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Singapore and Hong Kong compete, but also mutually benefit from each other: Ong Ye Kung

Singapore and Hong Kong compete, but also mutually benefit from each other: Ong Ye Kung
Composite image of the skylines of Hong Kong (left) and Singapore. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace and AP/Yong Teck Lim)

SINGAPORE: While Singapore and Hong Kong’s companies and sectors compete, they also mutually benefit from each other to an even greater extent - both strategically and in the long term, said Singapore Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Nov 3).

Speaking at the inaugural South China Morning Post Hong Kong-ASEAN Summit which he attended virtually and was one of the keynote speakers, Mr Ong described the relationship between Singapore and Hong Kong as one of “mutual symbiosis”.

“Many comparisons have been made between Singapore and Hong Kong. The popular narrative is to paint us as zero-sum competitor(s). But I think this is a narrow and inaccurate view,” he explained.

“Rather, I think there is mutual symbiosis in the Singapore-Hong Kong relationship.”

Mr Ong said that supply chains, production capabilities and markets, as well as people relations are all “closely intertwined” across the world and between cities. Singapore-Hong Kong relations need to be seen from that perspective, he added.

Pre-pandemic, Hong Kong was Singapore’s fifth largest trading partner and seventh largest investment destination, while Singapore was Hong Kong’s fifth largest trading partner, he pointed out.

“COVID-19 struck at the heart of our economic survival, and our identity as vibrant international cities. We had to work together to keep hope alive and revive our cities. Through our combined efforts, we kept our ports running and sustained trade inputs,” Mr Ong explained.

As a result, total merchandise trade between Singapore and Hong Kong grew by over 24 per cent year-on-year in 2021, he added.

In the midst of the pandemic, both cities also concluded they needed to try and fight the virus, as well as open up safe passages to the outside world. And the Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble (ATB) was set up, said Mr Ong.

“Although the ATB did not succeed, there was no regret. The viability of our economies was at stake and we must put up a good fight. If we can turn back the clock, I think we will do this all over again,” he added.

“During the crisis, Singapore and Hong Kong realised that we are fundamentally kindred spirits and bulwarks of the globalised economy and the international financial system.” 

SUGGESTIONS TO STRENGTHEN PARTNERSHIPS

In his speech, Mr Ong also listed a few suggestions to strengthen partnerships between Singapore and Hong Kong.

For one, both parties can continue to champion free trade and investment flows within their regions and also facilitate “closer integration” between these regions. 

“One significant initiative is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest Free Trade Agreement. Singapore strongly supports Hong Kong’s application to join the RCEP as an international financial, shipping and trading centre, and a key gateway for Mainland China,” he explained.

Both Singapore and Hong Kong must also continue to invest in their young, so that the next generation of students, professionals and entrepreneurs from the two cities can build up friendships and bonds and form a network, Mr Ong added

When it comes to health, there is also room for collaboration, said Mr Ong.

“We have entered a new phase of the pandemic, where multiple variants are circulating in each society. They will combine and evolve, which means that there will be divergence in experiences and societal resilience in different parts of the world, including Hong Kong and Singapore,” he said.

“As international cities, we are the canaries in the mine - very likely the first, to encounter new variants and pathogens, and what we do in response is an important reference to the rest of the world. Singapore and Hong Kong can work together to strengthen our detection of variants and analysis of the level of societal resilience to them.”

Mr Ong added that both sides should fully re-establish the linkages between trading, financial, aviation and shipping hubs to restore pre-COVID-19 trade and people flows. And Hong Kong’s relaxation of quarantine requirements for travellers is a “welcome step” in this direction, he added.

Mr Ong said that he was very glad that Hong Kong made such a move.

“It is never easy, having developed that sense of security with tight pandemic social restrictions and border controls. Yet in our hearts we know that such stringent measures are not sustainable, especially for international cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong. There needs to be resumption of travel for our economies to be viable, to be vibrant again,” Mr Ong added.

“With hybrid resilience built up through vaccinations and safe recovery from the virus – and the two must go together – we can progressively open up our society and economy.”

Source: CNA/mt(ac)

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