As the biggest beneficiary of the ASEAN ecosystem, Singapore’s population should be the most appreciative of ASEAN among the 10 member states. Instead, quite shockingly, we have the least appreciative population. Ambassador Tommy Koh (Law ’61) provided evidence of this in his excellent article on Singapore and ASEAN in The Straits Times on 9 January 2018. As he said, “Only 77 per cent of the Singaporeans surveyed had a favourable or very favourable view of ASEAN, compared with 85 per cent for all ASEAN countries.” This figure does not make sense. We have the best-educated population in ASEAN. We are the biggest beneficiaries of ASEAN. Logically, we should rank first among the ASEAN populations in appreciating the ASEAN miracle. Instead, as Ambassador Tommy Koh says, it is “disappointing to read that in a survey carried out by research agency Blackbox recently, the Singapore public ranks last in its favourable attitude towards ASEAN.” This simple fact alone should lead Singaporeans to engage in deep reflection on why education has not led to enlightened public attitudes in Singapore.
To reinforce this point, let me also cite the evidence of our lack of social responsibility at the global level. As a regular participant in many global conferences, I know that there is now a clear consensus among the best-educated and most thoughtful elites in the world that climate change is real. All over the world, people are trying to change their behaviour, making small individual contributions to mitigating the effects of climate change. They are also demonstrating their commitment to various environmental causes to make the world a better place.
Amazingly, despite our well-educated population, we do not lead the pack when it comes to global citizenship in the environmental realm. Rwanda is much poorer than Singapore. Indeed, its dream is to become the Singapore of Africa. Yet the population of Rwanda has accepted a ban on plastic bags while the Singaporean population has made no effort to even reduce usage. China has a long way to go before its level of public education reaches that of Singapore. Yet, President Xi Jinping stole a march on Singapore by banning shark’s fin from all official banquets of the Chinese Communist Party. As a society, we have not followed suit in discouraging the consumption of shark’s fin.