Keynote Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing at the 7th Singapore‑China Forum on Leadership
Your Excellency Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore
Your Excellency Minister Chen Xi, Minister of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee
Distinguished guests and colleagues,
1. Good afternoon. Happy to be in 延安, participating in this Forum for the third time.
2. Singapore and China have progressed much in the last 50 years.
3. With progress, comes new challenges. We were once managing the challenges of the equally poor; but we are now also managing the challenges of the unequally rich. There is truth in this. The latter is not any easier to address than the former. In fact, it may be tougher.
4. The more successful we are, the greater the diversity of our people’s aspirations. Meeting these diverse aspirations and yet keeping our country and people united is an evergreen challenge for all of us.
5. With greater success, we also risk complacency and ossification, believing that what we have done is correct and we have all the right and best ideas. But good ideas that have worked in the past may not necessarily work now nor in the future. Hence, such regular exchanges between our two countries are useful for us to constantly review our common challenges, check our blind-spots, and share ideas on how to overcome these challenges in our respective contexts.
6. Some common challenges include:
- DPM Teo talked about ageing demographics. The life expectancy rate 1 in both our countries have increased, while fertility rates2 have dropped far below replacement level. A UN Report3 estimates that the percentage of population aged above 60 in China will increase from 16 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2050. And for Singapore, from 19.5 percent to 40 percent. Ageing population is a common trend that many countries face, but the scale and speed at which this is happening compounds the problem. Including rising concerns on health care, retirement adequacy, social integration.
- Urban societies management. There is an increasing density in city centres, because that’s where jobs and opportunities are. This brings about new sets of challenges in urban management. Including traffic, energy, clean water, education, housing and social mobility.
- Globalisation and the challenges and opportunities brought about by technologies. Globalisation and greater integration of the world economic and production system will be a nett positive for all countries. But it will also require adjustments in each country to help its people and businesses displaced by trade and technology find new opportunities. Failing which, there will be local backlash by those affected and disenfranchised. Which will have global consequences for the free flow of trade, talent and ideas. We are already seeing this happen across the world.
Strategies to Manage our Challenges
7. To manage our challenges of meeting diverse aspirations, it is useful to take a leaf from traditional Chinese philosophy: 孔子曰： 欲明明德于天下者，先治其国；欲治其国者，先齐其家；欲齐其家者，先修其身。
Or put simply: 修身, 齐家, 治国, 平天下 - Develop thy self. Build thy home. Govern well. Win over the world
8. Let me start from developing thy self.
修身 – Capable and Resilient People
9. Our education system and traditional notion of pathways to success face new challenges:
- How do we equip our people with the necessary skills in a world of rapid changes in technology, business models, and new forms of connectivity?
- How do we imbue our people with a sense of common purpose amidst the many forces threatening to pull us in different directions?
- How do we ensure that everyone can have hope to do justice to their different talents and blessings, regardless of background, ancestry, and connections?
10. In my previous role as Singapore’s labour movement chief: One of my tasks was to help ensure that everyone can have a good job. How do we do it in times of rapid change and disruption?
11. We abide by three beliefs:
- First, compulsory education is necessary, but insufficient. Skills needed to remain relevant and employable is changing much faster; what we learn in school today may not be what is in demand in the market tomorrow. Continuing education and lifelong education must complement compulsory basic education. We need new models of adult training and education. Smaller, shorter, modular, just-in-time programmes that adult workers can acquire new skills and knowledge even as they are working and shouldering family responsibilities.
- Second, we must protect workers and not jobs. Jobs will change. Workers must have the skills to take on new jobs. We have a saying: Many try to put today’s unemployed into today’s jobs. Some try to put today’s unemployed into tomorrow’s jobs. We aspire to put tomorrow’s unemployed into tomorrow’s jobs, ahead of time. This is easier said than done. Many countries try to protect jobs. And workers mistakenly believe that they need not change. Our view is this is unrealistic and futile. Maybe because we are a small country and have no illusions that we can stop the tide of history. We need to educate our people to ride the waves of change so that we can seize opportunity for tomorrow instead. We need to create the ecosystem and mechanisms to help people prepare for and find their next and future jobs, even as our economy and industries are transforming.
- Third, there must be multiple pathways to success. In a time when our societies are becoming more diverse, we need a system that brings to fruition the different talents and blessings our people have. “百家争鸣 百花齐放”. Diversity is the basis of resilience. We hope that our people will not all have the same definition of success.
12. Next, even as our people acquire the necessary skills to pursue their diverse dreams, how do we keep our society cohesive and stable?
- National education to build shared perspectives and a sense of solidarity to help one another, especially those moving relatively slower or who are less privileged, becomes more important than ever.
