These values and qualities helped Singapore survive before, and will enable it “to prevail despite the odds” today, he concluded.

In a separate new year message, People’s Action Party first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat similarly reflected on sharper political polarisation, social unrest and divisions in societies across the world. In Singapore, we must instead “harness our diversity as a strength”, said Mr Heng, who is the deputy prime minister and the minister for finance.

“A shared future for all Singaporeans must also mean giving everyone a sense of hope and possibility,” he said, citing moves such as the Merdeka Generation healthcare package, improved housing and preschool affordability, and sustainability initiatives such as the Zero Waste Masterplan.

Noting concerns about the economic slowdown and growing global uncertainty, he added: “We are looking at measures to tackle these, even as we build for the longer term. We are committed to investing in and creating opportunities for Singaporeans to make a better life, and ensuring that no one is left behind if they put in effort."