Singapore remains open to the world in an environment with ‘every temptation’ to turn inwards: PM Lee
SINGAPORE: Singapore remains open and connected to the world, although it is not easy to sustain this in an environment with “every temptation” to turn inwards, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Mar 25).
Speaking at the official opening of technology company Dyson’s new global headquarters at St James Power Station, the Prime Minister noted that the conflict in Ukraine may escalate, and even if that is avoided, the war will still “fundamentally change” multilateral economic cooperation.
“With sanctions and export controls increasingly prevalent, it will be more and more difficult for all countries to keep up trade and investment flows within such a multilateral framework, given their political differences,” said Mr Lee.
“It’s not just continuing to do business with somebody whom you have disagreements or disputes with, but wanting to cut out and do harm to somebody whom you see as an opponent, even an enemy. And that means a multilateral framework in which everybody can fit in and work together and co-exist will come under enormous strain.
“Many countries are already on-shoring supply chains for resilience and national security reasons. These are serious threats to Singapore, which has long thrived on globalisation and on a stable, rules-based international order.”
Although there are limits to what a small country can do to influence global trends, Singapore must adapt to them to stay competitive and continue growing its economy, said the Prime Minister.
“We remain open and connected to the world. And this means not just physical connectivity, keeping our borders open, trading with the world, building our air and sea links, all of which we are doing,” said Mr Lee.
The ethos of Singapore’s society must also remain open, welcoming new ideas and talent, learning from others and “never becoming resistant to change” or complacent about needing to stay ahead, he added.
“This is how we have built Singapore. Drawing in the best scientists, designers and engineers from around the world, embracing the diversity of ideas and cultures that congregate here, adding our own Singapore touch to make it work in our context,” said the Prime Minister.
“It is not easy to sustain this, particularly in an environment where there is every temptation, especially politically, to turn inwards and raise barriers to the outside world, to non-Singaporeans who come to work here.
“But if we succumb to the temptation to close our doors, we will surely end up hurting ourselves. Our economy will stagnate, Singaporeans will have fewer rather than more job opportunities, and the country’s long-term prospects will be endangered.”
BUILDING CULTURE OF INNOVATION
Singapore must also continue building a culture of innovation throughout its economy, with close collaboration across industry partners, researchers and government agencies, said Mr Lee.
Under the Research Innovation and Enterprise 2025 Plan, Singapore has committed to investing S$25 billion in these areas between 2021 to 2025, with one third allocated to basic research.
“This builds on earlier sustained R&D investments, which have built up our universities, research institutes and academic medical centres into internationally well-regarded establishments, and fostered many partnerships between enterprises and public research institutes to generate innovative products, services and solutions,” said the Prime Minister.
“We will work closely with industry partners like Dyson to strengthen translational research so that the fruits of our R&D can be developed into products and services to grow our economy.”
Singapore will also continue to welcome and develop talent, especially in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), said Mr Lee.
The Government has introduced new options to promote STEM education, including offering undergraduates internship opportunities at A*STAR research institutes, allowing graduate students to enrol in industry-relevant doctoral degree programmes, as well as introducing a multi-disciplinary curriculum in institutes of higher learning, he added.
Most recently, the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Engineering merged with the School of Design and Environment to form the College of Design and Engineering, noted Mr Lee.
“I hope that young Singaporeans will be inspired by science and technology and go on to be explorers, inventors and pioneers of their generation.”
Staying open and connected to the world, building a culture of innovation as well as welcoming and developing talent are all “important strategies” to build a more vibrant and dynamic economy, said Mr Lee.
“But for Singapore to continue to prosper, beyond getting our economic strategies right, we must also pay close attention to our social policies,” he added.
“Even as we bring in investments and talents to grow Singapore’s economy, we must ensure that this growth is inclusive and lifts everybody up.
“That Singaporeans across all segments of our society can benefit from the fruits of the growth. That those at risk of being left behind are given an extra helping hand, and those who may be displaced or disrupted by technological change are assisted and trained to stay employable and productive.”
Budget 2022 aims to build a “fairer and more inclusive” society, making sure that there is “something for everyone” while providing a little more support to those who need it, said Mr Lee.
“Because ultimately, everyone must have a stake in Singapore’s growth so that Singaporeans will support keeping our country open,” he added.
“(And) will continue to welcome others who are keen to fit in and play a part in our society, who are able to contribute to our development and thereby enable us to maintain the virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity that Singaporeans now enjoy.”