Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event at The Float @ Marina Bay on 15 February 2022

Speech by Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth & Second Minister for Law at the Total Defence Day Commemoration Event at The Float @ Marina Bay on 15 February 2022


Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow Soldiers,
A very good morning to all of you.


Today is Chap Goh Mei, or Yuan Xiao Jie. It is typically celebrated as the last day of the Lunar New Year, with a full moon marking end of two weeks of celebrations or festivities. But also on this day, same day, 80 years ago, instead of celebrating Lunar New Year, Singapore came under Japanese rule as the British surrendered. It was then the first day of the Lunar New Year that year. But it was also the start of one of the darkest periods in Singapore's history. What followed was three years and seven months of hardship. Despite all odds, it was with a combination of grit and gumption that our pioneers survived the Japanese Occupation.

It is why we choose this day, today, to commemorate Total Defence Day – to remember that we only have ourselves to rely on, that we alone bear the responsibility of defending Singapore, and keeping Singapore secure and sovereign.

SAF Weapon Presentation Ceremony

This Floating Platform bears significance to our wartime past. During the Japanese Occupation, civilians and prisoners of war were forced to march from the city centre here to Changi. So we stand here remembering our commitment to military defence, the reason behind the institution of National Service. This year, we also mark the 55th anniversary of National Service. Our recruits from the Basic Military Training Centre, BMTC, who are here with us will be receiving their SAR21 rifles. This moment signifies their transition to adulthood and with it, the duty of defending and safeguarding Singapore, our home and our future.

To the recruits, I wish you all the best in your Basic Military Training. Work hard, stay determined, and look forward to the day that you become operationally-ready soldiers, ready to join the ranks with other soldiers to stand up and defend Singapore. I hope that every one of you will find meaning in your honourable duty: to ensure that no Singaporean has to live under the rule of another nation again.

The Significance of Total Defence

As part of our efforts to preserve our heritage and to keep our sense of who we are, we will be gazetting Fort Siloso as a National Monument. Built to defend Singapore from a seaward attack in the south, it was however not enough to prevent an invasion from the north. It is a reminder that more must be done to defend Singapore from all sides of attack. It is also a reminder that there must be defence against all types of threats, and that is why we have Total Defence.

Total Defence is more than defending our country against armed conflict from external aggressors and provocations. It is also about our people coming together, with a shared spirit, to contribute to the common good, persevering through our challenges, our trials and our threats, and recognising that military might and superior firepower is not our only threat. Past threats to Singapore have indeed come from different forms – from the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the spectre of terrorism after 9/11, and of course, to the SARS outbreak in 2003 and even today, as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. But through all of this, the spirit of solidarity and strength behind Total Defence has been, and will continue to be, the key to our fight against adversities and our continued thriving as a nation. It has allowed our pioneers to prevail against all odds, and it will allow us to overcome our current challenges.

We have seen this best demonstrated in our fight against COVID-19. There were no doubt darker moments, but within which silver linings emerged. We saw the best being brought out in our community, as people came together to protect one another, look after and care for one another, and especially putting the needs of the vulnerable, our seniors and our frail ahead of everyone else. Circuit breaker and heightened alert periods tested our mental resilience, but we stayed hopeful and optimistic, supporting one another. We reinforced our Psychological Defence by taking part in various activities to signify our solidarity, such as singing National Day songs together and cheering our frontliners with words of encouragement and support.

I know it is a long battle, but as long as we continue to care for the people around us, we will emerge stronger than before. I am confident, that together, we will prevail against COVID-19.

I'm sure all of you know that threats to Singapore will only continue to evolve. With greater digitalisation, we will have to combat disinformation campaigns, cyber-attacks, and of course, most recently in the headlines, scams. We must be alert to how these operations can sow distrust and erode the bonds that we have built up in our community amongst Singaporeans, with each other and also with our institutions in Singapore. Our Social Defence therefore depends on us staying united, as we strengthen trust with one another. We must continue to have the fighting spirit to press on even in difficult moments, by being resilient and coming together to overcoming crises.

As part of the Total Defence Day activities this year, Sport Singapore, and Nexus, MINDEF have conceptualised The GameOn Nila! Total Defence Trail. I will be launching the trail later this morning and I encourage all of you to explore the trail with your family and your friends. The trail features various sights and landmarks that represents the pillars of Total Defence and actions that we take to keep Singapore safe, strong and independent. In fact, the floating platform that we stand on today is one of the six locations on this Total Defence Trail!


So, on that note, as I conclude, look around Singapore's city skyline around us, look at what we have built over the years, and let us reflect on the lessons from the fall of Singapore 80 years ago today, and the struggles and sacrifices that we have made – our forefathers have made – to get us here to where we are today. Let us stand united with confidence and purpose, to keep our nation strong and free. I wish all of you the very best.

Thank you very much.

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