Thursday, 30 January 2014

PM Lee at NTU Ministerial Forum 2014

Next 50 years exciting for young Singaporeans: PM
He tells them to seize opportunities and build on past generation's achievements
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

YOUNG Singaporeans should not worry that they will have a tougher time than their parents because they were born too late and missed out on opportunities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking to 1,200 undergraduates at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), he said that they lived in an age of tremendous possibility and urged them to seize the day to build and improve on what their parents' generation has achieved. "We have so many more resources today than before, we are starting from a better position than we were. It would be a crime not to make it work."

Speaking at NTU's annual ministerial forum, Mr Lee said he expects the next 50 years to be exciting if uncertain, and that he actually wished he were born 50 years later. The opportunities of a globalised world, where technology advances at a breathless pace, are for the taking, he said.

Whether in the US, China or Israel, young people are dreaming not of becoming billionaires, "but wanting to change the world".

Yet, there are also some filled with angst and uncertainty over stagnating wages, unemployment and the cost of living. These anxieties have spilled over into demonstrations in many countries, with young people often agitating for change, "although, not quite sure what (the) change (should be)."

These duelling perspectives can be seen among young Singaporeans too, he noted, who are better-educated and aspire to much higher personal goals.

Yet, many worry about job security, the costs of living, and whether they can do better than their parents. These are understandable concerns, he said, but asked them to keep in mind that they are in a better position than the previous generation, and that Singapore is better placed than many other countries.

But its continued success depends on unity and cohesion, which are at present under threat from three faultlines, he said.

The first is race and religion, where constant accommodation and adjustment is required. Mr Lee emphasised the Government's preference for "gradual and quiet evolution" over sudden change after heated public debate.

The second faultline he highlighted was the income gap. The incomes of the rich will continue to rise faster than the rest because of the world economy, he said.

So, the successful must give back, and the local social norm of "ping qi ping zuo" must be staunchly guarded, he said, using a Mandarin phrase that means to sit "shoulder-to-shoulder".

"Boss or worker, you sit equal, comfortable, no scraping and bowing," he said.

Finally, Mr Lee brought up the faultline between locals and new arrivals. If foreigners make the effort to integrate, Singaporeans will help them do so, he said.

But social media is complicating already-sensitive relations, he lamented. The "pack of hounds" dynamic online risks vicious over-escalation to any issue.

In the case of British expatriate Anton Casey, whose disparaging remarks about locals set off a storm, Mr Lee said: "Someone has done something wrong, repudiate it, but do not lower ourselves to the same level (of behaviour) that makes us ashamed of ourselves."

Later, in an hour-long dialogue with students, Mr Lee was asked how he would grade the success of Singapore's next 50 years. He had three criteria: good jobs for the people, an improvement in the total fertility rate, and the presence of a capable, trustworthy government with broad support.

"I think if we can do those things, I would give you a high pass grade."

Happy to be back in NTU to speak at the Ministerial Forum organised by the Students’ Union. With Singapore's 50th...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Asia's rise in next 50 years a 'tectonic shift'
But odds are that the future will be peaceful, says PM Lee
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

THE world will see a "tectonic shift" with Asia's rise in the next 50 years, but this future is likely to be a peaceful one, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a university student forum yesterday.

He sees this rise bringing a very big change to the global strategic balance, with major repercussions on international relations, the world economy and global issues like climate change.

Said Mr Lee at the Nanyang Technological University's annual ministerial forum: "Historically, these changes have been very difficult to make... The difference this time is that all major powers know what went wrong the last time."

He added: "100 years ago, World War I began (and there were) many more wars in the century. Today, all the major powers have nuclear weapons. That restrains them and (being) much more inter-dependent... everybody wants to avoid a conflict."

Still, the transition will be a challenge, Mr Lee said.

The current frictions in the South China Sea over maritime rights, and frictions over the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands are "relatively small examples of the problems which can arise".

"I hope all countries manage them peacefully, wisely and with restraint," he said.

The Asian Development Bank has predicted that by 2050, Asia will account for more than half of the world's output or gross domestic product.

Mr Lee said Asia will play a much wider role in world affairs as the gap narrows between Asia and the United States as well as with Europe.

Elaborating, he said China and India's continued development will carry along the rest of the region, including Singapore.

The region's influence in the world also will grow as its culture and lifestyle spreads through movies and music.

But he added: "All this depends on one critical assumption: For the next 50 years, we have peace. We don't have war in Asia, and in the world.

