SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to be united and cohesive, with a common purpose and a common goal to make Singapore better, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this at the NTU Students’ Union Ministerial Forum on Tuesday evening.

Mr Lee said that as Singapore turns 50, it is time to take stock of what we have achieved, honour those who have made it happen and also ask ourselves what the next 50 years will bring.

In the next 50 years, Mr Lee highlighted several trends — that Asia will play a much larger role in world affairs, technology will change in ways we cannot yet imagine, and the social impact of technology and globalisation will grow.

All this however, is based on one assumption — that there will be peace, not war in Asia and around the world. Mr Lee said that with the many relationships and exchange programmes all over the world, peace is much more vital and much harder to breach.

The prime minister also highlighted that this peace has enabled Asian economies to prosper but maintaining it has not been easy — he cited the example of current frictions over the islands in the South China Sea.

Mr Lee said young people all over the world are excited and concerned about what lies ahead, with many opportunities and challenges. However, he reiterated that while these are valid concerns, young Singaporeans today are better geared up to face these challenges.

Mr Lee said that in the next 50 years, Singaporeans need to be united and cohesive, with a sense of common purpose and a common goal to make Singapore better.

He said: “We need to educate our students better, with knowledge and skills for the future, with values and good character to deal with life’s uncertainties.

“We need to create more opportunities for them in a rapidly changing society — which means growth, which means jobs, which means new investment, which means upgrading. So we want to encourage the bold and enterprising to go forth.”

The rich and poor divide was also highlighted, and he discussed the importance of keeping our society open so that all Singaporeans can interact comfortably with one another. This includes the way we welcome those who are new to our shores.

Mr Lee said: “I know that immigration and foreign workers are sensitive issues, we have had big debates about them, we have argued over them. Finally, the conclusion is that we continue to need both, but we have to manage the numbers, the pace, and be able to absorb and integrate and maintain the spirits of our society.

“We’ve got to keep that balanced, and be able to have diversity between the locals and the new arrivals and yet have that comfortable, gradual integration in specific neighbourhoods, in key places, in institutions, and in universities. It is very easy to (be emotional). One incident can cause a flare-up, and everybody gets agitated.”

However, one factor that complicates the “balance” is social media, where Singaporeans may lack restraint. People online may egg Singaporeans on and push them further beyond their limits. Mr Lee described it as “pack behaviour”.

Mr Lee also challenged Singaporeans to take ownership of their country.

He said: “Beyond pursing your personal goals, we would like you to take ownership of this country — make it work, lead it to great heights, not because you happen to be born here, but because it means something important to you, because you feel you have a passion and a responsibility to make this place a succeed. And we will help you to do that.”

Concluding, Mr Lee told his young audience that this is an exciting time to be young.

Addressing the concerns of some that they were born too late and will have a tougher life than their parents, Mr Lee said if he could live his life again, he would choose to be young again today as there are plentiful opportunities and Singapore is starting from a higher base.

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