Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in Germany for an official visit to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Germany and his island republic, spoke about integrating citizens, religious harmony and the South China Sea conflict in an interview on Tuesday with German publication Suddeutsche Zeitung.

He explained that his government plays the leading role in integrating people of various cultural backgrounds in Singapore.

“We set the tone,” he said. “In terms of our social policies, we make it an objective to facilitate this integration.”

He cited the public housing estates, where more than 80% of the population live, as an example. “We make sure that there are no pure neighbourhoods. We enforce integration, enforce diverse neighbourhoods, and integration in terms of race, also integration in terms of proportion of non-citizens so that you will not have an enclave.”
He contrasted this policy with the British colonialists’ policy of keeping the different groups apart.

“To go from that to a modern Singapore, where they are all integrated together, where every neighbourhood is integrated, was active social policy,” said Lee. “We could do it because we had public housing programmes.”

He pointed out that Singapore cleared the old villages and slums and resettled the whole population, “so in that process we had the opportunity to cause everybody to mix together”.

No religion was forgotten under the Singapore Government’s active social policy of forcing people to live together, he said. “All the major religions of the world are in Singapore. So we have to get along together and one of our basic principles is that there has to be tolerance and compromise.

“If you insist on absolute requirements, then we are not going to be able to live peacefully together, and this means in terms of your practices, your customs and your celebrations.”

That also means, he said, “We are also not purists on freedom of speech; so if you say things and go out of your way to denigrate or attack some other faith, that’s an offence.”

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