SINGAPORE: It is no longer enough to bank on foreign direct investment (FDI) to develop Singapore's economy, even though the strategy of wooing multinational companies to set up bases here has been a major part of the country's growth model, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (Sep 14).
"Our economy is maturing and we are already pushing the limits of our land and manpower resources," he said. "In the meantime, technology is advancing rapidly, and our region is a booming market."
For Singapore's next phase of economic development, Mr Ong said the country must embrace innovation, develop new products and services, and nurture locally-based companies to expand regionally and worldwide.
This is one of several examples Mr Ong cited as he outlined the ways Singapore is remaking itself, in a speech at the Singapore Summit - an annual event where business leaders gather to discuss challenges to regional and global growth.
Mr Ong pointed out that across the world, "politics and governance are becoming more short term and populist".
"But in Singapore, we have chosen to keep our orientation firmly towards building for the long term," he added. "It is the only way that a small state can survive and do well."
To do well in innovation, Mr Ong said Singapore has been "patiently investing" in research and development (R&D), and attracting R&D centres and laboratories.
"These centres and labs are at the frontiers of technology, delivering innovation which has the potential to be commercialised, spun-off into enterprises which can grow and create jobs," he said.
In all, Mr Ong said Singapore now boasts a "new value proposition" that includes sustained investment in R&D, a well-educated local talent pool and a well-regulated yet enterprise-friendly environment.
"We also have a network of Free Trade Agreements – with ASEAN, US, China, India, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand. We’ve done well," he added.
In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Ong also touched on the country's healthcare and education policies.
During the question and answer session after his speech, he also spelled out the Government's stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.
On Wednesday, a man filed a court challenge against Singapore's law on gay sex, arguing that it is inconsistent with parts of the Constitution.
When an audience member asked how Singapore can be more inclusive to different segments of society, including the LGBT community, Mr Ong said "the fact is they live in Singapore peacefully".
"No discrimination against work, housing and education," he continued. "They go about their lives and therefore this is what we are."
However, Mr Ong said "the population of Singapore is split in its view" when it comes to legislative changes concerning LGBT issues, echoing Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam's view on the matter.
"It is also an issue of social mores and societal values," Mr Ong said. "We might be the largest animal in the jungle, but we are not the jungle. Some things we leave it to society to decide over time."