THE government will continue to renew the Singapore economy to keep it productive, enterprising and innovative, and with a more vibrant economy, Singaporeans will be able pursue dreams, chart fulfilling careers and lead meaningful lives, President Halimah Yacob said on Monday.
She was delivering her maiden address as head of state to a packed chamber at the opening of the second session of the 13th Parliament.
In the speech drafted mainly by Singapore's fourth-generation (4G) leaders, she set out the government's priorities and plans for the remainder of its current term of office. The address follows a major Cabinet reshuffle, which put several young ministers in charge of new portfolios.
President Halimah said one of the government's four key priorities is to ensure that the city-state remains a nation of opportunities for Singaporeans.
"To achieve this, we are prepared to adapt to changing economic conditions, embrace technology and continually upgrade our skills and knowledge," she said.
This comes as investments in research and development bear fruit, enabling Singapore to exploit deep technology and digitalisation, create a Smart Nation, and build and scale up new products and services.
Singapore's innovation ecosystem will strongly support entrepreneurship and further develop the start-up scene in areas such as artificial intelligence, financial technology (FinTech), advanced manufacturing, bioscience and more, she said.
Companies will also play a "major role" in economic restructuring. "We will build a strong base of local firms with the capabilities to succeed both at home and abroad. Our enterprises must develop a strong culture of collaboration, especially when overseas," she said.
The government will also invest heavily in people. "We are changing the way we educate and prepare Singaporeans for life, putting less emphasis on grades, and more on skills and the ability to adapt to a dynamic external environment," she said.
The next key priority is the need to "secure Singapore's place in this changing world".
"Against the tide of rising protectionism, we must champion free trade and explore new opportunities to collaborate with others," she said.
"We seek to be friends with as many countries as possible. In particular, we will work for good relations with both the US and China."
She noted that the US remains an "important strategic partner" for Singapore, and the cooperation between the two countries will be enhanced in the years ahead.
As for China, she said Singapore's relationship with the world's second largest economy is "deep and productive", and the two sides will continue to collaborate.
Asean was not left out. President Halimah said the government will strive for an open and inclusive regional order, with all the major powers engaged. "We will work with regional partners to strengthen Asean centrality and unity, and do our part to prevent the build-up of tensions in the South China Sea."
The third key priority of the government is to build a well-connected, world-class city. Sustainable development will be a key consideration.
The government will renew the HDB heartlands and invest heavily in new MRT infrastructure; there are also plans to make Singapore a "car-lite" city, to create a greener and better living environment and to reduce carbon emissions, she said.
The final key priority of the government is to forge a more cohesive, caring and inclusive society. It will do so by tackling inequality, and paying attention to the growing population of elderly and the needs of various segments of society.
President Halimah also outlined the challenges facing Singapore.
The rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse bodes well for Singapore, but much depends on the relationship between the US and China, which underpins regional and global peace and security, she said.
"As China's strength grows and America's interests evolve, both sides will need to manage the inevitable rivalries and disagreements, and exercise foresight and restraint," she said.
"Trade frictions are just one aspect of US-China bilateral tensions that affect the rest of the world - especially small, open economies like ours."
Regional tensions are another area to look out for, with new developments in the Korean peninsula, she noted. Terrorism remains a clear and present danger as well.
She described relations with immediate neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia as stable and multi-faceted.
"We must tend these bilateral relationships carefully, especially during election seasons, and avoid becoming embroiled in their domestic politics," she said.
President Halimah spoke on domestic developments that could tear the fabric of Singapore society: "We have seen income inequality and social stratification break the social compact in many countries.
"Religious polarisation, xenophobia and extreme nationalism are also divisive forces that have grown stronger in many parts of the world. The cyber space is being used to spread falsehoods and misinformation, and to sow distrust within societies."
In such an uncertain and volatile world, leadership will continue to make a critical difference to Singapore, she said.
She exhorted the 4G leaders to "fire up and mobilise the spirit and energy of young Singaporeans", as a new generation comes of age.
"The trust between the people and their leaders is not automatically passed on from one generation to the next," she said, stating that the right to lead must be earned.
"Together, the new generation will keep Singapore an exceptional nation," she concluded.
The Parliament will debate on the President's address for a week, starting on Monday.