PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong expects the next 50 years to be exciting if uncertain, and said that he wished he were born 50 years later.
Speaking to 1,200 undergraduates at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Jan 28, he said that they lived in an age of tremendous possibility and urged them to seize the day to build and improve on what their parents’ generation has achieved. “We have so many more resources today than before, we are starting from a better position than we were. It would be a crime not to make it work.”
The opportunities of a globalised world, where technology advances at a breathless pace, are for the taking, he said.
Whether in the US, China or Israel, young people are dreaming not of becoming billionaires, “but wanting to change the world”.
Yet, there are also some filled with angst and uncertainty over stagnating wages, unemployment and the cost of living. These anxieties have spilled over into demonstrations in many countries, with young people often agitating for change, “although, not quite sure what (the) change (should be).”
These conflicting perspectives can be seen among young Singaporeans too, he said, who are better-educated and aspire to much higher personal goals.
Many worry about job security, the costs of living and whether they can do better than their parents. These are understandable concerns, he said, but asked them to keep in mind that they are in a better position than the previous generation, and that Singapore is better placed than many other countries.
But its continued success depends on unity and cohesion, which are at present under threat from three faultlines, he said.
The first is race and religion, where constant accommodation and adjustment is required.
Mr Lee emphasised the Government’s preference for “gradual and quiet evolution” over sudden change after heated public debate.
The second faultline he highlighted was the income gap. The incomes of the rich will continue to rise faster than the rest because of the world economy, he said.
So, the successful must give back, and the local social norm of “ping qi ping zuo” must be staunchly guarded, he said, using a Mandarin phrase that means to sit “shoulder-to-shoulder”.
Finally, Mr Lee brought up the faultline between locals and new arrivals. If foreigners make the effort to integrate, Singaporeans will help them do so, he said.
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