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What Can We Learn From Singapore in the End?

 

In early June, I was fortunate enough to attend a Singapore training program provided by Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. It was obviously a rare learning opportunity for me, for which I shall thank the tutors of the MPA Center, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics for their professionalism, as well as the teachers of the National University of Singapore for their carefully prepared courses and patience in delivering the contents.

 

So what can we actually learn from Singapore? This is probably the key question raised for the training tour, despite that the answer might not manifest easily. In the words of director Gu Qingyang, “We’ve learnt nothing from Singapore, but a lot indeed.” The experience itself might not be of great value, but the reasons behind are worth pondering.

 

We must know about a country’s history before talking about the experience of state governance, as the history has long provided the answers to many questions that politics can’t answer. As a former British colony and now a Commonwealth country, Singapore was born with a strong British color – the Common Law System governance philosophy is Singapore's valuable political wealth, and the English language environment offers Singapore precious economic and trade resources. However, at the beginning of the founding of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the father of the country, did not simply copy the British democratic system, but took a distinct way of Singapore, which was “enlightened despotism” in his words. Lee clearly saw that the political costs of choosing a democratic system for an emerging country could be very high. The history also justified his point of view that many emerging countries, such as India, Myanmar and the Philippines, paid the prices for simply copying the democratic system. Also an Asian country, we must clearly see the significant differences in the national conditions and history of China and Europe and the United States. So I think that Singapore is worth learning from for first of all, their independent exploration of its development path and institutional self-confidence.

 

If you ask me the most impressive words I heard during my trip to Singapore, I think it would be the words by Mr. Wu Yuanhua, deputy editor-in-chief of “Lianhe Zaobao”: “What readers read the next morning is not up to the boss, nor the government.” The simple words revealed the independent thinking of the media persons in Singapore, as well as the status of intellectuals. Wu as an old alumnus of Nanyang University and a senior media person had a profound understanding of media, and deep affections for China. His lecture enabled one to simply and clearly recognize the media’s position and role in social propaganda.

 

It was a worldwide problem indeed that the media are mostly divided into two factions - “in office” and “out of office”. The so-called official media is the one that’s “in office”, which is the voice of the government, a tool to propagate and guide public opinions; the “out of office” media is on the contrary controlled by private capital and subject to market regulation, with profitability being the purpose. As a result, the “in office” media has a rigid discourse system unfit for the masses, while the demagogic “out of office” media would not spare faking news to attract the public eye. These two extreme effects finally fail to take on the proper role of media – delivering the right information and positive guidance to the audience. However, Singapore’s experience in this aspect is refreshing, as the Government acts as the media shareholder, and at the same time ensures its independent operation. The Government sets the bottom line of public opinion in the form of legislation and any media publicity behavior above the bottom line will not be subject to government intervention. The principle of general dedication is to “give media the power to exercise the freedom of the press in a responsible manner, without having to bow to the government.” That excludes wanton control of the private capital over public opinion, preventing the forced intervention of government forces over the media, while helps maintain the independent thinking of media people and report genuine news in order to ensure the media recognition among the audience.

 

Another thing that impressed me was Singapore’s unique experience in the control of the gap between rich and poor and the resident housing guarantee. The gap between rich and poor and the level of Gini coefficient is an important measure factor of a country’s social stability, while the home ownership is an important condition to maintain social stability. As Professor Chen Qiye said, one important reason why Singapore has been able to develop steadily and People’s Action Party has been in power for 50 years is Singapore’s “Home Ownership Scheme”. The plaque “安得广厦千万间千万间,大批天下寒士俱欢颜(How can I get thousands of houses for all those who are suffering from coldness to live in happily?)” hung in the hall of Singapore HDB should be the best embodiment of its housing policy. Every Singaporean citizen or permanent resident can apply for a cheap flat to the Government if certain conditions are met. The flat, about one quarter of the market price, can be then sold after certain years. I was not the only person amazed by the cozy environment and spacious living space of the model room. “A Singaporean young man is able to buy a flat with his/her four years’ income assuming no spending” is the Singapore government’s commitment to the public. It is necessary to see that Singapore does not offer a simple welfare system. The Government will provide you only with housing, without free life support in any form, and all living expenses must be acquired by residents through work – it’s a rule set by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. This will not only avoid the shortcomings of the European welfare society, but also ensures the residents a fixed asset that allows for perseverance. As a result, hard work and living on an affordability budget naturally become a part of people’s life.

 

Now that it’s the time the “One Belt, One Road” policy enters into a critical stage, Singapore has actually done a lot of discussion on this topic. At the end of our training program, director Gu gave us a lecture, in which he explicitly pointed out that “One Belt, One Road” is a major event that changed the world pattern. This is the best of times and the worst of times. China is standing at the critical moment of the rise of the country, where there are unprecedented opportunities, as well as difficulties on the way forward, one of which is how to deal with national and religious issues.

 

Singapore is a multinational country, and its tolerant national policy and harmonious national relations may give us a reference. Within its territory there are Chinese, Indians, Malayans, etc. who are from different races, but who all have a most important identity - Singaporeans. On the streets you can find Christian churches, Indian churches, mosques, Buddhist temples and Taoist temples, which sometimes even appear on the both ends of the same street, where they co-exist in great harmony. And such success owes inseparably to the religious and national policy of the country. First of all, the Government stipulates that in the construction of housing units residents must be distributed according to the national composition ratio, so that residents of all ethnic groups are dispersed to facilitate exchange and integration. Secondly, the Government attaches importance to the role of religious churches as a third-party organization. Each residential area is established with religious sites, so that when a major event occurs in the country, ten prestigious religious leaders will be invited to call on the masses to pray for the people. Finally, it is important that Singapore defined its people’s religious freedom in the form of legislation and forbade publishing any remarks with racial or religious discrimination. Under the control of the Government, the three races live in harmony with each other, making joint efforts to construct a prosperous Singapore.

 

It’s been more than 10 days after the tour to Singapore by the time this report is done. The training tour has become a history, and the sound and smile of our teachers will fade eventually. However, the inspirations Singapore brought to me will stay and become a part of my knowledge reserve, which is probably the biggest gain of my visit.

 

Ye Yang

Written in the night of June 14, 2017, Yijing Garden

Tel: +86 021 65908896

Email: mpa@mail.shufe.edu.cn

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