To mark SG50 celebrations and NUS' 110th anniversary as Singapore turns 50 this year, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKY School) at NUS organised a conference that looked at the country's progress since independence, and how the city state might continue to forge ahead in the next 50 years.
The two-day "Singapore at 50: What Lies Ahead? event kicked off with an opening dinner on 2 July, attracting more than 600 attendees. In his welcome address, NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan pointed out that the Singapore story was driven by passion and conviction, marked by an ability to adapt and change. He said, "This capacity for continual re-invention would be even more vital as we look to the future.
He believes that to continue to succeed, "Singapore must remain, as always, alert and nimble, carefully picking out the pathways that will allow us to reach new and sustained heights of progress and achievement. Good, multidisciplinary research can play a key role in this process, and NUS is fully committed to contribute to such types of research and their application.
In a dialogue moderated by CNN host Dr Fareed Zakaria, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the reasons behind the country's success and issues it faces moving forward.
When asked by the prominent journalist on the seeming contradiction of having tough rules while allowing a live-and-let-live approach towards celebrating every community and religion, Mr Lee said: "There has to be a lot of give and take because you need strict rules but at the same time, this is an area where if you insist on going by the rules, everybody is going to be the loser. It is not possible for us to codify a set of statutes exactly what is permissible (and) what is not permissible conduct.
He highlighted the Charlie Hebdo incident in France early this year, which prompted the "I am Charlie Hebdo movement for freedom of speech. "We have freedom of speech too, but we also acknowledge restraints when it comes to denigrating somebody else's faith, when it comes to proselytising and trying to persuade somebody else to come over to your faith. Or even when it comes to how you express your own beliefs so as not to cause offence to others and some of these are written down and in extremis, we have to take a person to court.
Mr Lee also touched on various subjects ranging from terrorism threats and the rise of social media that make maintaining racial and religious harmony a huge challenge.
The full-day conference on 3 July featured a host of illustrious speakers, including participants from academia, public service and the private sector.
The first session was chaired by Singapore's Ambassador-at-Large and NUS Board Member Professor Chan Heng Chee. Professor Jia Qingguo, Dean of Peking University's School of International Studies, examined the delicate relationship between the US and China, while Ambassador-at-Large and Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Policy Adviser Bilahari Kausikan offered suggestions on how Singapore could better thrive in the years ahead, given the geopolitical forces shaping the region.
Ambassador-at-Large and LKY School's Governor Professor Tommy Koh began the second session by highlighting the importance of humility and the difficulty of predicting the future. Dr Byron Auguste, Managing Director of Opportunity@Work, urged everyone to view technology as a helpmate, and stressed the role human capital would continue to play alongside machines. Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, highlighted three drivers of Singapore's economic future, namely the rise of Asia and China; technology and skills; and Singapore's social compact.
During a lunch dialogue, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam was posed with some hard-hitting questions by Dr Zakaria about how Singapore would handle the situation in Greece, which the former fielded with aplomb. Speaking of the government's role, Mr Tharman said, "…we believe that there is a role for government to intervene, to mitigate inequality by maximising chances for every citizen… The second thing which we believe in quite strongly is… the central role of government in any modern democracy has to be, to preserve the centre and to constantly lean against polarising forces. The conversation then moved to wide-ranging areas such as education, healthcare, politics and the economy.
The environment took centrestage during the afternoon session chaired by Dr Noeleen Heyzer, a member of the NUS Board of Trustees and Former United Nations Under-Secretary-General. Mr Peter Schwartz, Salesforce.com's Senior Vice President and Dr Liu Thai Ker, Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities and RSP Architects Planners & Engineers' Senior Director, examined how cities could continue to meet the needs of their burgeoning populations while remaining environmentally sustainable.
The final session, chaired by LKY School Dean Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dealt with how new democratic challenges are transforming traditional notions of authority and hierarchy. The Right Honourable Sir John Major, Former Prime Minister of the UK, together with Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong who is Patron of IPS, explored the rise of potentially disruptive forces in democratic governance.