28 July 2014

The Opening Ceremony of the Singapore-China Social Governance Fourm on “Social Governance and The Rule of Law” – Opening speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean

His Excellency Meng Jianzhu
Member of the Political Bureau, Secretary of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee, People’s Republic of China

His Excellency Wang Yongqing
Secretary-General, Political and Legal Affairs Committee of the CPC Central Committee, People’s Republic of China

His Excellency Chen Xunqiu
Secretary-General, Central Committee Office for Comprehensive Social Management General Office, People’s Republic of China


Ladies and Gentlemen

1.          Good morning.  Let me begin by thanking Secretary Meng Jianzhu and our Chinese friends for hosting the 2nd Social Governance Forum in Beijing.  We had good discussions at the inaugural Social Management Forum held in Singapore in September 2012, and are happy to continue the discussion this year. 

2.          China and Singapore will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations next year. Our bilateral relations have been substantive and broad, complementary and mutually beneficial, keeping pace with the times, and a beacon to the future.  In Chinese, “广泛实质,互补共赢,与时俱进,引领未来”. Building on the solid foundation of our economic cooperation, we have expanded our bilateral cooperation to other areas over time. These include modern business and financial services, building a knowledge-based economy, human resource development, inclusive growth, environmentally sustainable development, and food safety.  Many of these areas were discussed at the 10th Singapore-China Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting, which Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and I co-chaired in October last year.

3.         Social governance is an area of growing importance to our two countries, given the changes facing our societies. Because of our cultural similarities, it is useful for us to exchange experiences and insights, to see whether there are good practices that we can adapt to our own context. This Social Governance Forum thus represents another aspect of the broadening and deepening of bilateral relations between China and Singapore.

Common Challenges

4.         Even though China and Singapore are very different in terms of physical and population sizes, both countries face some common challenges in social governance.  I will highlight four key trends that are shaping our societies today. First, meeting new and more diverse expectations. Second, the migration of people towards cities. Third, the impact of technology and globalisation on work and income distribution. Fourth, the widespread use of new information technology that provides instant connectivity with a wide audience.

5.         First, meeting new and more diverse expectations. Both Singapore and China have experienced sustained and rapid economic growth in the past decades. This has allowed us to meet the basic needs of our peoples, including housing, education and healthcare. Overall, the quality of life has also improved. However, there is now greater diversity in people’s expectations, broader definitions of success, and differing views about what constitutes a better quality of life. How do we meet these diverse expectations, which go beyond providing a higher level of basic needs?

6.         Second, the migration of people towards cities.  In China, rural dwellers are moving to rapidly developing cities in search of better opportunities.  Singapore too is seeing such an inflow. Since the time of our forefathers, Singapore has been open to people from our immediate region, as well as China, India and further afield. Today, many still find Singapore an attractive place to live and work. Some eventually settle down and start families in Singapore. This movement of people brings new ideas and dynamism to our cities, but also requires ongoing efforts to integrate new arrivals. How do we build a shared vision of the future and mutual responsibilities? 

7.          Third, the impact of technology and globalisation on work and income distribution. With technology and globalisation, people have access not just to opportunities in the local area around them, but can aspire to succeed on the regional or global stage. Rewards for the most skilled and able are thus now higher when they do well on a wider stage. This is true of successful entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals, and even athletes, musicians and artists. This has contributed to the widening income gap in many countries around the world.

8.           How do we help to narrow the gap by helping people to continually raise their skills, so that they can climb the highest peaks that they aspire to?  And how do we help ensure that everyone shares in the progress brought about by economic development? While governments can help to level the playing field for the less advantaged, how do we build greater social solidarity by encouraging those who have succeeded to contribute back to society and help those who are relatively less well-off?

