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Building a multi-racial society for a Singaporean Singapore: Lawrence Wong

25 Jun 2021 3 min read

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Singaporeans must continue to strengthen their “Singaporean Singapore”, and build an ever more perfect multi-racial society, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. 

This means tackling racism wherever it exists in Singapore, and taking steps as one people against its imperfections.  

Speaking at a forum jointly organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies on 25 June 2021, the minister iterated multiracialism as the fundamental principle on which Singapore was founded.  It has taken mutual understanding and trust, and still requires resolve to maintain the delicate balance we have.

Citing the recent spate of racist incidents as examples, Mr Wong pointed out that race is never an easy issue for any society in the world, especially highly diverse ones like Singapore. The question of race has been a fundamental issue for Singapore from the beginning. Our separation from Malaysia is a sombre reminder of how race had posed an existential challenge.  

Singapore’s founding leaders set out to build a “Singaporean Singapore” with “deliberate policies, carefully thought-out safeguards, and resolute efforts” to ensure that everybody would have equal opportunities, and nobody will be disadvantaged, he elaborated.

However, Singapore’s racial harmony is not achieved by creating a monolithic society, Mr Wong noted. Singapore’s distinctive philosophy of multiracialism accepts and celebrates diversity.

“Multi-racialism in Singapore doesn’t mean forgetting our separate racial, linguistic, religious and cultural identities. It doesn’t require us to erase our rich inheritances in favour of a bland and homogenised broth,” he said. “Instead, it has enjoined us to embrace our inheritances, respect those of others, and go beyond them to encompass a national identity and shared purpose.”

He also quoted what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in 2017, “Being Singaporean has never been a matter of subtraction, but of addition; not of becoming less, but more; not of limitation and contraction, but of openness and expansion.”

Mr Wong reminded that in any multi-racial society, it is harder to be a minority than a majority, he said. It is therefore important for the majority community in Singapore to do its part, and be sensitive to and conscious of the needs of minorities.

“I ask that we do more and take the extra steps to make our minority friends, neighbours, co-workers feel comfortable…At the same time, I am grateful that minorities have reciprocated by recognising that the majority community has legitimate needs and concerns too.”

Singaporeans must also continue with their approach of mutual accommodation, trust, and compromise. This does not mean them accepting or dismissing racial aggressions.  They must continue to speak up against racialised experiences, and even be prepared to have uncomfortable discussions without instigating a “them versus us” dynamic.

He assured that the PAP government will continue to engage widely, and to update its policies on race, as well as other policies that help to strengthen our racial harmony. The Government’s policies are not cast in stone, be it group representation constituency (GRC), Ethnic Integration Policy(EIC) or Special Assistance Plan schools.

Ultimately, any change must expand our common space, and strengthen our racial harmony, while allowing each community to go about its way of life.”

Mr Wong also reiterated that the PAP Government will never waver in its commitment to promote harmony among all races, and ensure that all Singaporeans enjoy full and equal opportunities in life.

“We must have the humility to acknowledge our multi-racialism is still a work in progress, The honesty to recognise that not everyone will want to move at the same pace, and yet persevere to protect our multiracialism – cherish it, nurture it, strengthen it,” he said. ” Then we can move ever closer to become ever more ‘one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.’”