SINGAPORE: Singapore, as a small state, must continue to be principled and neutral in its dealings with other countries as it looks to remain relevant to the outside world, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Monday (May 14).
Mr Chan, in his speech during the debate on the President’s address, pointed out that the relative shift of economic weight between the West and the East, as epitomised by the US and China, will define the global security and economic environment in the years to come.
As many ask which side should Singapore be on, the minister cautioned that that is not the right way to frame the issue.
“As a small country with an open economy, we believe in a rule-based, connected and interdependent world,” he said. “Our task is not in choosing sides.”
Small states, more than others, must be principled, Mr Chan went on. “If others attach a price to our stand and position, no one will take us seriously ever again.”
He pointed out that Singapore played host to historic meetings between China and Taiwan, such as the Xi Jinping and Ma Ying-jeou in 2015, and will also play host to the upcoming meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.
“Our principled stand and neutrality were some reasons why Singapore was chosen for these meetings,” the minister said.
NAVIGATING CHINA, USA
He also called on everyone – government, business and individuals – to understand the world and collectively remain alert to the forces impacting Singapore and to navigate them carefully.
He cited the example of China, saying that the country, as a fast-evolving giant, is “not monolithic”.
The country’s interests vary and differ across its security, economic and social dimensions and there are also different provinces and layers of government, each with their own perspectives and priorities.
These, he said, tells of two things: Firstly, to be relevant to China, there cannot be a reliance on old mindsets and solutions as it is not looking for “hand-me-down solutions”. Rather, it is looking to develop its own solutions to its unique challenges, sometimes internally and other times with partners, he said.
Secondly, knowing only China’s central government “will be necessary but not sufficient” given the different interests and perspectives.
“Now that China has moved beyond attracting foreign investments to venturing abroad, we must ask ourselves how we can play a role in partnership with the Chinese to explore third country markets,” Mr Chan said.
As for the US, he said that Singapore not only deepens collaboration through areas like smart city solutions and e-commerce, it is also looking to be a launchpad for American companies looking to grow in the region.
“What’s clear is that no one deals with Singapore for our domestic markets or resources alone,” Mr Chan said. “Instead, they leverage upon us as a platform to reach the region and the world.”
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
In order for Singapore to remain relevant and attractive, Mr Chan pointed out, there is a need to develop people with a deep understanding of the region and the world so we can create value when others do business with us.
The education system and training models must, therefore, evolve in tandem to support this, he added.
Citing Singapore Management University (SMU) as an example, the minister said students who join the varsity from August this year will need to participate in at least one overseas programme before they can graduate. He also called on other institutions follow in their footsteps of giving students a strong competitive edge.
The Trade and Industry Minister also shared that the Economic Development Board and associated agencies will collaborate to better organise and expand their reach overseas, and one initiative is to build a Singapore talent network to engage Singaporean families, friends and fans to be part of the Singapore Story.
He also called for Singaporeans to be able to work with talented people from elsewhere locally, saying the dynamism of foreign professionals with the skilled local workforce will “bring out the best in each other”.
Looking beyond our shores, Mr Chan said there is a need to better connect to the world as Singapore’s hinterland and gain access to resources and markets.
This means widening the portfolio of markets to diversify the risks, as well as going beyond the conventional dimensions of air, land and sea connectivity to areas like data, finance, talent and technology.
He added that as global production and supply chains shift, Singapore must stay agile to connect to these changes.
PSA was held up as such an example, with Mr Chan saying that rather than competing with other global ports in size, it updated its strategy to become a global port and supply chain operator and compete at the system and network level instead. He likened PSA’s function to having an Intel chip inside the global trade flow operations.
Ultimately, as Singapore’s economy matures and to achieve sustained economic growth, there is a need to venture out.
This is not just about giving Singaporeans the best opportunities here in Singapore, but also helping them to seize the opportunities beyond our shores, the minister said.