Minister Chan Chun Sing urges student leaders to build bridges
The world has made tremendous progress by being connected and the challenge facing the younger generation is to decide whether to build more bridges or erect walls that will stall development, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.
In a speech to open the annual Hwa Chong Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Summit, Mr Chan outlined how the "connectivity" of ideas, technology and trade have brought about an unprecedented level of progress and prosperity.
Addressing a group of 93 students and teachers from around the world, Mr Chan said their presence in Singapore was testimony to links forged over the past few decades. The student leaders will visit key institutions and meet government officials as part of the summit.
Recounting his days as a student at Britain's Cambridge University almost 30 years ago, Mr Chan said he communicated with his family only once a month by aerogramme - letter paper that could be folded into an envelope and took two weeks to reach Singapore via airmail.
Today, people communicate instantly through Skype and WhatsApp, while even developing countries are using mobile technology instead of landlines.
The rise of mobile banking is serving people in remote areas, he said, while medical research, manufacturing and film production have all become increasingly cross-border in nature.
But with greater connectivity comes disruption, and it is important for countries to help their businesses and workers adjust to the new reality, he said.
"Do we embrace integration? Or do we close our borders?" asked Mr Chan, noting that governments in the past faced the same pressures as they do today.
"In the 1920s, we didn't make a wise choice and ended up with the Great Depression, when countries and economies were fragmented."
His speech comes when globalisation is under siege and populist movements have gathered support across places such as Europe and the US.
Mr Chan encouraged his young audience to have courage and leadership to build bridges and realise the benefits of a globally integrated system.
Successive generations will never be able to experience the kind of prosperity and progress that people have enjoyed so far if the world continues to fragment, he warned.
Participants from 27 schools in the Asia Pacific, South Africa, Britain and the US are here until Friday.
They had tea at the Istana with President Halimah Yacob yesterday and will attend the third Hwa Chong Centennial Insights series tomorrow.
Former foreign minister George Yeo and Harvard University Professor Michael Puett will speak at this year's Insights on the theme of Wisdom of the East and West: A Global Future.