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DPM Lawrence Wong on Singapore’s ethos and global challenges

At the “Reinventing Destiny” conference, DPM Lawrence Wong delved into Singapore’s ethos of unity, addressed global challenges, and touched on domestic political landscapes, emphasizing Singapore’s resilience and continuous journey amidst global and local shifts.

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SINGAPORE: In a dialogue at the “Reinventing Destiny” conference on Monday (14 Aug) commemorating the 100th birth anniversary of the late founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong underscored Singapore’s journey amidst its diverse society.

“There will always be tensions, but I think we have developed an ethos of accommodation and compromise among our society,” Wong articulated, highlighting Singapore’s ethos that has fostered unity over the past 58 years.

He continued, “In a multi-ethnic society and a society of great diversity, if every group insists on their maximum entitlement and takes every compromise as a slight or an insult to their tribe, I think we will be in for huge trouble.”

Navigating the Tumultuous Global Climate

Addressing global challenges in a session chaired by CNN’s journalist Fareed Zakaria, DPM Wong pinpointed the changing landscape Singapore confronts.

He remarked on “the evolving global multilateral trading system,” the transformation of globalisation now “shaped not by economic logic but by geopolitical alignment,” and a major shift in US-China relations from “strategic engagement to strategic competition.”

Emphasizing Singapore’s resilience in these shifting sands, Wong conveyed, “We are starting off in a far stronger position today. We have more resources, we are better-equipped… and we have a solid reputation as a reliable and trusted hub for the region and the world. We can build on all of these competitive strengths to move forward.”

A More Contested Domestic Political Landscape

Touching upon local politics, Wong, who is slated to become the next Prime Minister, candidly remarked that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) no longer enjoys the “near-total dominance it once enjoyed.”

Addressing recent concerns about PAP’s reputation after a series of scandals, he stated, “When things go right, when people praise us and say ‘we are No.1, we are the gold standard’, don’t let that go into our heads. At the same time, when there are challenges and setbacks, we learn from the setbacks… It’s the mistakes and the failures where we find greater motivation to learn and be better. That’s the attitude I take.”

In response to queries on Singapore’s stance on migrant workers, Wong shared, “We treat our migrant workers well, and we will continue to do better,” emphasizing the balance needed. He added, “If I were to build a dormitory next to your home, please welcome that dormitory with open arms.”

When posed with a question about the alleged affair of a permanent secretary, Wong reiterated that the PAP has zero tolerance for corruption, but holds a more nuanced view of extramarital affairs.”

In response to another question from the floor, Singapore Democratic Party Chairman Paul Tambyah inquired about land scarcity, asking if it was possible to justify the continued existence of government-owned single-family homes with an area of 525,171 sq ft. However, Mr Peter Ho, the former chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, dismissed the question as politically sensitive.

Wong’s Take on China’s Economic Concerns and Global Impact

Discussing China’s economic state, Wong pinpointed challenges in its property sector, emphasizing that “to get consumption going again requires not just short-term measures.”

On US-China tensions, Wong observed the transition from engagement to “extreme strategic competition,” but added, “China wants to take its rightful place in the world as a modern, great nation. And so there is a tremendous drive and determination… to move forward.”

The dialogue was part of a significant conference orchestrated by leading Singaporean institutions, including the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and the Institute of Policy Studies.

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