"The odds are that the future will be peaceful, but it is not a certainty. If you ask me to bet, I will bet on peace."


From the distant perspective of somebody who is 60-something years old, I can tell you that two years is not a very long time. From a young man doing NS,

I know you have a chart and every day you count off so many weeks to ORD. So your perspective will change...

We keep it to what we absolutely need and we make sure to the utmost of our ability that when we keep you for national service, we're using you for something useful and training you and not wasting your time. That is the price we have to pay to have today's Singapore.

- Mr Lee, responding to fourth-year international student Sambhav Gupta, whose Singaporean friends view national service as a delay to their careers


What you know, what you have seen and what you are familiar with, in some ways, are more relevant to the future than what our older generation know and have seen and are familiar with. You are digital natives.

I watch you people take selfies - one hand, one finger, beautifully composed shot. I hold up a selfie, struggle up, down, left, right - and still I turn out crooked.

- Mr Lee on how today's young are equipped for the future


As the Government, it's not my business to tell people that their deeply held social and moral values are right or wrong.

I think the basis on which we have built this society to where we are today, where there is a considerable degree of tolerance and acceptance but at the same time an acknowledgment that there are limits and please don't push an agenda which many Singaporeans will find that it is not the way they want Singapore to go, I think that is not a bad spot to be in.

And as long as Singaporeans are happy to be here, I think we stay here.

So I think that's the way we are and I don't think I am apologetic about it.

- Mr Lee, responding to third-year NTU student Wong Wen Pu on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in Singapore


You heard about Anton Casey most recently. One issue can cause a spark. And because of social media, it becomes harder to settle such problems quietly.

We risk having an over-reaction, we risk having unrestrained viciousness on the Internet. It becomes like pack behaviour. You scold, you swear, you curse, all the wrong instincts get fed. There is a certain group dynamic. It is like a pack of hounds hunting, which is bad.

Yes, somebody has done something wrong. Repudiate it, condemn it. But do not lower ourselves to that same level, to behave in a way that really makes us also ashamed of ourselves, to become abusive, hateful mobs, especially online and anonymously.

That, by the way, is also why we need rules in cyberspace. (We) manage it with a light touch, but we still need rules because in human conduct and interaction, you must have some basis, what is out of bounds, what we will comply with, what is acceptable, what is not.

- Mr Lee, on how social media can sharpen faultlines because of the uncontrolled, vicious behaviour it encourages


The political cost is something which countries will not take.

Wherever we can do with emitting less carbon dioxide, I would do that. But where I would have to trade-off with people's well-being, in particular raising living standards of poor people around the world, I think it would be very difficult to make that argument. Even in Europe now, they are starting to realise that talking about sustainable energy means electricity costs that are 30 to 40 per cent higher than outside Europe, and it is costing them, and they are wanting to change.

- Mr Lee, responding to a British exchange student on why the international response to climate change will be less than ideal

Officers donning religious symbols 'can affect perceptions'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

IF UNIFORMED officers don religious attire or symbols like a tudung or a cross, it may affect perceptions of their impartiality, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

This is especially so if it is a dispute involving race or religion, he said at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ministerial forum yesterday. He was responding to a student who asked whether a person's belief and dressing affects another if it is not imposed on the other.

Speaking days after a closed-door dialogue with Muslim community leaders, where he said the Government's position on the tudung is not static, but it cannot take actions precipitously that can have unintended consequences, Mr Lee gave an example of a Muslim policewoman mediating an argument between Chinese and Muslim neighbours when the former burns joss papers downstairs.

Problems may arise if the policewoman deems the Muslim family right and the Chinese family wrong, he said.

"In such a situation, let me ask you: would you prefer that policewoman to be wearing a uniform same like any other policewoman, or would you prefer that policewoman to be wearing a Muslim dress and identify as a Muslim?"

While the NTU student said it would not matter to her, Mr Lee said it would matter to the people arguing and "it will matter to a lot of people who are watching".

It is also not such a simple argument to make that the policewoman was making an objective, impartial judgment that had nothing to do with her religion, he added.

"Whereas if you are wearing exactly the same uniform, religion has nothing to do with it, I think that's clear," he said.

The same would apply to a police officer wearing a cross and having to mediate an argument involving Christians and another party, said Mr Lee.

"You have a race riot, you want to make absolutely sure there's no misunderstanding that the police are completely impartial," he added.