- Progress is not just about everyone pursuing their dreams. That is bound to create a selfish, self-serving and entitled mentality in our people.
- Progress must also be about how we take care of one another, especially those are unable to help themselves or need the most help. This is the same ideal as “小康路上一个都不能掉队”。
齐家 – Cohesive and Caring Communities
13. 下来是齐家。要齐家, 要先有家。
14. Let us discuss the building of our home: Housing; Bringing up children; and caring for old age.
15. Affordable, accessible and quality housing is a universal aspiration. In Singapore, we have almost achieved universal home ownership, with more than 80 percent of Singaporeans living in public housing on 99-year lease. Our goal is for an average couple to have a comfortable space in a housing estate, paying a reasonable amount of their monthly income to own this space. We have generally been able to achieve this over the years.
16. But expectations and aspirations for homes are also changing. Today, it is not just about a house. It is also about aesthetic design, and the proximity to amenities, recreation, jobs, and family/relatives. Urban planning must combine with housing policies to achieve social purposes. Individual aspirations must be addressed alongside aspirations for the society. Estate renewal must be done progressively to allow for new entrants while preserving the character of established communities. Social integration of people from diverse racial backgrounds, different economic backgrounds and different nationalities is yet another challenge.
17. We have various rules and policies to nudge the desired social mix. For example, our longstanding Ethnic Integration Policy specifies the ratio bands of different groups within a neighbourhood. We have rental policies to ensure a mix of locals and foreigners living in each neighbourhood, so that we preserve diversity and prevent enclaves.
18. We never take for granted that social integration and social mixing will happen naturally. 物以类聚，人以群分. We take as a starting point that people will stay in their comfort zone and fall back on the instincts of being together with people of their own kind. Despite having long-standing policies to mitigate this, we are now also seeing new challenges in the digital era, where people are forming enclaves and echo chambers online.
19. Encouraging urban families with their many options and fast-paced life to have children is never easy. Low birth rate in the cities is a challenge that many countries face. Some are more fortunate to have a rural area to make up the deficit. But I believe that even in China, this is a vanishing option. Globally, no one has really cracked this problem. But we will continue to try.
20. From housing grants, to family-friendly and flexible work environments, to directly contributing to the savings for our children. As much as we can do to make it conducive for having and bringing up children. Most recently, we re-designed the various government processes young families have to go through, from registering a child’s birth to searching for suitable preschool facilities through a single digital platform called Moments-of-Life.
21. Having a family used to be a defence against ageing. 养儿防老？养儿烦恼？
22. Traditional Asian families are inter-generational. The traditional model works something like this: The older generation takes care of the younger generation for the first 20 years or so, and expects to be taken care of in return in their last 20 years or so. But this is increasingly coming under strain with longer life expectancy, lower birth rate, and an ageing population.
23. So we also need to strengthen care for old age. We do so through a social security system that not only takes care of the current cohort, but also ensures sustainability across generations. Our system depends on three pillars – individuals, family and society, each playing their parts.
24. At the individual level, we have the Central Provident Fund system which encourages every individual to contribute up to 20 percent of their monthly pay into their own retirement account. In turn, the employer will also contribute up to 17 percent. This account can be used for housing, medical, and education needs. When the individual is old, he/she can also enrol in the Lease Buyback Scheme to sell the remaining lease of his property in exchange for monthly pay-out to supplement his retirement income.
25. Families today, while smaller, largely still support each other and across generations. We want to encourage this and continue to strengthen the Asian values that we want to see in the family unit.
26. The Government will regularly top up the account of those with the least, whenever we have the means. This is means tested. For those with less, they will get more.
27. We also have other cohort based schemes like the Pioneer Generation Package and Merdeka Generation Package to help specific cohorts with their medical costs. These are those who have contributed much to the building of our nation in the early years and did not manage to accumulate as much retirement savings for their longer than expected retirement years. The Government will complement societal support with other help schemes: e.g.
- Silver Support Scheme for the poorest 20 percent of Singaporeans who are elderly.
- Workfare Income Supplement for those with lower income and disabilities. There are challenges associated with an ageing population. But there are also opportunities, because it means our people are living longer and healthier lives. The crux is enabling active and productive ageing. It requires us to re-think how we organise housing, community and healthcare facilities, and jobs. Therefore, we launched a $3bn Action Plan for Successful Ageing in 2015: a joint plan co-created by the public sector, voluntary welfare organisations, and businesses, to help citizens age productively and gracefully. The plan covers more than 70 initiatives in 12 areas – health and wellness, learning, volunteerism, employment, housing, transport, public spaces, social inclusion, retirement adequacy, health and aged care, protection for vulnerable elderly and research into ageing.
