Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at Launch Of The Hill Street Virtual Heritage Trail on 1 February 2022.
Mr Roland Ng and Council Members,
Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Ladies and gentlemen, including those of you who are online,
A very good morning. Happy Lunar New Year!
农历新年是华人最重要的传统节庆之一。中华总商会 往年都会在大年初一举办新春团拜活动，迎接新的一年的到来，并传承华族传统文化。我记得2013 年，我参加了中华总商会举办的的新春团拜，气氛非常热闹！由于受到冠病疫情的影响，我们不能够像往年那样举办大型的团拜活动。但我还是很高兴在大年初一的今天，能够与大家会聚于此。
Let me now continue my remarks in English.
Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year. It is a time of celebration for families and friends. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to adapt our daily routines, and find meaningful ways to stay in touch during festive periods. While we cannot have the traditional 团拜, I am delighted we are here today to launch the Hill Street Virtual Heritage Trail. As we celebrate the start of a new year, it is especially meaningful to reflect on our past, as well as to look ahead.
As we usher in the Lunar New Year, we can be cautiously optimistic. Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Over half of our population have received their booster shots, and vaccination for children is well underway. The Omicron variant remains a global threat, but if we stay united and each of us play our part, I am confident that we can overcome this wave and future variants of the virus. We are gradually and cautiously reopening our borders to the rest of the world. Our economy rebounded strongly last year and is forecasted to grow by 3 to 5% this year barring fresh disruptions. But recovery remains uneven. While some sectors are booming, others remain hard hit by the pandemic. Hopefully, this year the expansion will broaden and extend to these weaker sectors.
We must also look beyond the immediate horizon, as the world is changing even more rapidly. A major shift is the strategic competition between the US and China. The pandemic has also accelerated structural shifts. The three big changes are how the digital revolution is happening even faster, how people all over the world are more focused on environmental sustainability, and how we are all putting a greater premium on resilience. To prosper, we must redouble our efforts to prepare our workers and businesses for the future. Fortunately, we are building for the future from a position of strength. We started the Industry Transformation Maps, or ITM, effort more than five years ago, which is starting to bear fruits. The Future Economy Council, which I chair, and Roland is a member of, is refreshing our economic strategies to address the accelerated structural shifts brought about by COVID-19. As Roland mentioned in his remarks, we also continue to strengthen our cooperation with the region and the world, through enhancing trade agreements and establishing digital economy agreements.
Transforming our economy needs every one of us to do our part – businesses, workers, and the government. SCCCI and other Trade Associations and Chambers need to forge partnerships amongst your members, build industry-wide capabilities, and to uplift your respective industries. Where we are today is a good example – the SCCCI set up the Trade Association Hub in 2017, as a space to catalyse collaboration amongst the TAC community. Today it houses around 30 TACs.
The SCCCI has also done commendable work to help our businesses to seize new opportunities. You have helped our businesses go digital. Last year, you set up a new SME Centre@Chinatown to provide business consultancy services to our SMEs and give them a boost in their digital capabilities. You also continue to help our businesses internationalise. Your three representative offices in Shanghai, Chongqing, and Chengdu help our companies venture into the China market and look for suitable partners. You have also led many missions to ASEAN countries to discover fresh opportunities for businesses. I thank Roland and the Committee for your leadership. In the year of the Tiger, I look forward to SCCCI displaying your strength and sense of adventure, and venture into other parts of Asia and the world, to seek new opportunities.
Contribution to Nation Building
The role of the SCCCI goes beyond the economy. You have played an important role in our nation-building. The SCCCI was first established 116 years ago, in 1906, to represent the interests of the new Chinese immigrants to these shores. Over the years, you have witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones – from a British colony, to the Second World War, the tumultuous road to independence, and our journey as a nation after 1965. SCCCI has played an important role in key moments of our nation’s development. For example, when the first batches of recruits were enlisted for National Service in 1967, there was significant concern and reluctance from Singaporeans. SCCCI threw your support behind National Service. You gave each recruit a medallion, on which was inscribed the Chinese characters 尽忠报国 - do your patriotic duty to your country.
Singapore was a fledging nation then. We are still a young nation today by any comparison. We remain a work in progress. But there are certain key values that we must continue to hold dear and strengthen. During our Bicentennial in 2019, we reflected on the three key values that underpin the Singapore story.
The first is our openness. Over the years, we have welcomed immigrants from all over the world – Chinese, Indian, Malay, and many others - to make this their home and contribute to Singapore. We have thrived because of our connections with the world. Trade is our lifeblood. This openness is a key strength of Singapore that we must continue to preserve, and I am glad that SCCCI continues to forge links with the region and the world. We must continue to build relationships and welcome people from around the world.
The second key value is our multi-culturalism. This is one of the most unique and precious aspects of being a Singaporean. We grow up with neighbours of different races, go to school with them, work with them, and celebrate each other’s festivals. So, I am delighted that we have among us today, friends from the Malay and Indian Chambers. I am also glad to know that the SCCCI has been playing its part. For example, you have offered scholarships to not just Chinese students, but all deserving students, regardless of race and background.
The third key value is self-determination. This did not come about easily – our forefathers had to fight for this right.Today, as an independent nation, we have the ability to chase our dreams on our own terms and chart our own destiny.
Launch of Virtual Heritage Trail
For us to preserve and strengthen the values that make us Singaporean, we must continue to understand our own history, and how Singapore came to be.
So I am very happy to be launching the Hill Street virtual heritage trail today. Many Singaporeans are familiar with Hill Street. It is in a lively area, near to many well-known sights such as the Singapore River. I know the street well too - it is right beside my office, and only a stone’s throw from Parliament House!
But many of us may not know that Hill Street has a long and rich history. It was one of the first roads in Singapore. Its name comes from the fact that it is at the foot of Fort Canning Hill, which coincidentally is where the Bicentennial Exhibition was held. Along Hill Street, there are many historic buildings. There is the rainbow-coloured Old Hill Street Police Station, which is today occupied by government agencies. There is also the Central Fire Station, the first fire station to be built in Singapore in 1908, which continues to serve as an active fire station today. Of course, there is also the beautiful SCCCI Building, which was built one year prior to our independence, in 1964. And as a reflection of Singapore’s cultural diversity, just opposite SCCCI is the Armenian Church, the oldest Church in Singapore.
These are just some of the historic buildings that you can learn about on the virtual heritage trail which SCCCI is launching today. Ultimately, they are more than just beautiful architecture. Their stories represent the collective memories of our people. They are intangible assets that form our unique Singapore identity and shared heritage. I congratulate the SCCCI for your launch of this Virtual Heritage Trail today. By taking the heritage trail online, I hope it will have a broader outreach, especially to our younger generations to understand our nation’s history. As we venture ahead into unchartered waters, what will continue to guide us and enable us to make progress, is our common values and what we share as a society.
Lastly, let me also congratulate Roland and the SCCCI council for your exceptional work. Over a most challenging period, you have persevered in helping our businesses and workers to continuously transform to meet the challenges of tomorrow. I also look forward to working with Choon Keng and the new SCCCI council when the leadership transition takes place in March.
I wish everyone good health and roaring success in the Year of the Tiger!
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