More expats 'because economy has grown'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2014

THERE have been more foreign professionals here over the years because the economy has grown and there are not enough Singaporeans to fill the jobs available, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a forum yesterday.

There are about 150,000 professional Employment Pass holders here holding a range of jobs from chief executives to lawyers.

"Why are there so many? Because my economy has grown, I've created all these jobs, I don't have Singaporeans for all of them," he said in response to an undergraduate who asked when Singapore could slow down the influx of expatriates here.

"Can I do with fewer? Maybe. Can I replace some with Singaporeans as they get trained? I hope so. If I send all of them home, will I be sorry? Yes, and I'm sure you will be too because you will not go to that job," said Mr Lee.

This foreign talent policy creates new jobs for Singaporeans instead of taking them away from locals, said Mr Lee. He cited the example of a bank CEO who may not be a citizen but runs a bank that creates thousands of jobs. "You put the wrong CEO there, the bank goes bust, thousands lose their jobs," he added.

But Singapore also ensures "fair treatment" of its citizens "so they won't have to feel the balance is tilted against them" in employment, said Mr Lee.

Singaporeans also enjoy priority for public housing, he said later, in response to a student from China who asked why the Government had tightened rules on employment passes and housing for foreigners.

"Public housing is a privilege for citizens and we give them the advantage over non-citizens and permanent residents," he said.

For example, last year's rule that new PRs must wait three years to buy an HDB flat was a "fair requirement", said Mr Lee.

PM Lee cautions against lynch mob mentality
S’poreans urged to deal with issues in a civil manner and not become abusive, hateful mobs that over-react
By Ng Jing Yng, TODAY, 29 Jan 2014

Citing the recent episode involving Briton Anton Casey, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday cautioned Singaporeans against having a lynch mob mentality, as he noted how social media has complicated society’s fault lines.

Speaking at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ministerial forum, Mr Lee highlighted three fault lines: Between Singaporeans and those new to the country, the rich and the poor, as well as between different races and religions.

Last week, Mr Casey became the target of online vitriol after his derogatory comments about the public transport system and Singaporeans went viral on social media.

Mr Lee also mentioned the incidents where former National Trades Union Congress employee Amy Cheong and a fictitious Facebook character “Heather Chua” were condemned by Singaporeans online for posting racist comments.

“Yes, somebody has done something wrong, repudiate it, condemn it, but do not lower ourselves to that same level to behave in a way which really makes us all so ashamed of ourselves to become abusive, hateful mobs, especially online and anonymously,” said Mr Lee.

“We risk having an over-reaction, we risk having unrestrained, anonymous viciousness on the Internet,” he added, reiterating that rules are necessary in cyberspace, which the Government manages with a “light touch”.

“You scold, you swear, you curse — all the wrong instincts get fed and in a group, there are certain group dynamics and it is like a pack of hounds hunting, which is bad,” Mr Lee said. “We have to be better than that, to deal with situations civilly, patiently, tolerantly. Hold a stand, but remain a civilised human being.”

He noted that while Singapore has become more cohesive, it is important to watch out for the fault lines. One incident involving foreigners such as Mr Casey can cause people to flare up, he pointed out. “My philosophy is, yes this is bad ... (but) we have to maintain a certain equanimity and manage them without damaging our overall relationships,” he said.

New immigrants must try to integrate and Singaporeans will support their efforts, he added.

On the other fault lines, Mr Lee said race and religious matters will always be sensitive, regardless of whether the issue is about dressing or the use of certain languages at countdown events. Mr Lee was referring to the recent public discussions on the wearing of the tudung by Muslim women at work and the use of Mandarin in a MediaCorp New Year countdown show — which was televised on both Channel 5 and Channel 8 — that triggered criticism by some viewers.

But Singaporeans must adopt a broader perspective on race relations, instead of looking at each issue in isolation, he said.

On the gap between the rich and the poor, Mr Lee said more effort is needed to maintain a sense of shared purpose and mutual responsibility among Singaporeans through, for example, encouraging those who are successful to help the less fortunate and keeping the society open and informal so that all Singaporeans can interact comfortably with one another independent of their backgrounds.

Youth worry about rising costs and jobs
Nine out of 15 interviewed concerned they won't be able to buy a flat and car
By Rachel Au-Yong And Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2014

YOUNG people here are anxious about achieving a First World standard of living amid rising costs and more intense competition for jobs and at work.

These worries contribute to regrets among some in being born too late to enjoy the leap in standards of living of their parents' time, they said in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's assurance on the matter.

