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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 SINGAPORE Globalizing on Its Own Terms Terence Chong Lee Hsien Loong's succession of Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister (PM) in August 2004 was long anticipated. It was thus unsurprising that political analysts spent 2005 dissecting the new PM's every public utterance for clues as to the character of his new administration. These analysts have endeavoured to describe and define the new Lee administration perhaps not just to distinguish it from the long shadow of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and the highly popular Senior Minister Goh, but also to decipher the People's Action Party (PAP) government's visions for Singapore at the dawn of the 21st century. In a one-party state with only three prime ministers since independence, it is tempting to see each transition as epochal even if the PAP government takes pains to spread the message of ideological continuity and political stability. It was thus inevitable that Lee's widely publicized inaugural "open and inclusive society" slogan would be contrasted with Goh's own "kinder, gentler society" tagline as though a national paradigm shift had quietly occurred between administrations. Given the growing demands of an increasingly cosmopolitan citizenry, Lee's slogan was interpreted by some to be a hint at further political liberalization, even prompting the Straits Times to herald in a "brave new Singapore"; one that was moving away from a "one-size-fits-all paradigm" in terms of government policies.1 Initial expectations of greater political liberalization have, however, at the close of 2005, been replaced by a more sober appreciation of the fact that the proposed "open and inclusive society" was never intended to signal democratic openness but, rather, societal acceptance of different personal and social achievements. By celebrating individuals who have wandered off the beaten track and achieved success in non-academic fields and non-mainstream careers, the message of the new Lee administration was that society no longer Terence Chong is Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. 266Terence Chong recognized just one peak of excellence but an entire mountain range, even as the traditional out-of-bounds markers continue to remain firmly installed. This of course begs the questions: Just how is an "open and inclusive society" different from a "kinder, gentler society"? Is it not the nature of a kinder, gentler society to be inclusive and embrace difference? Who decides on the acceptable level of openness and inclusiveness? What are we open to, and who do we include? Selective Globalization These open questions point to Singapore's policymaking challenges. If Singapore's policymaking style had to be summed up in a phrase, it would be the practice of selective globalization; that is, the conscious effort to encourage certain forms of globalization and to discourage others. For example, the government, on the one hand, encourages economic globalization through the synchronization of local financial regulations and polices with international standards while, on the other, energetically protects an Asian "conservative" society from the ills of satellite dishes, pornographic magazines, and other unwholesome global commodities. This constant oscillation between being globally open and locally particular has given rise to the Singapore paradox. The city-state enjoys its status as one of the most globalized countries in the world in terms of migration, global finance, and telecommunications, and yet regularly garners criticism from international human rights institutions for its insistence on practising its own brand of politics, whereby certain civil liberties are curtailed in view of local multiethnic and multireligious realities. The practice of selective globalization expresses the need to remain globally connected for the sake of nothing less than national survival, and the desire to retain certain notions of tradition and conservatism that protect specific dominant interests. 2005 has been a lesson in selective globalization. It has been a year in which the city-state duly served as a site for global events such as the Shangri-la Dialogues (3 to 5 June); Asia-Middle East Dialogues (20 to 22 June); and the International Olympic Committee meeting (6 July). The economic pact — Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) — signed between Singapore and India in June set the stage for the city-state's accelerated involvement in...


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pp. 263-282
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