TL;DR – What has happened to Hong Kong can easily happen to Singapore if we are complacent.
It has been 162 days since Hong Kong has been rocked by pro-democracy protests that show no sign of dying.
In fact, things might have taken another turn for the worse as the protestors paralysed parts of the city last week, with roadblocks and barricades on the city’s main thoroughfares.
University campuses have also been occupied by protestors, where student protesters stockpiled a variety of potentially lethal weapons which were used to throw at police during a violent standoff.
The worst-hit is The Hong Kong Polytechnic University where hundreds of students used bricks to create a fortress out of the campus and when inside the campus over the last weekend or so, they were prepping and gearing up for escalated violence. Online posts have shown that the students were practicing sprinting, archery and they were even making all sorts of dangerous weapons including Molotov cocktails.
It is sad to see the clashes between the protesters and the police.
Reportedly, a 70-year-old cleaner who was hit in the head with a brick has also died amidst a clash between protesters and residents in Hong Kong.
As we keep up with the episodes of civil unrest that has been plaguing Hong Kong, I sometimes hear a little voice in my head asking,
“Will what happen in Hong Kong to happen in Singapore too?”
Because you know, given the peace and stability that we currently have, it is hard to imagine the possibility of riots happening here in Singapore.
But yes, what has happened to Hong Kong can easily happen to Singapore if we are complacent or not careful, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on 18 November.
In his speech, Minister Chan points out the 4 important lessons that Singapore can learn from the mayhem in Hong Kong:
1) Importance of having a well-functioning political system
While the political systems seek to represent the diverse interests of the people, it must also find ways for different interests to work together to improve the lives of people and enable the people to fulfil their aspirations, said Minister Chan.
He shares that political systems would not be able to deliver or solve problems if it only promote contestations and debate without concrete and constructive actions. Similarly, if the Government only champion for narrow sectoral interests, without consideration of and compromise for the greater good, the political system will not be sustainable. Therefore, it is important for political system to closely with the public service to anticipate challenges, execute policies well, and to resolve problems and to improve people’s lives.
To enable responsive and responsible governance, Singapore has adopted several feedback channels and networks that goes beyond just the political system and public service.
Through the People’s Association (PA), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), REACH and many other agencies, the Government of the day tries to reach out to Singaporeans as much as possible, to understand their fears, concerns and aspirations.
While Minister Chan recognizes that it is an evergreen and continuous challenge to do this well, he believes that it is necessary, nevertheless. Because only with a well-functioning political system, the right political culture, and an effective feedback-to-action mechanism can the Government make adjustments to policies when required, execute decisively and communicate effectively.
2) Good long-term policies
In his second point, Minister Chan said that success of any government cannot be measured just by the short term, but instead the government of the day and its society must also take into considerations the long-term future of our people and the country.
For instance, while the ability to access affordable housing and essential services is fundamental to keeping society stable, the transfer of land ownership and properties across generations cannot be at the expense of depriving future generations opportunities to be rewarded based on hard work and capabilities.
“It cannot be that those who are rich first will be rich forever without due effort,” said Minister Chan.
I suppose that will be what happens if HDB flats come with freehold leases.
3) Social cohesion
Thirdly, Minister Chan believes that while specific communities champion for their respective wants, Singaporeans should still put their own national interests first.
And most importantly, violence cannot be the way to resolve problems.
“Violence begets greater violence. Dialogue and constructive actions must be the Singapore way,” Minister Chan added.
When a conflict arises, Minister Chan believes that a conflict resolution requires all parties to take actions and be responsible and constructive while at it.
Singaporeans should also remain united and cohesive for others to want to work with us and we also have to be responsible for our defence and security, said Minister Chan.
4) The relevance of small city-states
Last but not least, Minister Chan emphasized that it is not easy for small city-states to survive and thrive without a conventional hinterland for supplies, markets and opportunities. And should things go badly wrong, Singapore will have to pick up the pieces ourselves.
“City-States that cannot provide opportunities and hope for their people will fracture.
City-States that have no relevance to the world will be ignored and bypassed.
City-States that are unexceptional will also not last long in history.”
Minister Chan then concluded his speech reminding Singaporeans that Singapore’s relevance to the world is “never a given.” And that Singaporeans must continue to work hard to distinguish ourselves and stay ahead of the global uncertainties.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, we want to make sure that Singapore remains a country where anyone who works hard will have the opportunities to succeed and be confident of giving their children a better life.