PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered his National Day Rally speech on 29 August 2021 at Mediacorp. PM spoke in Malay and Chinese, followed by English.
PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke in Malay and Chinese, followed by English. For the English translation, please scroll down or click here.
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For the past 20 months, we have been fighting COVID-19 together. With your strong support, Singapore is now progressing towards a new normal and we can regain a sense of normalcy.
The pandemic has upended our world. During this time, we had to keep adjusting our work and daily lives, to overcome every challenge that came our way. We lost some, but we also gained some. We rolled with the punches and learnt to adapt. We learnt how to buy and sell things online and grew to appreciate the convenience of digital payments. No change? No problem. Scan with our phones and save the hassle. When we had to stay home during the pandemic, we kept ourselves busy by learning new technologies and skills. We are never too old to learn.
The virus will try to break through our defences. Therefore, we must stay vigilant to protect ourselves and our families.
With our vaccination rate now at 80%, the Multi-Ministry Task Force has decided to adjust our safe distancing measures cautiously. We are carefully transiting from a “COVID zero” approach to living with COVID-19. As we gradually open up, our daily cases numbers may go up. But we will pay close attention to the number of hospitalised and critical cases, to ensure that our hospitals can cope.
I must emphasise that vaccination doesn’t guarantee that you will be absolutely immune to COVID-19 but it reduces your risk of being infected. And if you do get COVID-19, it greatly reduces the possibility of severe illness. Besides, the Delta variant that is now dominant globally is highly infectious. We have 100,000 seniors who are still unvaccinated, and this worries me greatly. I have said this many times and I hope you don’t feel that I am nagging, but I have to say it again. If you still have not gotten your shot, please do it for yourself, your family and our community!
Race and Religion
COVID-19 has been a generational crisis, not just for Singapore but the world. We have fared better than many other countries but our society is also facing some challenges. E.g. Our race and religious relations, which are sensitive issues
Protecting Singapore’s multiracial and multicultural foundations
Over the past few months, there were a few race-related incidents which generated much discussion and debate. Such incidents have sometimes occurred in the past, but they did not attract as much attention. Now, in the age of social media, such incidents can easily be played up and blown out of proportion, stir up emotions and affect race relations. Fortunately, most Singaporeans understand the importance of racial harmony. Many people of all races have spoken up against racism and rejected racial discrimination.
Having lived through turbulent times, our Pioneer and Merdeka generations greatly support Singapore’s multiracial policies. In the early years of nationhood, our founding leaders stood firm on the overarching policy of racial equality. The government was impartial when drafting our laws and administrative measures, and did not favour any race. This fundamental founding policy was supported by the Chinese community and became the bedrock of our multiracial harmony. Chinese Singaporeans made some concessions for the greater good. For instance, to put the ethnic minorities more at ease, we adopted English as our lingua franca. The use of English put those who spoke only Mandarin and dialects in a disadvantageous position. Therefore, it is entirely baseless to claim that there is “Chinese privilege” in Singapore. We treat all races equally, with no special privileges. Few countries have made this their policy, and even fewer have actually managed to make it a reality.
Half a century ago, the Chinese community made a compromise, and some among them even felt that they made a huge concession. But what we see after 56 years is testament that this fundamental national policy has benefitted all races, including the Chinese. It brought about racial harmony and social stability, which has enabled us to live peacefully. It has also helped to strengthen our relations with our neighbouring countries, and built trust. Hence, I thank the Chinese community for standing by this founding ideal, which has enabled us to enjoy lasting stability and prosperity.
Having had decades of peace, we may now gradually take racial harmony for granted and become less sensitive. Some Chinese Singaporeans may be unaware of how our ethnic minorities feel. I hear about this from non-Chinese Singaporeans from time to time. Tonight, I wish to share two examples to remind ourselves that our racial harmony remains a work in progress. While the different communities have become closer, racial emotions still exist.
The first example: Some ethnic minorities have had unhappy experiences when renting a home. All homeowners wish to find the ideal tenant. Some Chinese homeowners tell their property agents upfront that they prefer not to have tenants of a particular race. Thus, when non-Chinese prospective tenants show up, the property agent tells them: “Sorry, you can’t rent the place as the owner doesn’t want tenants of a particular race.” Not all homeowners are like that but it’s not difficult for us to imagine how hurt these minority tenants feel when they have such encounters.
The second example: Ethnic minorities sometimes face more difficulties than Chinese looking for jobs. The reason is that some Chinese employers prefer to hire Chinese employees. Some jobs require proficiency in the Chinese language, and this is understandable and acceptable but it is not a must for some other jobs. If employers still state Mandarin as a requirement, the minorities will find this unreasonable and unfair.