In a dialogue with over 1,200 undergraduates at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Tuesday evening, Mr Lee said young Singaporeans need not worry about having a tougher time than their parents because they were born too late.

With globalisation and advances in technology, he said he expects the next 50 years to be an exciting if uncertain time.

Yesterday, nine out of the 15 young people The Straits Times interviewed said they worried they would not be able to afford what one called "basic goods", namely a flat and a car.

Finance professional Chong Lingying, 24, said: "Things within reach for my parents' generation are completely unimaginable for me. I might be earning a lot more than my father did at my age, but I can't afford a car like he did, let alone a home any time soon."

Some undergraduates are more worried about jobs. Ms Joyce Lee, 23, a final-year geography student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), wonders about her prospects in the sales and journalism industries.

"There is a wider spectrum and a greater number of things for my generation to achieve in," she said. "But everyone here also has more knowledge and skills. Life is going to get more competitive."

Still, most of the 15 interviewed recognised that life here is good, and the rest is up to them.

"It is about how hard you work given your opportunities," said Ms Khor Si Hui, 23, who graduates from Oklahoma City University this year.

"I know an HDB flat is expensive, but rather than worry about that non-stop, I will save what I can each step of the way. At least, there is still the possibility of owning one."

Yet others, like educational therapist Hakimah Manaf, 24, feel there are many opportunities. "I want to start my own business, and there are many support systems... today for small and medium-sized enterprises that were not available before," she said.

Some also said the country has come a long way in terms of developing a more engaged civil society and greater freedom of speech.

"We are more willing to speak our mind - that is something that has changed from our parents' generation, where they felt they shouldn't rock the boat," said University of Sydney student Christopher Kwong, 25. "We don't have full freedom of speech yet, but at least there are ways to give your opinions through social media, which can result in some form of change by the Government."

But for the country to continue to succeed, two interviewees said Singapore must address growing xenophobia, fuelled in part by a large influx of foreigners.

PM Lee also warned against this, and spoke out against abusive mob behaviour online, as seen in the recent Anton Casey case.

Accountant Adillia Ayoub, 24, said: "Xenophobia is really one thing the Government needs to control and look into. Social media has changed so drastically, and not necessarily in a good way. Though the issue is not a major concern now, it has the potential to become a critical one in the near future."

Still, young Singaporeans said they want to build their nests here. Singapore Management University business student Jocelyn Chua, 23, aspires to a career in the luxury fashion industry, and it makes more sense for her to seek jobs in New York, London or Paris. "But that would be a hard decision because at the end of the day, this is still home," she said.

PM Lee's message timely, say experts
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2014

A DAY after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged young Singaporeans to seize the day, MPs and academics gave their take on the significance of his message.

They said yesterday that his choice of venue shows he wants to directly assure the country's youth that they have a future and a role to play right here in Singapore.

Mr Lee had made the call at a student forum at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

The experts also said the message is timely because young people are worried about job security, cost of living and not being able to do better than their parents.

A large part of their anxiety, they said, is fuelled by their own higher expectations of success and their hurry to achieve it.

MP Irene Ng said: "As daunting as the future may seem to young people sometimes, we should help them acquire an outlook of optimism and hope. This positive attitude is crucial for them to succeed."

This is not the first time a prime minister has delivered such a message to a young audience.

In 2002, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong challenged young Singaporeans to rise above their mood of despondency about the country's future amid competition from other countries and their fears of a brain drain to these places.

Don't be quitters, but live up to the founding generation's never-say-die spirit, he had told them.

On Tuesday, PM Lee's call to the young centred on the exciting opportunities that are theirs for the taking in a globalised world. He urged them to build on the older generation's achievements.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser, however, feels they have cause for concern as "the goal posts seem further away, and there are few low-hanging fruits".

He said: "I believe Mr Lee has a good sense of ground sentiments, and that as the leader, he needs to inspire and motivate the people."

The PM's positive tone also resonated with academics like NTU provost Freddy Boey, who said it addresses Singaporeans' tendency to worry and fail to take pride in their successes relative to others.

Singapore Management University vice-president Annie Koh feels it "(ignited) the positive energy of the youth", amid a pervasive disillusionment among youth worldwide.

MP Baey Yam Keng, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Community and Youth, said: "Some people may say they have no opportunities and leave the country.

"PM's message is to remind them that this is home, where there are many things they can do, and that they should be confident of the country."

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