Opening Address by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the Fifth Singapore-China Forum on Leadership

10 April 2015








Your Excellency Minister Zhao Leji, Minister of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee


Ladies and Gentlemen


  1. Good morning to all of you. Let me begin by thanking Minister Zhao, and Party Secretary Qiang and our Chinese friends for hosting the fifth China-Singapore Forum on Leadership, and for the warm and generous hospitality extended to me and the members of my delegation. I would also like to thank China Executive Leadership Academy Jinggangshan for hosting the forum today. In 2009, I visited the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong.  In 2010, I visited the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in Yan’an and had a very interesting discussion with about 200 cadres receiving some of their training and education there. Today, we are honoured to be here with you in Jinggangshan which holds a special place in China’s history. We would like to thank you for the opportunity to understand better the spirit that inspires the Chinese people to this day.


  2. The fifth Leadership Forum holds special significance for Singapore on three levels. First, China and Singapore are commemorating our 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year. Our bilateral relationship is broad and deep – covering a wide span of areas from economic cooperation, sustainable development, human resource development, social governance, investments, finance, food safety, intellectual property, and more. Singapore is China’s largest source of foreign investment for the second year in a row. And China is Singapore’s largest trading partner.


  3. Second, this Forum reflects the long-standing and close friendship between the leaders of our two countries. Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away about 2 weeks ago. We deeply appreciate the condolences expressed by China’s leaders, past and present. Mr Lee laid the foundation for China-Singapore relations during his first visit to China in 1976. The late Comrade Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore in 1978 sealed this friendship. Mr Lee made over 30 visits to China, and met all the top Chinese leaders from Chairman Mao Zedong to President Xi Jinping. Vice-President and former COD Minister Li Yuanchao attended Mr Lee’s State Funeral as President Xi’s Special Envoy and the representative of the People’s Republic of China.


  4.  Since 2009, we have held four successful Leadership Forums, on various aspects of leadership development of mutual interest, drawing from each country’s experiences and insights. Close to 50,000 officials from China have visited Singapore on study visits and programmes, while a growing number of Singapore officials have done the same in China. Let us build upon this foundation, and strengthen the bonds of friendship between the leaders and the peoples of both countries.


  5. Third, Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence this year. A younger generation of Singaporeans is re-discovering the fundamentals upon which the peace and security, stability and progress of our country is built. These fundamentals now have to be applied to the current and future challenges that Singapore faces. The theme for this year’s Forum, “Forging Consensus With Our People, Building National Unity” is particularly relevant for Singapore as we recall how Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his multi-racial Cabinet worked hard to bring together a diverse population to build a cohesive and harmonious society.


    Building a Nation


  6. During the period when we gained our independence in 1965, Singapore had experienced serious social disruptions from racial riots and widespread labour unrest. Our citizens from different races lived in separate communities. Our children went to different schools, and were taught in different languages.


  7. After independence, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and our founding fathers worked hard to break down social divides, achieve economic and social progress, and build a Singapore that belongs to all Singaporeans.


  8. Singaporeans had to learn to live in multi-racial housing precincts, not just villages and communities of their own race. Labour unions and employers had to learn to work together for mutual benefit rather than to be in conflict with each other.



  9.  Children of different races and family backgrounds now study together in national schools. We use English as the common language, but through our bilingual policy, every Singaporean, and each community, maintains strong links to its language, cultural identity, values and roots. This has enabled all Singaporeans to communicate with one another – within each community and with Singaporeans of other races too.


  10. We fostered a sense of belonging and gave everyone a long-term stake in Singapore, through our public housing programme. Every Singaporean male does National Service, and pledges to defend Singapore. Our society is built on integrity, fairness and social justice, based on rule of law, meritocracy, and incorruptibility. People succeed through hard work and ability, regardless of family background or race. 


  11. Each of these policies and programmes, when it was implemented, was transformational and potentially controversial. Forging national consensus on why they were needed and their implementation was therefore also very important.


  12. For example, as people were re-housed in high-rise, multi-racial public housing from villages and shophouses which they had become used to living in, the Government initiated a series of nation-wide campaigns to build new bonds among the residents. These campaigns encouraged civic consciousness and promoted a clean, green and harmonious living environment.


  13. Mr Lee Kuan Yew led by example. Other Ministers, Members of Parliament and community leaders also spent a lot of time on the ground to explain, persuade and show the way – a practice that we have carried on till today.


  14. All this took time, sincerity and persistence. As our policies and programmes bore fruit, we gradually built understanding, trust, harmony and unity. This gave Singaporeans hope and optimism that we could succeed despite our small size and diverse racial make-up. In fact, we turned them to our advantage and built consensus and national unity out of conflict and diversity.