9.          Fourth, the widespread use of new information technology with instant connectivity with a wide audience. By June 2014, China had 632 million Internet users,  more than any other country in the world.  In Singapore, our household residential broadband penetration rate has exceeded 100% since 2011, and our mobile penetration rate reached 156% last year.  Today, individuals, and not just large organisations, have the ability to produce and distribute information very easily. Anyone can start a blog or a social media page, which is accessible to everyone with an Internet connection. This always-on connectivity can be harnessed positively, for example, when providing important news updates during an emergency, or raising donations to aid victims of a disaster. However, this same connectivity can also be used negatively, for example, by people spreading untruths, fanning controversy, inciting hatred, or organising riots, as we saw in London in 2011. How do we harness technology and connectivity for the greater good, while minimising the possible downside?

10.           These challenges are not unique to China and Singapore; they also affect social harmony in many other countries.  I raise these questions because how we respond to and manage these trends will shape our societies – whether they help us unite our people in building a shared vision for the future, or divide our communities and disrupt social harmony. 

Three Principles of Social Governance

11.             Singapore has evolved our approach to social governance based on our needs, circumstances and experiences.  Let me highlight three key principles that underline our approach. 

12.              First, rule of law provides the foundation for a society characterised by fairness, equal opportunity and transparency. It is the foundation for realising our basic values – equality regardless of race, language, religion or social background. We have built a society where people can succeed on merit, through their hard work and ability; and an environment where business and industry can compete and grow.

13.            In the case of corruption, both our society and the government have zero tolerance, and the law is applied strictly. However, on most matters of social governance, even though we have laws covering issues such as racial harmony or industrial disputes, we usually do not charge a person or bring him to court. Instead we have, over time, built up policies and platforms to allow such issues to be managed and resolved. This leads me to the second and third principles.

14.             Second, policies to shape interactions between people or groups. Our laws set the outer boundaries of what constitutes acceptable behavior. They provide the framework within which we develop policies to shape how different groups of people interact with one another. For example, over 80% of our population live in good quality public housing. We also build markets, food centres, community clubs, parks, and playgrounds. These facilities are often managed by multi-ethnic local community leaders and residents. They provide common spaces, for Singaporeans of different races, religions and social status to mix easily and freely with one another. It is also quite common for places of worship of different faiths to be located side by side or near one another. In fact, Singapore was recently assessed by Pew Research as the most religiously diverse country in the world.  Our policies seek to bring people together to build mutual understanding and solidarity, rather than to keep them apart.

15.              Third, platforms to foster cooperation and resolve differences. We also have different platforms that foster cooperation and help to resolve differences if they arise at the local level, to prevent them from escalating or spreading. Such disputes or disagreements are often not matters of the law but can arise from differences in understanding of social norms and acceptable behaviour. Community and other platforms can help inter-mediate and respond more effectively to these local issues, rather than using the force of law.  At the local level, these include Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles and Residents’ Committees that promote racial harmony, neighbourliness and community cohesiveness among Singaporeans.  Singapore’s tripartite model of labour relations brings together employers, trade unions and the government to tackle issues such as fair wages, upgrading the skills of workers, re-employment of older workers, fair employment practices, and a flexible wage system, among others.  This close collaboration has helped to maintain harmonious labour-management relations over the past decades, and ensure that the fruits of economic growth are shared by both employers and workers.

Putting It Together

16.             The three principles for good social governance that I have described can only work well if people are willing to come together to find solutions, and to seek out commonalities, rather than to accentuate differences.

17.               My colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Development, Mr Chan Chun Sing will say more about Singapore’s approach to social governance in his keynote address.  Our two other speakers for this Forum will elaborate on how these social governance principles are applied in our context. We look forward to a good exchange of views and experiences in this afternoon’s discussion sessions.


18.               This Singapore-China Social Governance Forum is another aspect of the broad and deep bilateral relations between China and Singapore. Today’s Forum provides a valuable opportunity for us to exchange perspectives and ideas with one another. I encourage participants from both countries to have frank discussions, so that we can develop better policies, structures and processes for social governance in both our countries. This subject is of increasing importance to both our countries, and I look forward to continuing our exchanges with our Chinese friends in the future.

19.               Thank you.

 1 Source: China Internet Network Information Centre
 2 Source: Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (http://www.ida.gov.sg/Infocomm-Landscape/Facts-and-Figures/Telecommunications)
3Source: Pew Research (http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/)