NEW YORK: The world must try its best to resolve differences calmly and peacefully, as well as to appreciate the views of others, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Sep 24).

Only then, will mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for one another be built, especially in a world that is more diverse and interconnected, added the Prime Minister.

“Differences are more easily amplified, and people more readily take offence. Tensions and conflicts are prevalent not just between countries, races and religions, but also within them,” he said.

Mr Lee was speaking at United Nations (UN) event Leadership Matters – Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in the Contemporary World, which was hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to commemorate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.

Other leaders who spoke at the event include Mr Modi, Korean President Moon Jae-in, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Mr Lee also called on countries to contribute to global efforts in promoting this mutual understanding and respect, as Singapore has.

He gave the example of the International Conference on Cohesive Societies hosted by Singapore, where issues surrounding faith, identity and cohesion were discussed to promote understanding between different communities.

Mr Lee said there is much that world leaders and countries can learn from Gandhi’s ideas and ideals which have resonated with Singapore.

“If we take Gandhi’s message to heart, then we must try our best to resolve differences calmly and peacefully, appreciating the views of the other side, and without inflaming passions or hardening attitudes,” said Mr Lee. 

“In so doing, we will build mutual understanding, tolerance and respect for one another.”

He cited Gandhi’s firm belief in the intrinsic equality of every person, adding that Singapore was founded on this very principle.

“We became independent in 1965 because we wanted to be a country where everyone was treated equally, regardless of their race, language or religion. We continue to uphold that fundamental ideal.” said Mr Lee.

He added that Singapore continues to strengthen its social cohesion by expanding the common space shared by different racial and religious groups in Singapore.

“After Gandhi died and was cremated, Singapore had the honour of receiving part of his ashes. The ashes were immersed at sea, in accordance with Hindu custom, two miles from the southern tip of Singapore,” said Mr Lee.

“Last year, Prime Minister Modi visited Singapore, and unveiled a plaque to mark this spot.” 

Mr Lee added: “There are other places in Singapore which honour Gandhi’s legacy. Such as a memorial which is home to our Hindi Society, and a Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Universal Values in one of our schools. 

“But beyond these physical traces, Gandhi’s ideas and ideals have resonated and endured.”

On Mr Lee’s second full day of meetings in New York, he held talks with Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Ugandan Prime Minster Ruhakana Rugunda and the President of Panama Laurentino Cortizo. 

Mr Cortizo welcomed the growing presence of Singapore companies in Panama, including in the sectors of maritime and port operations, and information technology. 

Both leaders exchanged views on potential new areas in which to deepen cooperation, notably in education, infrastructure, logistics development and urban solutions.