治国 – Long-term Planning for the Future
28. 国泰才能民安。We have to be a successful and secure nation where families and communities can thrive. Singapore is commemorating our bicentennial this year. While we reflect on our journey for the last 200 years, we also more importantly have to look forward to how much more we must do to secure our collective aspirations for our country.
29. Our long term governance requires us to do three things well: Financial discipline for fiscal sustainability; Infrastructure development; and Leadership and team development.
30. First, for a small country with no natural resources and an ageing population, we must save judiciously for our future generations. We must not burden them with debts. 不能债留子孙 We insist that every term of government must fund its own programmes and cannot draw on our reserves unless in extenuating circumstances.
31. Second, to the extent possible, we must set aside sufficient money to invest in the infrastructure necessary for our continued survival and success. Without which, it will be hard to create the conditions for our future generations to succeed. These include: schools; utilities facilities – water and electricity capacities; physical connectivity – ports, airports, rails, roads; non-physical connectivity – regulatory, financial and data systems; R&D and many others. Each generation benefitted from the previous. This generation must similarly try to benefit the next. We must create the possibilities of a better future. 前人种树，后人乘凉。代代相传。
32. Third, without a coherent and farsighted government, establishing the conditions for society to be stable, peaceful and fair, there is little chance for our people to realise their diverse aspirations. Leadership team development to govern well is not something that can be left to chance. 世道人心 上行下效。Both our countries know how important leadership is: To bring capable individuals to serve is one thing; to build them into a cohesive team to put the country foremost, above and before their personal interests, is another thing. 单丝不成线, 独木不成林.This is true for our political leadership as it is true for our Public Service.
平天下 – Confident and Constructive Member of the International Community
33. Finally, we are living in an inter-connected world. A great nation and great people must have a sense of solidarity with the rest of the world. Maybe this is part of the idea of 人类命运共同体。At one level, it is about us continuing to reach out to and learn from others. At another level, it is about us sharing, including our mistakes and achievements, so that we can all learn from each other’s experiences.
34. In this day and age, it is not to conquer the world through our might but to win the world with our values and being a positive example. 强者之权可治人一时，强者之德可治人一世。国不以利为利，以义为利 Both are similar in meaning.
35. Or to para-phrase ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle: What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.
36. Singapore’s success depends on the success and stability of the global system. We believe all countries - big and small - have a part to play to contribute towards this.
37. We will continue to work closely with likeminded countries to uphold the global trading system, multilateral institutions, and a rules-based global order.
38. We will work constructively:
- To support the reforms and refresh of the WTO system
- To develop new, inclusive, and fair rules for the new digital economy for all countries and companies to integrate better
- To develop open and integrated regional trade architectures like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
39. Even though we are small, we try to play a constructive role where possible. Some examples:
- In 1978, hosting Mr Deng Xiaoping for his first official visit to Singapore to explore ideas for China’s opening up
- In 1993, we hosted the Wang-Ku summit
- Supporting entry of China into the WTO system in 2001
- In 2006, we hosted the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings
- In 2015, we hosted the Xi-Ma meeting
- Last year, we hosted the first Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore.
- Last year, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to adopt the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, which will be signed in Singapore later this year.
40. We will continue to do these and more, and what is right within our means.
41. We will also continue to encourage interactions and exchanges between our two countries, to allow every generation to deepen the trust and bonds with each other. This forum is one such example at the leadership level; because the previous generations of leaders recognised the importance of being connected to and collaborating with each other. That laid the foundation for us to be able to share frankly and openly about our challenges. Neither of us may have equivalent forums with other countries where we can have such a high level of trust for mutual exchanges.
42. It is our duty to now pay it forward and plant the seeds for the next generations of our people.
43. 修身 齐家 治国 平天下
物格 致知 意诚 心正
The other half, which talks about being righteous, honest, and wise, is particularly pertinent to us as leaders.
44. Every new generation of leaders, will bring renewal and fresh ideas to lead the country into the next phase.
45. At the same time, it is renewal amidst continuity – our foundational values of multi-racialism, meritocracy, incorruptibility, self-reliance, inclusivity and openness to the world remain unchanged.
46. There are many positive examples in 5000 years of Chinese history where wise leaders demonstrate the power of their examples. 每一位都证明了 物格 致知 意诚 心正的重要性。
47. Look forward to the upcoming discussions on common challenges and new challenges to overcome together, and strengthening the relationship between our two countries for generations to come. Thank you.
 As of 2018 according to World Health Organisation report, 83.1 for Singapore, and 76.4 for China.
 As of 2018, 1.14 for Singapore, 1.64 for China.
 UN Report on World Population Ageing 2017.