Total Defence campaign to focus on strengthening social cohesion

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This year's Total Defence campaign will focus on strengthening social cohesion and building the country's will to overcome threats that target people's heart and minds.

Terrorism, fake news campaigns and cyber attacks all "exploit the fault lines in our increasingly diverse multi-ethnic, multi-religious society", the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said yesterday.

"We will need everyone to step up and play their part to strengthen our unity, resilience and resolve in the face of external pressures," a spokesman said.

Singapore commemorates Total Defence Day today, the date the Japanese invaded the country during World War II.

Activities will emphasise the nation's five pillars of defence: economic, social, military, civil and psychological.

In his message yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant - even during Chinese New Year celebrations.

Ways to do so include reporting suspicious parcels in public places, alerting the authorities to help someone they suspect is being radicalised or helping to dispel fake news.

The country needs to do so to avoid repeating history, added Dr Ng, noting that the day Singapore fell in 1942 was during Chinese New Year.

"Hope was lost as the future seemed ominous and uncertain (then)," he said. "The battle was lost and so was Singapore."

This year's focus on social and psychological defences echoes Second Minister for Defence Ong Ye Kung's speech last month.

He had stressed the importance of psychological defence, especially during peacetime, at a meeting that is part of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue - the region's foremost defence summit.

Using Finland as an example, Mr Ong, who is also Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), said it has "a well-established social compact which forms the bedrock of social cohesion and psychological resilience of a people".

Fake news is increasingly undermining Singapore's social fabric and unity, he said.

"The techniques used are sophisticated, to give the illusion of public interest, legitimacy and support for the falsehoods and influencing public opinion."


Beating fake news is also on the agenda of Colonel Joseph Tan Boon Kiat, who runs Nexus, the Mindef department responsible for Total Defence and National Education.

He said: "Singaporeans have stood together and weathered crises such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (in 2003) and haze, with many individuals and groups stepping up to lend a helping hand."

But the new threats warrant a further strengthening in Singapore's social and psychological defences, he said.