Parliament: New citizens should join volunteer corps, says WP's Pritam Singh

Parliament: New citizens should join volunteer corps, says WP's Pritam Singh

Workers' Party's Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) urged new citizens to join a newly-formed volunteer corps, and called on the Government to explain a multi-national trade agreement to Singaporean companies on Wednesday.


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Here is Mr Pritam Singh's, MP for Aljunied GRC, speech in Parliament on the debate on the President's Address:

Introduction

This motion of thanks on the President's address takes place amidst worrying developments in our neighbourhood. At the recent ASEAN Summit in Myanmar, ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued a statement on 10 May 2014 expressing "their serious concerns over the on-going developments in the South China Sea, which increased tensions in the area."

There have been many references from the Government over the last few months about hostilities between Ukraine and Russia and its implications for Singapore. The South China Sea, where tensions are increasing between China and a whole host of countries, is a sea line of communication central to our survival. US$5.3 trillion worth of trade passes through it every year. Needless to say, the South China Sea is right at our doorstep too.

The geopolitical jockeying taking place in the region takes place in a year when we celebrate 30 years of Total Defence, a national initiative that first began in 1984.

Mdm Speaker, my colleagues have already spoken and will continue to speak during this debate a wide range of important domestic matters as covered in the President's Address. I will focus my speech on national security, specifically to issues pertaining to Foreign Affairs and Defence.

A geopolitical shift in progress

In spite of the American pivot towards Asia, the fact remains that the benign American security umbrella in Asia has to accommodate China's economic and growing military power. The real manifestations of a changing power equilibrium in East and Southeast Asia are taking place. Over the last year, developments in the East and South China Sea in particular are causing serious concerns among several Asian countries with the Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in the eye of the storm.

A Code of Conduct on the South China Sea to address these territorial spats is unlikely to come to pass anytime soon. This is in spite of hopes for it to be hurried along, as most recently expressed by the Foreign Minister in his visit to Washington two weeks ago. In contrast, the Prime Minister's more sober remarks in Tokyo on the back of the Nikkei International Conference last week - that any nation would be cautious about signing on to a set of guidelines which may constraint its freedom of action - are noteworthy. Seen from this perspective, while the early agreement of a Code of Conduct would be warmly welcomed by Singapore, it is not terribly realistic to expect this of China or any other major power in its shoes.

As China grows economically, it has taken a long view of history to ensure that it is in the foremost position to determine the power dynamics of its immediate neighbourhood, which it sees as a core interest. Such big power behaviour is not unusual. Big powers march to their own drumbeat. Even the US, while accepting the widely ratified United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as customary international law, have not moved to ratify the treaty for reasons best known to American lawmakers.

In a sense, China's reactions can be read as a direct response to the perception of a gradually minifying ability and keenness of the US to impose its will on the world. This is coupled with the slow and uneven post-Cold War shift to a more multipolar world. As part of this process, it would have come as no surprise to hear of the 30-year $400 billion gas deal between China and Russia last week, even as barbed exchanges and spats were taking place over the South China Sea.

For Singapore, the jockeying in our neighbourhood suggests that external environment in the years to come are likely to be more, and not less unpredictable. In the event our external trade is affected by skirmishes and hostiles in the South China Sea, or a chill permeates through the markets and business confidence sinks as a result of it, our resilience as a people is likely to be severely tested. Beyond hosting a strong SAF that is ready for battle, how prepared are we as a country if a conflict in a foreign region has a debilitating effect on our economy and society?

Total Defence and Resilience

With our fast changing population, have the pillars of Total Defence been unwittingly weakened? Is our economy strong, resilient and diversified enough to survive a crisis in the South China Sea? With close to 40 per cent of the country comprising of non-Singaporeans, will Singaporeans and foreigners look out for each other or turn to look after their respective communities?

These numbers should inform the Government that the next 30 years that undergird Total Defence, will be much more important than the last 30.

While SAF and Home Team National Servicemen reinstate their commitment to Singapore, the Government should assess if we have over-extended ourselves in outsourcing many critical public functions. In times of conflict, we can certainly expect job losses and some foreigners returning to safer pastures. How will our municipal, health, transport and telecommunication services hold up given the large number of foreigners manning them? Will some of our foreign friends amongst us respond nationalistically favouring the Philippines, or Vietnam depending on their ethnicity even as Singapore would prefer to stand as a neutral party? We would need to prepare for these unexpected outcomes and review our crisis strategies even as the Government presses ahead with economic growth and with the expansion of foreign manpower continuing.

Insofar as national resilience is concerned, the announcement by the Committee to Strengthen National Service in recommending a Volunteer Corps is a laudable initiative. This is even if it is for all intents and purposes, a pilot initiative and a small baby step targeted at new citizens, first-generation PRs and women. I would urge all new citizens in particular to apply to join the SAF Volunteer Corps and join hands with Singaporeans who already dedicate a minimum of 12 years of their life to national service.

As a young nation, but with close to 40 per cent of our population comprising non-Singaporeans, questions of identity and commitment of the new arrivals are likely to remain in the minds of Singaporeans for the foreseeable future. This has a direct consequence on our resilience as a country and a people. The Government should continue to explore how new citizens and PRs can contribute to our national security and how the Total Defence concept can be reinforced in light of our new realities.

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