SM Teo Chee Hean at the Pasir Ris-Punggol National Day Dinner 2019

SM Teo Chee Hean | 3 August 2019

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the Pasir Ris-Punggol National Day Dinner on 3 August 2019.


“A Stable and Caring Home for all Singaporeans”

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Teo Ser Luck and Sengkang Central residents for the warm welcome. Thank you for hosting the dinner this evening, and providing an opportunity for our Pasir Ris-Punggol family to get together to celebrate Singapore’s 54th National Day together. 

This year, we also commemorate the 200th anniversary of modern Singapore. Over the past two centuries, we have built a nation of opportunities, and a caring and inclusive home where different races live together in peace and harmony. The Singapore Bicentennial is a good opportunity for us to think back on our collective journey as a nation, and where we hope to go from here.

Tonight, I would like to offer three suggestions for the Singapore that we should work together to create: first, we want a nation that is respected internationally; second, we want a nation that progresses together; and third, we want a nation that prepares for the future, so that we can always be ready for the future no matter what comes. 

A Nation Respected

 First, how can we continue to be a well-respected nation that has a positive influence internationally, or in the words of some, a nation that “punches above its weight”? This is not easy for a small country. We are often subject to external forces and pressures which are not in our control. This has become more difficult given the growing trade tensions between the US and China, which are threatening to divide our region and the world. Although some countries may benefit in the short run from the diversion of trade, all of us will be worse off in the long run – from more barriers to trade, fractured production chains, and lower economic growth. In such a world, the chances for competition to spiral into conflict will be greater. Small countries, like Singapore, will suffer from collateral damage, and could also be drawn in.

Singapore is good friends with both the US and China. We hope that the two major powers can overcome their differences and build a constructive relationship. But the issues between them will not be resolved easily. What should our approach be in these circumstances?

It is important that we conduct our foreign policy based on principles. We work hard to strengthen our relations with all countries – not just with the US and China, but also with our ASEAN neighbours, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the EU and other countries. We build up strong economic linkages, not just for commercial reasons, but to spread our risks, diversify our strategic links and open up more options. This is why we have built up an extensive network of Free Trade Arrangements (FTAs), including with India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand; our recently ratified FTA with the EU; and our ongoing FTA talks with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Mercosur in South America.

We work for Singapore’s national interest, and speak clearly and objectively on matters of importance to Singapore. We uphold a fair, open and rules-based multilateral system for all countries, as that is the only way a small country like us can survive and thrive. We support an interconnected world where all parties work together peacefully for collective benefit, to solve the major problems that we all face in the world today – whether it is security, economic development and growth, or climate change and the environment. We encourage engagement and frank dialogue among all parties. When we are able, we can also be a place whether other countries and other parties come together to meet, for example the Xi-Ma meeting in 2015 and the Trump-Kim Summit in 2018. When other countries see that we are principled and steadfast, we speak clearly, honestly and objectively, and we work for the common good, then we will earn the respect of others and they will want to be our friends.

A Nation that Progresses Together

Second, how do we progress together as a nation? This is how we have turned into a modern metropolis since Independence – by offering equal opportunities to all Singaporeans, sharing the fruits of our development, and bringing everyone along together.

The Government continues to work hard to take care of all Singaporeans and help everyone achieve their aspirations. 

For young families, we are providing more support for those with children, so that every child, from pre-school onwards, has a good start in life. We are making post-secondary and higher education more accessible and more affordable for a larger number of Singaporeans We are creating more pathways to success. NUS, NTU and SMU have been joined in recent years by SUTD, SIT and SUSS to provide new and career-relevant programmes to suit both young as well as mature students. We have also introduced aptitude-based admissions at ITE and the polytechnics, and opened programmes in new, emerging areas to prepare all our students for the jobs of the future – whether in bio-tech, e-gaming, cybersecurity, aviation, or hospitality. Through these initiatives, we hope to help more students reach their full potential and achieve their aspirations for a better life, regardless of their background and family resources.

We are honouring and looking after our senior Singaporeans. In 2015, we had the Pioneer Generation package. This benefited 450,000 pioneers. This year, we introduced the Merdeka Generation Package, benefiting another 500,000 Singaporeans. Together, the Pioneer and Merdeka packages cover 950,000 Singaporeans out of our 3.5 million citizens - or more than 1 out of every 4 citizens. The packages directly and indirectly benefit almost every family in Singapore, because we all have fathers and mothers, and grandfathers and grandmothers. 

A Nation that Prepares for the Future

Third, we want to be a nation that is always working for the present, but also preparing for the future. It is quite sad to see many friendly countries and territories when we look around the world with political instability, turmoil, social conflict and violent clashes on the streets. There is lack of confidence and trust, and uncertainty about their countries’ future. 

Here in Singapore, we are fortunate to have harmony and stability. We don’t really know how important these things are until we see what’s happening in other places.

A key element in maintaining our harmony and stability is the way we plan and prepare for leadership renewal. Senior leaders make way for the next generation in good time, in their 60s, when they reach 70 years old, so that they don’t have to continue serving in top leadership positions well into their 80s or 90s. But we continue to serve in different capacities to share our experience and help the next generation, the new leadership team to succeed. This is the way that we have progressed together, and maintained stability and continuity. 

Since we became independent, we have had two smooth leadership transitions. This is not something that happens on its own; it is because we had prepared for it and planned for it for many years. In 1990, Mr Lee Kuan Yew handed over to ESM Goh Chok Tong, who took Singapore further forward for 14 years. ESM Goh in his term ensured a smooth transition when he handed over to PM Lee Hsien Loong in 2004, 15 years ago. 

The political transition to our 4G leadership is underway. We have a strong team of 4G leaders, led by DPM Heng Swee Keat, and we see some of them among us here tonight as well. We have capable leaders who complement one another with diverse skills, competencies and backgrounds. Most importantly, they have their hearts in the right place. They are there to work with you, to work for Singapore, and not to work for themselves or some personal agenda. 

They are reaching out, walking the ground, to get to know you better, to work with you and to work for you, to shape our vision and plans for the future. And most importantly, to turn these visions and plans into reality for you and for Singapore. I hope that all of you will also get to know them better, and work with them to build up the mutual trust to take Singapore forward. 

Here in Pasir Ris-Punggol, we have been making plans to ensure that our town continues to be a good home for the future. Sengkang General Hospital was officially opened in March this year, to provide better medical facilities and cater to the future healthcare needs of our ageing population here in the Northeast. Pasir Ris has also become a mature estate, and it is time for us to renew the town. Pasir Ris will have the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme. And as our flats approach 30 years old, they will have the Home Improvement Programme. 

In Pasir Ris-Punggol, we will have three new MRT stations. Two for Pasir Ris on the Cross-Island Line, which runs from Changi Airport to Jurong; and another station in the Punggol Digital District on the North-East Line. Our LRTs will also have more dual-carriage trains. These are all major projects, costing tens of billions of dollars. The Cross-Island Line will probably be the longest and most expensive line in Singapore. These will significantly improve the facilities and public transport networks, and serve our residents better as our towns develop and grow. 

Finally, as we celebrate our nation’s 54th birthday, there is much to celebrate and much to be thankful for. Let us count our blessings, treasure our stability and harmony, and continue to work together to achieve progress for all of us. Majulah Singapura, and Happy National Day! Thank you very much.