Security and unity are key to safeguarding Republic

The threats of extremist violence, and rising tensions and nationalism in the region highlight the need for Singapore's security agencies to be well-equipped, several MPs told the House yesterday.

MPs also called for greater emphasis on strengthening trust and understanding between the various communities, so that extremism does not take root and society remains united if an attack happens.

Security was a top concern for Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) who opened the debate on President Tony Tan Keng Yam's Address to Parliament.

Dr Tan had cited the Jan 14 terrorist bombings in Jakarta in his speech two Fridays ago.

Yesterday, Mr de Souza also cited the recent arrests of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers, as well as competing claims over territory in the South China Sea, in calling on members to support a strong security budget.

"A quick look at our neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, and even ourselves, shows that there are some individuals who become radicalised domestically," said Mr de Souza.

A well-equipped Home Team and a proficient Internal Security Department are thus necessary, he added.

He also said he found it "odd", given the security climate, that some quarters had recently called for a reduction in the defence budget - an allusion to calls by the Singapore Democratic Party in last year's General Election to cut the defence budget by more than 40 per cent to fund its healthcare proposals.

"This is totally at odds with the geopolitical situation presented to Singapore today," he said.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) said besides terrorism, rising nationalism and a hunger for resources also mean a strong armed forces is needed to protect Singapore's sovereignty.

He pointed to tensions between China and Taiwan, between the two Koreas and with Indonesia, for naming a warship after two saboteurs responsible for the 1965 MacDonald House bombings here, as examples of such rising nationalism.

"The South China Sea dispute, for example, has seen a number of countries, all of whom are friends, fighting over a few pieces of stone," he added. "But it isn't really the pieces of stone they're fighting over, but the larger economic zones that come with them."

MPs Low Yen Ling (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) also stressed the importance of strengthening social cohesion and national identity across the various races and religions in the light of the terror threat.

Both noted that the fight against extremism was not just about hardening physical security measures, but also one for hearts and minds to safeguard Singapore's harmony.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) said the coordinated nature of attacks, such as that in Paris last November, were also a reminder for Singapore to review the strategies, resources and capabilities of its agencies.

She noted that frequent exercises prepared Paris' public hospital systems to deal with the crisis and these were issues Singapore had to think about as well.

Prof Fatimah also noted that the Muslim community had faced the challenge of terrorism calmly and worked to correct misperceptions about Islam that others might have.

"Islam has never condoned such actions and, in fact, condemns it," she said.

"But this is the global situation now - more complex, ever-changing and unstable. It will be with us for years to come," she added.

This article was first published on Jan 26, 2016.
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