What Suu Kyi can learn from S'pore: Creating racial harmony

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong laughing with a group of children during the Racial Harmony Day celebrations held at his Teck Ghee ward on 21 July 2012.

I agree with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi that Myanmar must forge its own path as an independent state to add to the "diversity of the world" instead of imitating others.

I also welcome her interest to delve deeper into the relevance of Singapore's education system to her country.

She may just be as pleasantly surprised by the eclectic holism of human development here as she was by the warmth of Singaporeans towards her recent visit.

Bilateral relations must be built on mutual respect, understanding, and trust, as well as eschew stereotypes conjured up by outsiders who are often more interested in spinning a tale that validates their bias, instead of cultivating a deeper knowledge of the similarities and differences between countries.

Unlike Myanmar, Singapore is a very small city-state with no natural resources, and hence can ill afford to be as relaxed as a richly endowed country that is many times its size in terms of geography and population.

Despite this, and as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate may know, the island nation is often very quick to render help when a natural disaster hits a neighbouring country, be it a cyclone in Myanmar, tsunami in Thailand, or earthquakes in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Other forms of assistance across the region by Singapore-based organisations like the Singapore International Foundation, the Temasek Foundation, the Singapore Red Cross, and Mercy Relief also deserve mention.

Perhaps, if there is one thing that Ms Suu Kyi, her supporters and Myanmar may wish to learn from Singapore above all else, it is about nurturing a harmonious multicultural society.

I believe no country in the world can claim to dedicate as much effort to protect the rights of its ethnic and religious minorities as the Republic.

National identity in Singapore evolves from the shared values among races, and is not defined by the country's dominant race, which is very often the case elsewhere in the world.

Without such a social basis, political and economic development in whatever shape or form - including democracy and capitalism - will always ring hollow.

Toh Cheng Seong, Reader


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