    Building Consensus and Unity for the next phase of development


  15. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, we have reached a new stage of development. The need to build consensus and unity continues. Issues of race, language and religion are real and deep-seated, they do not completely go away, and can always be exploited by opportunists.


  16. We also face new challenges. Our sustained economic growth has improved Singaporeans’ lives. But as in many developed countries, there is a concern about income inequality and opportunities for lower-skilled and lower-income workers. Basic needs have been met. But aspirations are more diverse, and expectations are higher. Like many countries including China, Singapore’s population is ageing rapidly, and we have to see how best to draw on the potential contributions of our senior citizens while catering to their retirement needs. We continue to have an inflow of people who help make up for our ageing and shrinking citizen population and workforce. But there are also new challenges of integration. Through travel and the Internet, our people are more exposed to different ideas, ideologies, and social attitudes. These can contribute to building our society, but some of these can also change the values of our citizens and society, in a negative way.


  17. Today, the outcomes we try to achieve are not as easily quantified as GDP growth, per-capita income, or home-ownership rates. These are easily quantified, but we also want to build today a sense of participation and ownership, give people more choice, and have more space for diversity. We want to tap on the ideas and creativity of our people to have a more lively and vibrant city, and a more dynamic and innovative economy.


    New Policies, New Engagement Approaches, New Channels


  18. We continue to abide by principles that have worked well for us, including meritocracy, self-reliance, and a strong sense of community. But we have steadily evolved our policies and programmes to meet our new challenges, and cater to the needs of our changing population profile. Our approaches for forging consensus and building national unity must also evolve in this new phase of development.


  19. Let me highlight some of the key shifts in our policies, our engagement approaches and the channels that we use today, compared to our early days of nation building.


  20. First, new policies to cater to new challenges and circumstances.


  21. One cornerstone of our society has been meritocracy, so that Singaporeans who work hard can have a better life. In recent years, we have provided more educational and career pathways to match Singaporeans’ aspirations. But learning does not take place just in school, before people start work. It should be a continual, life-long process.


  22. Last year, we took meritocracy one step further. We launched what we called SkillsFuture, and supplemented it this year with a S$500 (or about 2,300 RMB) training credit for every adult, to spark a national movement for life-long learning and upgrading. The Government works with employers, unions, and institutions of higher learning to enlarge opportunities for Singaporeans to continue learning throughout life.


  23. As workers upgrade themselves and take up better-paying jobs, they improve the lives of their families, in line with our principle of self-reliance. This helps to address concerns about the income divide, and advancement opportunities for low-skilled low-wage workers, by building a continuous meritocracy.


  24. Ensuring retirement adequacy for our rapidly growing number of seniors without burdening the next generation is another important challenge. Fortunately, we have a good foundation. In our earlier years, when we had a large young and working population, with few old people, we had developed policies to help Singaporeans accumulate assets through home ownership, and through savings in the Central Provident Fund.


  25. We are now fine-tuning our policies to enable a person to make the best use of what he has accumulated, in a sustainable yet flexible way, for his retirement years. We have Lease Buy-Back and studio apartments with shorter leases, so that our seniors have the security of retaining a roof over their heads while releasing part of their accumulated assets for their daily living expenses.


  26. We have introduced CPF-Life to provide monthly payouts for life, as well as MediShield Life, a national healthcare insurance programme to cover every Singaporean for life. These two schemes provide affordable healthcare and retirement adequacy in a more sustainable way compared to the models used by developed countries in the West, which is putting great strain on their government budgets as well as their economies today. Together with targeted government subsidies for the lower income, they help avoid the potential divide between the working young and the retired elderly in the years to come.


  27. These are some of the key policy shifts that will help us continue to build a fair and just society with a cohesive and united people, a strong economy, and a sustainable way for all citizens to benefit from our country’s progress.


  28. Second, new engagement approaches.


  29. In the early years, communication was predominantly Government-to-People such as through public campaigns to build support and consensus for government policies and programmes.


  30. Over time, we have placed greater emphasis on People-to-Government engagement. Listening to public concerns, consulting the public, and soliciting views, allows government to be more responsive to citizen needs and to benefit from alternative ideas and suggestions as we co-create policies and programmes with the people. This helps to strengthen trust between the Government and our citizens. Through weekly Meet-the-People sessions, Members of Parliament and Ministers attend to the concerns of individual citizens and understand their needs more directly and in greater detail. Such feedback is useful to fine-tune or improve policies.


  31. Apart from public consultations on specific issues or policies, since 1991, we have held four nation-wide, large-scale consultations to better understand citizens’ needs and aspirations at different phases of our development. Through these consultations, we hear views from a wide range of Singaporeans, map out the major shifts we expect to see, and build consensus for new directions and action plans for Singapore for the next 10 to 20 years.


