Published: 01 August 2019
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean
Senior Parliamentary Secretaries Amrin Amin and Sun Xueling,
Colleagues and guests
1. Good afternoon. The theme of this year’s National Day is "Our Singapore". We are celebrating 54 years of independence. It happens that this is also the year of our Bicentennial.
2. 200 years ago, Raffles chose Singapore to set up a free port. However, our history began well before 1819. It is believed that Sang Nila Utama first set foot on Singapore shores in 1299. That means our history stretches back at least some 700 years. But 1819 was an important turning point. It set Singapore on a new path.
3. It was never a given that we could distinguish ourselves from the many islands in South East Asia, but we did. What makes this little red dot "Our Singapore"? How did we get from Singapore to Singaporean? As a young nation, what do we believe defines us as a people?
4. The team behind the Bicentennial pondered these important questions. We consulted many people who had thought deeply or carried out careful research. No two persons had exactly the same views but there were common traits identified.
5. First, our openness to people, trade, and investment, which allowed us to surpass our natural limitations and prosper. Second, our multiculturalism with a focus on racial and religious harmony, which promotes peace and stability, and undergirds our national identity. Third, our belief in self-determination, that binds us together to overcome adversity and be masters of our own fate.
6. These traits continue to be important for our survival and success. But they also point to the challenges we face, particularly for the Home Team.
7. Our openness brings both economic opportunities, and security risks. Many people cross our borders daily – about 600,000 people pass through our air, land and sea checkpoints every day. We welcome people here to work or to play. But not everyone passing through or into Singapore has our interests at heart. Our borders must be the first line of defence against criminal or terrorist activities.
8. Sometimes, a few of the people we allow into Singapore may pose dangers to our security. Last month, we took action against several Myanmar nationals working here. They were using Singapore as a platform to organise and gather support for armed violence against the Myanmar government. We deported them quickly. Events like these do not mean that we should close our borders, but we need to be vigilant to who is allowed to stay here. Our hospitality should not be exploited to the detriment of our own people.
9. Next, our multicultural society can be disrupted by hate speech, deliberate insults and even thoughtless remarks. Careless words can go viral in an instant, and our racial harmony can be easily undone. Recently, there were allegations that our Police officers target Malays in their checks at MRT stations. These baseless allegations can stir up racial tensions, and damage people’s confidence in the Home Team.
10. Extremist ideology is another threat. Terrorists can easily spread their propaganda online, and people can become self-radicalised. Terrorist groups like ISIS continue to attract supporters here. We must not take our religious harmony for granted, especially when peaceful countries like New Zealand have suffered attacks.
11. Our capacity for self-determination can also be weakened. Our open, diverse and digitally-connected country is vulnerable to foreign interference. We must not be naïve and believe otherwise. No country is immune, least of all when its citizens participate actively in social media’s global networks.
12. There are countries where foreign interference has damaged social cohesion, eroded trust, and undermined national sovereignty. In the US, foreign actors tried to affect the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election. They used fake social media accounts to comment on divisive issues such as race, LGBT rights and gun control, stirring up emotions and sparking protests and riots. In the UK, foreign-linked social media accounts put out a stream of anti-immigrant narratives, swaying opinion on immigration policy.
13. Such foreign interference can happen in Singapore. If we do not guard against it, we are at risk of being manipulated; our fates may no longer be in our own hands.
Securing Singapore’s future
14. To secure Singapore’s future, we must protect Singapore’s interest, and against these threats.
15. First, our borders must remain open, yet secure. New technology can help with this. Biometrics technology using iris and facial images can speed up security clearance, and allow ICA officers to focus on identifying suspicious persons. Within our borders, we will use our network of sensors to locate and apprehend criminals swiftly. We will set up the new Home Team Science & Technology Agency, to strengthen our capabilities and capacity to develop new, cutting-edge solutions for the Home Team.
16. Second, we must redouble our efforts against hate speech and attempts to break our social cohesion. We will update the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, to strengthen our levers against elements that may harm our religious harmony. We must also be vigilant about terrorist activity, and build resilience against extremism. SGSecure initiatives can help to raise awareness of the early signs of self-radicalisation, and engage friends and family as the first line of defence.
17. Finally, we must take very seriously the threat of foreign interference in our domestic politics. We cannot allow foreign actors to sway our decisions, and control our destiny. We must nurture a digitally literate, discerning public. We must also update our legal framework with powers to expose the covert behaviour of foreign actors, and act swiftly against their attempts to mislead and divide our society, and to weaken and damage Singapore.
18. As we celebrate National Day and mark our Bicentennial, let us remember, and recommit, to maintain our openness, multiculturalism, and spirit of self-determination.
19. Today, we will also take the opportunity to honour our recipients of the Minister of Home Affairs National Day Awards. Among the recipients of the awards are Home Team colleagues who have inspired us with your professionalism and dedication. Others are members of the public who have demonstrated selflessness and bravery in saving lives, helping others and keeping our communities safe.
20. Our Singapore is for all of us to defend. To keep it safe and secure, and home that we will always feel comfortable in, every Home team officer’s effort makes a difference.
21. Our collective wish is naturally to have a happy National Day, not just for the present but for many more years to come. Our Singapore way is to work together not just to benefit the present generation, but to build up for future generations.
22. Thank you all for serving Singapore and Singaporeans! Happy National Day.