SINGAPORE (June 21): Building unity from a diverse society is more important than ever given the current era of “unprecedented levels of global trade, technological advancement and human migration,” says Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

And while global trade has benefitted many, Heng – who is also Finance Minister – points out that it has also sharpened the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

At the same time, fault lines have developed between segments of society on the back of the uncertainties and anxieties generated as a result of the disruption of industries and jobs by new technologies.

Speaking at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies on June 21, Heng says this has been exacerbated by falsehoods that cause nationalism and intolerance.

“Throughout human history, we have had diverse societies. Not all have been peaceful, but many of those that embraced their diversity thrived,” he says, pointing to how the Malacca Sultanate in the 15th century was “remarkably cosmopolitan”.

Yet, Singapore’s demography is shifting. For instance, Heng notes that there has been an increase in interfaith families with different religious beliefs as well as more individuals who do not identify with a religion.

“We must learn to include their perspectives in our discourses,” says Heng, who is touted to be Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister.

On a global level, he believes that the same stance on cohesiveness should be applied to tackle common challenges such as global warming, global security, global growth and sustainable development. Problem can be dealt with more effectively if countries worked together, he says.

“The foundation for this is mutual trust, respect, deeper understanding and harmony,” Heng says. “To combat extremist and intolerant views, we must work together to create an ever widening ripple of understanding, trust and respect.”