  32. The most recent, and by far the most extensive, was the “Our Singapore Conversation” that Minister Heng Swee Keat led in 2012. Minister Heng will share his insights into how these small group and bottom-up discussions, at the People-to-People level, helped build consensus and a shared vision for Singapore’s future.


  33. Such People-to-People conversations help different groups understand and appreciate one another’s views, and build consensus. They also help people to understand that Government often has to make decisions which are in the interest of the majority, even if individual groups do not get all that they want.


  34. Our public engagement approaches continue to focus on building a stronger sense of shared responsibility and ownership – but in a slightly different way. More people are now able and keen to do more for their community and for the country, especially to help the disadvantaged. This energy can be harnessed to provide a sense of participation and ownership for dealing with some of the challenges and potential divides in society, forge consensus and contribute to nation building, so that people don't just speak and talk, but they also do, to help solve and deal with issues and challenges that the country faces.


  35. One major area where shared action can bring good results is tapping the potential of the growing number of senior citizens. Many want to continue working or to contribute to society. We are working with employers and unions to restructure work and the work environment so that our seniors can continue working for as long as possible. We also have retired seniors mentoring primary school students from disadvantaged families, or volunteering as community health ambassadors to promote healthy lifestyles to other seniors. These are ways in which seniors can be an asset and continue contributing to our community and society.


  36. We are strengthening avenues for young people to serve the community through the Youth Corps Singapore. We are also working with community self-help groups to uplift disadvantaged families through education and mentoring programmes.


  37. Rather than government trying to do everything, government can facilitate community, ground-up efforts. As we celebrate Singapore’s 50th year of independence, the Government has set aside S$500 million (or 2.3 billion RMB) to match donations raised under the Care & Share @ SG50 movement. We hope that this funding will encourage many more ground-up initiatives where Singaporeans work together on the issues that they care for most, and help build a more cohesive and better nation.


  38. Third, new channels.


  39. Just as we have new policies, programmes and engagement approaches, we are using new channels to facilitate our communications and engagement efforts and strengthen nation building.


  40. The Internet and social media offer speed, convenience and reach.   Public agencies use the Internet and social media platforms to provide public services and information, as well as collect online feedback from citizens. And my colleague Senior Minister of State Amy Khor looks after our government's feedback unit. Singapore was ranked 3rd in the e-Government Development Index in the 2014 United Nations E-Government Survey.[1] Today, many Ministers and Members of Parliament are active on social media, reaching out to citizens through their posts and even having live chats.


  41. The Internet and social media also help build community groups in new and innovative ways. Already, we see people coming together online according to their interests or needs – crowd-sourcing for ideas, raising funds for good causes, or sharing updates on a rapidly evolving situation. For example, I have residents in my own constituency, who are moving into new homes. Their homes will not be ready for another two years or so, but already they gather together online, get to know each other, and start sharing ideas, where to find the best furniture and renovation, which is the best school, and how to get together and organise transport arrangements even before they have moved in. By the time they move in, they have already started to form a strong, cohesive community, and this is something that we encourage.


  42. But even as we leverage on the reach and speed of the Internet and social media for multi-directional, mass engagement, we also pay close attention to personal engagement. This is especially important as policies and programmes become more complex, and more tailored to individual needs and individual groups.


  43. For example, the Government has mobilised community volunteers to explain face-to-face the Pioneer Generation Package of medical benefits that our Pioneers who are aged 65 and above can benefit from. Many of these Pioneers are not easily reached via traditional media channels, let alone new media channels. These Pioneer Generation Ambassadors are a familiar face to their fellow residents, and they often use local languages and dialects to help each Pioneer understand how to use the benefits for affordable healthcare. 


  44. By using new channels – whether online or in person, whether mass or customised, we are able to reach out to different segments of the population, in support of our nation-building efforts.


    Closing Remarks


  45. As Singapore celebrates our 50th year of independence this year, we need to continue the process of building national consensus and unity. While the fundamental principles remain the same, the policies to achieve this, the approaches for engaging the public to build consensus and the channels used, have to evolve. Enabling participation and shared ownership in dealing with the new challenges and issues that can divide our society will help to build consensus and strengthen cohesion and unity.


  46. I look forward to hearing our Chinese friends’ views and ideas, exchanging experiences and learning from each other. I am sure our delegation members from both sides will also benefit from the more in-depth discussions which all of you will have this afternoon.


  47. Thank you very much again for this opportunity to have this forum.



[1] 2014 United Nations E-Government Survey, 25 June 2014. The E-Government Development Index ranks countries by measuring their use of information and communications technologies to deliver public services. The Index is a weighted average of three dimensions: scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity. (