The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the international system and accelerated global trends. Globalization and open markets will no longer be the norm. Geo-political trends such as the US-China rivalry have intensified.
But some things will remain unchanged. Singapore is a small, multi-racial country surrounded by bigger neighbours. We will continue to develop close ties with our ASEAN partners to contribute to a harmonious region. With Malaysia and Indonesia, we need to manage bilateral issues that inevitably arise between close neighbours.
We call on the major powers to exercise leadership to address the pandemic and other important global challenges. Even if major powers fail to exercise leadership, small countries like Singapore do have a voice and agency to act. By working with like-minded partners, we can make a difference.
For example, we are working with key partners to keep supply chains open, connected and resilient, and to promote trade at international platforms. Together with other small countries, we formed the Global Governance Group to provide inputs to the Group of Twenty (G20), and played a key role in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and subsequent Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
We can continue to uphold our place in the world, only if we are strong and united at home. To build a more resilient Singapore, we need to have a strong crisis response, economic resilience, and social resilience.
First, we need to strengthen our crisis response by building deep reserves. This includes financial reserves, experienced people, organisational capacity and operational agility. When COVID-19 struck, we could draw on the expertise and capacity of our healthcare system built up from SARS, and tap the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to build up our contact tracing ability.
The outbreak in our migrant worker community has been a major challenge. Our SAF and Home Team stepped up readily to establish Joint Task Forces (JTFs) to support Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Health (MOH) on the frontlines. The JTFs played a critical role by establishing a command, control and information system; deploying Forward Assurance and Support Teams to look after more than 300,000 workers; and supporting MOH’s overall Medical Support Plan.
We mobilised resources from across the public service and the private sector to set up community care facilities. Every day, as many as 1,000 patients have flowed into and through these facilities.
Over the past two months, I worked closely with many of our officers and tracked closely the work they are doing. I would like to thank every one of them for their extraordinary and selfless contributions. It is a massive task, and our Whole-of-Nation team is doing a tremendous job.
Second, we need to build our economic resilience, so that we can manage the direct impact of COVID-19 on our livelihoods and supply chains. Thus far, we have managed to maintain our food and essential supplies through stockpiling, diversification and self-production. These would not have been possible without the industrial capacity and economic resilience that we have built up over the years.
Keeping Singaporeans informed daily, and dealing with the crisis in a transparent, systematic and thorough way, has strengthened Singapore’s reputation for trust, credibility and transparency in the eyes of international investors. This will stand us in good stead.
We have faced and overcome such challenges before. In 1967, during the early years of our independence, the British announced the withdrawal of their troops from Singapore. We stood to lose 20 per cent of our GDP and 70,000 jobs, out of a citizen population half of today’s. But we gritted our teeth, rolled up our sleeves and moved ahead. We invested in education and infrastructure; opened ourselves to the world; and promoted new industries. We are far more resilient today than in 1967, and better positioned to create new markets, businesses and jobs to replace the ones that will be lost.
Third, we need to maintain our strong social fabric. Singaporeans learnt the need for harmony, unity and solidarity through the trauma of independence. We have been building our social resilience over the years, through policies such as education for all and ethnically integrated public housing.
We have drawn on these deep reserves in times of crisis. We supported each other through previous challenges such as the September 11 attacks in 2001, Asian Financial Crisis, SARS and Global Financial Crisis, never allowing tensions and suspicions to divide us.
COVID-19 is an even bigger test. I am heartened to see many acts of kindness, with Singaporeans taking care of each other and our migrant workers.
The Multi-Ministry Task Force is overseeing our national response to COVID-19. A new generation of Ministers is leading our COVID-19 efforts, tapping the experience of older cabinet colleagues and consulting widely within and outside government. That is how we build resilience and continuity in our leadership team.
How we respond to this crisis will define us as a nation and as a people. What we have built as a nation – our solidarity, our resolve and our resilience – gives me confidence that we will overcome the current crisis and any future challenges, to build a stronger and better Singapore together.
Teo Chee Hean
People’s Action Party
12 June 2020