DAVOS-KLOSTERS, Switzerland: Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has urged Singaporeans to stay united in the face of rising global headwinds and populism.
He said on Friday (Jan 25) that the sense of unity and solidarity has been lost in many parts of the world as communities grow increasingly fragmented.
Mr Heng said that people who feel that globalisation has not benefited them are finding ways to stop it and that has had a negative impact on political systems.
"The political system is such that in order to win votes, people fragment, and the politicians, the candidates make promises which by the time they get into office, they find they cannot fulfill or they will fulfill at a great cost to (future) generations. This is a rather negative development of politics in all parts of the world," he said in an interview with Singapore media at the end of his four-day trip in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
“I think it’s very important for us in Singapore to have the right governance system and for our people to understand that fragmentation in order to pursue ... special interests will be very harmful in the end for our well-being.”
One way to keep Singaporeans united, according to Mr Heng, is to continue to put a strong emphasis on the country’s education system and to encourage all to embrace lifelong learning.
“Our young people need to be a lot more open to the world. We need to build cross-cultural literacy. To understand the region better and the world better, and for us to work in close partnership with people around the world,” he said.
He added that more still needs to be done by companies in restructuring and raising the capabilities of workers, emphasising that lifelong learning needs to “not just be a slogan, but a reality”.
“WE NEED TO GET OUR ACT TOGETHER QUICKLY”: HENG ON US-CHINA TRADE TENSIONS
At the forum, Mr Heng spoke at length about US-China trade tensions during his panel sessions and at meetings with Chinese, American and European leaders.
“There is also increasing recognition that this is not a trade issue. This is a ... longer-term issue of strategic competition, and it’s important that this competition does not become a strategic rivalry because that can be very destabilising for the region and the whole world,” he said.
Mr Heng said he spoke to a number of European leaders in Davos and they told him that there are rising concerns over slower growth in their economies as a result of Brexit and the rise of populism in Europe.
“Many of the leaders are concerned that we need to do something about this and we need to get our act together quickly,” he said.
To this end, Mr Heng said Singapore is well-equipped to ride out these trade risks – thanks to trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will provide continued support and momentum for globalisation.
Structural reform is also key – and in Singapore’s case, Mr Heng said the Republic has used the Industry Transformation Maps to transform and restructure the economy.
He added that in doing so, as part of Singapore’s long-term strategy, it will strengthen key sectors so that they remain globally competitive.
SINGAPORE’S ROLE IN CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT
Mr Heng also added that Singapore needs to engage multilateral organisations like the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to advance global economic growth, with a particular emphasis on infrastructure development, which is key to unlocking development potential.
He said Singapore can play a key role with its Infrastructure Asia initiative, which is aimed at providing Asian emerging nations with banking and legal services for infrastructure projects.
“Infrastructure Asia is a major initiative that we have launched and I believe we can make very good progress by working with World Bank and like-minded governments and companies in order to advance this agenda, and to make sure that infrastructure is investable and the yields of public return, both public social returns and private returns," he said.
He added that there were many proposals from leaders around the world to work with Singapore.
“I am glad that Singapore is held in high regard by many leaders around the world ... I hope to be able to take this forward in the coming months," he said.