Context Setting Session: Singapore - Our Sovereignty and Security

Context Setting Session: Singapore - Our Sovereignty and Security

The National Youth Council (NYC) and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) co-organised a context setting session on the theme “Singapore – Our Sovereignty and Security” on Friday, 31 March 2023, 10 am-12.30 pm, involving 73 youths from across three ITE colleges. The theme “Singapore – Our Sovereignty and Security” involved the following panellists:

  • Brigadier General (BG) Ng Pak Shun, Group Chief, Policy & Strategy, Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
  • Mr Kenneth Yeo Yaoren, Senior Analyst, International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) 

The session was moderated by Mr Azrin Hamdan, Digital Marketing Specialist at Hatch.

Snapshots from ITE Student Leaders Forum held at ITE College East on 31 March 2023

Here are the highlights of the session:

Context Setting by BG Ng Pak Shun

  • BG Ng said that “security” is the state of being free from different kinds of dangers, while “sovereignty” is the country’s ability to make its own decisions, and that Singapore ensures its security and sovereignty through its six pillars of defence: Military, Civil, Economic, Social, Digital and Psychological Defence.

Military and Civil Defence

  • BG Ng said that Singapore strongly condemned Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine as it was a clear and gross violation of international law and the UN Charter. He said that it was important for a small country like Singapore to make long-term and consistent investments in defence as Singapore’s security and sovereignty depend on Singaporeans’ willingness and capability to defend ourselves.

Economic Defence

  • BG Ng said that Singapore was vulnerable to contemporary threats like disruptions to our food supply chain. He said that Singapore imported most of its food, and it was necessary to ensure food security by not being over-reliant on one trade partner. BG Ng said that through innovation, Singapore would be able to remain resilient in times of supply disruptions and mentioned a project by culinary students from ITE College West to cook delicious meals using food with a long shelf-life.

Social, Digital and Psychological Defence

  • BG Ng said that online misinformation could significantly impact Singapore society. Beyond scams that could affect digitally-less-savvy Singaporeans, misinformation online could also decrease public confidence in the Government. For example, some TikTok videos claimed that Singaporeans did not agree with the Government’s condemnation of Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine when in reality, the majority of Singaporeans supported the Government’s stand.
  • BG Ng added that misinformation online could also result in terrorism and self-radicalisation. He said that research had identified online game servers dedicated to spreading extremist ideologies and encouraging violence and that youths were vulnerable to misinformation online that inaccurately portrayed sensitive issues, such as race and religion.
  • BG Ng said that as part of our digital defence to combat online misinformation, the Government had been working to improve the digital literacy of Singaporeans and encourage them to fact-check and report misinformation. 

Panel Dialogue

[Wordcloud Question on Slido] What do sovereignty and security mean to you?

  • Top responses were ‘Keeping Singapore safe’, ‘Authority’, and ‘Independence’.

 [Wordcloud Question on Slido] Why should youths care?

  • Top responses were ‘It’s our future’ and ‘We are the next generation’.
  • The future is directly dependent on the present; hence youths have to take action today to shape the future.

Participants asked (via Slido) about enduring and emerging threats to Singapore’s sovereignty.

  • Mr Yeo said that threats would always be present, but a cohesive society would make it easier for Singapore to manage international issues.
  • BG Ng said that Singapore’s small physical size has always been and would continue to be a constraint, making Singapore vulnerable to different threats. He added that all Singaporeans have a role to play in defending Singapore’s security and sovereignty against such threats.

An on-site participant asked about the measures to prevent youths from being exposed to extremist ideas and content, and if there was a need to strengthen school security measures.

  • Mr Yeo shared that 80% of Singaporeans detained for extremism were self-radicalised through believing in radical ideologies from external sources. He said that youths had to be discerning about the information that they were exposed to and think about the underlying motivations of such external parties. He added that it was important for schools to pay attention to students’ well-being and address feelings of negativity, as youths who feel oppressed would be more vulnerable to external influences that encourage violence to solve their problems.

An on-site participant asked how Singapore can identify potential threats to its national security, as Singapore is not part of any surveillance programs such as the Fourteen Eyes alliance.

  • BG Ng said that Singapore was not part of any international military alliance but recognised the importance of building and maintaining friendly relationships and partnerships with other countries. He added that the Government kept itself updated on the latest international developments to identify potential threats to its national security.

Participants asked (via Slido) if being on Russia’s blacklist threatened Singapore and how Singapore’s unique geographic position (i.e., located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula) affected its sovereignty and security.

  • BG Ng said that trade-offs came with each decision, and while larger nations might pressure Singapore to take a particular stand on international issues, Singapore would continue to abide by its principles. Hence, it was important for Singapore to continue investing in Total Defence to preserve our sovereignty and security.
  • Mr Yeo said that being a smaller nation, Singapore adopted different strategies to overcome and mitigate threats, such as being agile and building and managing diplomatic relations with other nations open to Singapore.
  • BG Ng said that Singapore’s geographical position allows it to facilitate a high level of connectivity in the air and maritime domains. He said that Singapore needed to remain competitive and safe to increase trade and create good employment opportunities for Singaporeans. 

Participants asked (via Slido) about the panellists’ thoughts on TikTok as a digital threat. 

  • BG Ng shared that social media platforms used algorithms to gather user information, including personal preferences, viewership and profile demographics. He said that if such algorithms and information were mishandled, bad actors could feed users with content containing radical ideologies and affect our national cohesion.  
  • Mr Yeo concurred that social media platforms could not differentiate extremist content from other content, and users must be vigilant in discerning the underlying purpose of the content that they are fed with.

Participants asked (via Slido) about Singapore’s cybersecurity investments and the measures to prevent future attacks. 

  • BG Ng said that the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore was responsible for putting in place appropriate guidelines and measures to protect Singapore from cybersecurity attacks. He added that the SAF had recently established the new Digital and Intelligence Service to address digital threats. Nevertheless, every Singapore must play his or her part to remain vigilant against digital threats and practise responsible use of digital devices.

Participants asked (via Slido) about Singapore’s food security and if Singapore could be self-sufficient despite land scarcity. 

  • BG Ng said that Singapore continued to invest in innovative ways to produce food amidst limited land, e.g., vertical farming and hydroponics, and aimed to sustainably produce 30% of Singaporeans’ nutritional needs by 2030.  
  • Mr Yeo added that he was proud of Singapore’s achievement in improving the number of water sources for all Singaporeans over the years. 

Participants asked (via Slido) if instilling the ‘kampong spirit’ among Singaporeans would help to strengthen Singapore’s sovereignty.

  • Mr Yeo said that instead of ‘kampong spirit’, Singaporeans should aspire to build a spirit of cohesion without the need for a physical ‘kampong’. BG Ng agreed that societal cohesion was key to Singapore’s social and psychological defence. 

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Context Setting Sessions on “Singapore – Our Sovereignty and Security” and “Singapore – Our Future”
Context Setting Session: Singapore – Our Future