Ever since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has been facing challenges. Communal problems while in Malaysia, the British withdrawal from their Singapore bases in the late 1960s, the 1973 oil crisis, the 1985 recession, the 1997 Asian financial crisis are all challenges which we have resolved and emerged from the battle stronger. As Singapore enters the 21st Century, she has to face several new problems and uncertainties in all key dimensions of national life.
The unfolding events following 11 September carry grave security implications for Singapore, testing our social cohesion and deepening our economic problems. Politically, Singapore faces the major challenge of combating the threat of global terrorism. The September 11 terrorist attack awakened the world to the serious nature of the threat of terrorism. Since September 11, as a result of numerous investigations and arrests of terrorist detainees all over the world, the extent and depth of the global terrorism has come to light.
Besides the Al-Qaeda network that wants to get US out of the Middle East and set up their Islamic world, there is also the Jemaaah Islamiyah in South-east Asia, which wishes to create an Islamic state from southern Thailand, through Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to southern Philippines. These terrorists resort to violence such as high profile attacks, which kill large multitude of people, to achieve their aim of setting up an Islamic state. The recent Bali bombing serves as a stark reminder to us that Singapore will be vulnerable to attacks from terrorists.
Hence, it is necessary that we strengthen co-operation with our neighbours and US to combat this new threat to civilized society. In addition, Singapore’s relationship with Malaysia has become tense over the Water Issue, especially over the pricing of our water. Malaysia has been frequently changing their stand about the price of water. Eventually, they pulled water out of a package of bilateral issues, which have been outlined by SM Lee and PM Mahathir in Dec 1998, to be discussed as one deal of its own and without prior notice to Singapore.
These acts from Malaysia have worsened the bilateral ties between both countries. Furthermore, the recent Pedra Branca Issue only serves to aggravate the situation. Therefore, it is vital that Singapore’s government can resolve this as quickly and peacefully as possible so that they can concentrate on other pressing issues. Economically, Singapore is striving to restore its economy to robust growth. After good growth in 2000, our economy turned down in 2001 with negative growth.
This turndown has been the convergence of several adverse developments, which include the September 11 terrorist attack, stagnation of the regional economies and possible war with Iraq. The economic outlook in 2003 is bleak and uncertain. With the GST hike and increasing unemployment rate, we are feeling despondent about the economy. Furthermore, China is developing rapidly. It is pulling away foreign investments, which will otherwise have located in Singapore. We have to restructure our economy so that we can tap into China’s growth and not compete with it for investments.
Thus, we must change our economy so as to meet these new challenges. Socially, we face the enigma of maintaining social cohesion in a multi-racial, multi-cultural society after the September 11 incident. There are worries that there may be discrimination of the Muslims and that our Muslims will see Singapore’s anti-terrorism activities as against the Muslims. The government is aware of this problem and has stressed that Singapore has supported the US because it is fighting terrorism and that religious groups must take steps to understand each other better. The recent tudung issue shows how easy it is to inflame passion.
As a result, it is crucial that the different racial and religious groups in Singapore are to live together in harmony. Besides the challenge of maintaining social cohesion, Singapore faces the conundrum of a graying population. With the increased level of literacy in Singapore, many Singaporeans are marrying at a later age and having fewer children. Most couples wish to provide the best for their children, so they will have only one or two children, resulting in a low birth rate. Life expectancy of Singaporeans is high due to improvements in medical care and technology.
Consequently, the number of elderly will constitute a greater proportion in the population pyramid, causing a graying population. Having an aging population will mean that the burden on the working population will increase, resulting in a strain on the economy. We will have to pay more taxes for the health care services of the elderly and an increasing proportion of country’s resources will have to be used for the elderly. Therefore, it is essential that couples are to have more children and the government well prepared for the challenge of a graying population.