SINGAPORE will be in trouble if it thinks it has arrived and can afford to relax, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated on Wednesday.
The country is small, and while it is no longer as poor and defenceless as it used to be, it must continue to be on its toes and work hard to improve.
Speaking to the Singapore media at the end of his official visit to France, he said "my eyes popped out" when he read a commentary in The Straits Times likening Singapore today to a cruise ship.
Commentator Koh Buck Song had argued in Monday's Opinion pages that Singapore politicians' oft-used metaphor of the country as a sampan, easily tossed about by the waves of global competition, was no longer valid.
He said it risked promoting small-mindedness and cramping national self-confidence and ambition.
Instead, Mr Koh said, Singapore was more like a well-oiled cruise ship that caters to every need.
As it offers the smoothest of journeys, passengers can relax because they feel secure, he added.
Mr Lee, however, warned: "Once you think you are in a cruise ship and you are on a holiday and everything must go swimmingly well and will be attended to for you, I think you are in trouble.
"We are small, we are not as poor as we used to be, we are not defenceless, we are able to fend for ourselves and to make a living for ourselves, and we are better off than before, and I think that we need to keep on working hard, to continue improving."
As to what might be a more appropriate metaphor, he said with a laugh: "I think we have upgraded our sampan. It's sampan 2.0."
He made these remarks when asked about the meetings he had held with French business leaders since he arrived on Sunday.
Mr Lee said the businessmen had a strong regard for the Republic and saw it as very useful because they could do business in the region from Singapore.
"So it's not just Singapore, but Singapore in the context of the region," he pointed out.