I raise these two examples to prompt all of us to understand the concerns and difficulties faced by our ethnic minorities and be accommodating towards them. When we seek friends and life partners, we are drawn to those with similar linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This is human nature and common to any society or race. These are matters that concern our private lives and personal decisions, and generally have no great impact on society. But that is not the case when employing someone or renting a house. These involve the common space that all races share and directly affect race relations. If we let the preferences of such employers and homeowners build up over time, they will become prejudice, and minorities will feel they are discriminated against. If left unaddressed, such preferences will gradually deepen the fissures in our society. Therefore, all of us must uphold the principle of racial equality to build a more inclusive society.
In short, I hope Singaporeans of all races can continue to work for the greater good in the spirit of mutual compromise. Only then can we achieve lasting harmony and unity as a country and society.
Protecting our roots
We should treat everyone equally while seeking unity amidst diversity. It is on this premise that the government will support all races in promoting and preserving their own rich cultural heritage. We do our best to share our heritage with the younger generation, so that they can imbibe the richness of history. These are our roots. We cannot lose our cultural roots for they are our anchor.
The government has always given its full support to Chinese culture. I am heartened by the tireless efforts of many Chinese organisations to promote local Chinese culture. E.g. Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, which celebrated its 180th anniversary last year. Its Cultural Academy offers various classes to nurture students with many different talents. I have seen the children’s works and performances, which are all of very high standards. Apart from the various clan associations, institutions such as the Promote Mandarin Council and Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre also share the same mission of keeping Chinese culture alive. The government will continue to give them its full support as they pass the torch to the next generation. I also wish to encourage parents and grandparents to speak Mandarin with their children and grandchildren at home, expose them to Chinese culture and cultivate their interest from young.
Over time, our Chinese culture has also developed to reflect our unique Singapore spirit. Cultural Medallion recipient Mr Lim Tze Peng is an excellent example. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Lim two months ago. Born and bred in Singapore, this centenarian artist has integrated the artistic traditions of the East and West to create his own unique style. His early works depict Singapore of the past and are expressions of his deep love for his country. As a gesture of gratitude, Mr Lim donated many of his works to his alma mater Chung Cheng High School. His act exemplifies the traditional Chinese value of remembering one’s roots and highlights the fine traditions of our Chinese schools. We established SAP schools to preserve the traditions and values of former Chinese schools. Giving our students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a bilingual environment and use the Chinese language. I hope that SAP schools will continue to nurture more bilingual and bicultural talents for our country in the new era. SAP schools should also let their students interact more frequently with members of other races. That way, they will understand the importance of safeguarding our multicultural society from young. We must continue to prioritise this.
All these years, everyone from the government, educators, cultural workers to people from all walks of life have worked hard together to forge a unique Chinese Singaporean identity. This sets us apart from other Chinese communities. Singapore has also accepted ethnic Chinese from overseas. They need time to adapt to our way of life and we should also help them integrate into our society. Among them are successful entrepreneurs and professionals, as well as outstanding artists and athletes, some of whom have become one of us and done us proud.
One of them is our national table tennis player Yu Mengyu. Mengyu came to Singapore when she was 17 and has represented Team Singapore for many years. Before our athletes left for the Olympics, I met them online to cheer them on and I teased Mengyu that she is one of our seasoned players! Despite suffering an injury, Mengyu was fearless against stronger opponents and fought hard for every point. She made it to the semi-finals, and hoped very much to win a medal for Singapore. Many Singaporeans who saw her in action were moved by her determination. I watched some of her matches and sensed her perseverance and fighting spirit. In her own words, she had no regrets about losing as she had done her best. While she did not win a medal in the end, she won the applause and respect of Singaporeans.
And that is the Singapore spirit, to be indomitable, to keep going and never give up.
Over the past year or so, we have fought off successive waves of infections. Singaporeans have made sacrifices and shown their resilience at critical junctures of this fight. In the next few years, all Singaporeans must stand together to overcome this crisis.
I am reminded of an old song from the 1930s which my Chinese-educated friends may be familiar with. It’s called “In Springtime”. The song goes: “In spring, hundreds of flowers bloom, lang li ge lang li ge lang li ge lang…” The last few lines are the most meaningful: “Don’t be sad or dejected, for there will sometimes be strong winds and waves… keep going and don’t falter, for beyond the darkness comes the light of dawn”.
So, please don’t be sad or dejected, for we can now see the light of dawn. Let’s stay united, and we will surely ride out the winds and waves.
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