An Academic Commentary on “Value Creation in a Time of Crisis” — Contextualizing an Annual Peace Proposal’s Relevance to Singapore

By Dr Lim Tai Wei

Encapsulated within this annual peace proposal is a macro global perspective on the outbreak of unprecedented urgent crises like the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the scientifically-determined scenario of climate changes. There is a sense of global urgency embedded in the peace proposal. The famous saying goes that ‘No Country is an Island’ in such massive global challenges, particularly a small island nation like Singapore which is even more vulnerable to such super-structural paradigm shifts. The author of the peace proposal, Dr Daisaku Ikeda, is eminently well-acquainted within the International Organizations (IO) circle and has led and mobilized the lay Buddhist organization SGI to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The peace proposal thus distils lessons from such mobilization to mitigate the impending grave conditions that the world now countenances.

Like many other nations, Singapore feels the onslaught of the pandemic but, at the same time, its coping mechanisms have performed comparatively well to mitigate the circumstances. And yet, it does not practice any beggar-thy-neighbour policies or vaccine nationalism by keeping channels of cooperation open with all great powers, middle powers and also its very neighbourhood of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. This converges with the spirit of the annual peace proposal which is making individual contributions to cumulatively make a global difference. It is something that Dr Ikeda and the collective voices of SGI puts across passionately in the proposal. Nothing more powerfully portrays Singapore’s aspirations and SGI/Dr Ikeda’s aspiration as this statement in the proposal: “The determination never to leave behind those struggling with challenges.” It is a motto that shows parallels in the two entities with the determination, that no one, regardless of standing or circumstances, should be burdened far more than others in the pandemic.

Both the Annual Peace Proposal and Singapore’s efforts have very much the vulnerable groups in mind. As SGI organization carry out work to help the affected individuals, the Republic of Singapore has provided oxygen tanks to relieve India’s oxygen shortage in the second wave. These are global acts of empathy and sheer co-sharing of global burdens to maintain the dignity of humankind, of fellow human beings without any divisions of boundaries, nationalities, race, religion or ethnicities. Dr Ikeda clearly reflects this in the Annual Peace Proposal when he highlighted: “I deeply share both of these concerns. If we allow such global inequities and distortions to continue unabated, this will inevitably leave more and more people behind, making it that much harder to envisage the post-COVID world we would want.”

In our Earth, there are two lungs of Mother Nature. They provide most of the oxygen to our eco-system. The Annual Peace Proposal highlights the important contributions made by the Soka Institute of the Amazon since September 2020 (established by Dr Ikeda along with other stakeholders) which is planting a tree to commemorate every COVID-19-fallen individual in Brazil as part of its Life Memorial project. This honours the victims and also serves to perpetuate reforestation and conserve the delicate Brazilian rainforest eco-system (an important ‘lung of the world). In the same way but on the other side of the world, Singapore has been contributing to combating the large forest fires in Indonesia (the other ‘lung of the world’) and also working with the stakeholders in Indonesian society, people and government to nurse Mother Earth’s “lungs” and breathing apparatus back into health.

The Annual Peace Proposal also mentioned about “containing the risks posed by extreme weather events or rising sea levels, for instance—that benefit all countries”. Indeed, rising sea level is an existential threat for Singapore as its visionary and farsighted government has put aside budget to build pumping stations on the island to mitigate rising sea levels affecting its shorelines. The Annual Peace Proposal and Singapore are alike in that way, both are visionary in managing problems before they arise and to nip existential threats in the bud. Globally, Singapore is not the only country under threat from rising sea levels, as major commercial and capital cities of the world, including Bangkok, Venice, Jakarta and many others have to fend off this global threat (with some like Maldives projected to be completely submerged in water by 2100.

Therefore, in terms of both climate change and the pandemic mitigation, Singapore and Dr Ikeda’s Annual Peace Proposal converge into the collective objectives of contributing their part to global crises. It suggests having peoples and nations to “transcend their differences and come together in solidarity to overcome the crisis”. Singapore holds out that goal, especially in working with the peoples and societies of ASEAN. Despite the devastating nature of the pandemic, no ASEAN countries adopted a beggar thy neighbour attitude and shut out the rest in the name of nationalism. Singapore offered its help and expertise to fellow ASEAN members, including sharing its electronic apps with other ASEAN neighbours. The element of solidarity is common to both Singapore and the Annual Peace Proposal. They both preach togetherness and not division. This is written into their DNAs.

In combating division, the Annual Peace Proposal mentioned: “The unchecked spread of misinformation or incitement, often referred to by the neologism “infodemic,” can intensify discrimination and prejudice, eroding the very foundations of human society. This is another kind of pandemic, one that parallels the spread of the actual disease”. This is why Singapore works hard to ensure that accurate information, including those of World Health Organization (WHO) are disseminated to people at large to prevent panic arising from misinformation. The Singaporean authorities also have POFMA to combat misinformation and falsehoods. The Annual Peace Proposal is visionary in that sense, given its concerns about the excesses of Industry 4.0 (the fourth Industrial Revolution) with digital technologies like social media that can reach large swathes of people almost instantaneously. Both the Annual Peace Proposal and the Singaporean authorities are keen to prevent fractures from emerging in society at large, in particular Singapore’s delicate multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.

Both Singapore and the Annual Peace Proposal are keen to see an end to racism and social injustice. Dr Ikeda articulated in the Proposal: “I believe the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the surface discriminatory attitudes already held by people in a semiconscious manner. As the pandemic has worsened, there is concern about the heightened risk that people, influenced by hate-filled discourse, will seek targets on whom to vent their pain and frustration”. Witness Miss Singapore’s Stop Asian Hate national costume decked out in Singapore’s national colours at Miss Universe 2021; it is a powerful symbol and expression of the need to stop any groups from being targeted for discrimination.

Besides macro-global perspectives, there are bilateral connections between the Annual Peace Proposal and Singapore as well. In the past, Singapore and Japan had come together as one as Singaporean volunteers, officials and students contributed to the Great East Japan Earthquake’s recovery work while the Annual Peace Proposal mentioned it is important to enhance resilience of societies, a lesson learnt from the devastating experience of that Earthquake. Similarly, on that very theme of resilience, both Singapore (society and government) as well as the Annual Peace Proposal are already looking at the post-pandemic scenario, especially coping with the potential economic and/or geopolitical fallouts. They are ahead of the curve in contributing to global recovery.

Dr Lim Tai Wei is an Associate Professor at Soka University of Japan (SUJ). In SUJ, he teaches business subjects including sustainability studies, international business and multicultural management. SUJ promotes the goals of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also promotes Singapore-Japan student exchanges through General Programs (GP). As an East Asian area studies specialist, he is also a frequent media commentator on East Asian affairs.