SM Tharman on China, Singapore as resilience hub for companies and Covid-19

SINGAPORE – Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam gave his take on several issues during a virtual dialogue at the Singapore Tech Forum on Thursday (Nov 19).

The forum, a global industry and networking even in its third-year running, is organised by the Singapore Global Network – a division of the Economic Development Board – and the Government Technology Agency (GovTech).

Economic reconfiguration and China

Contrary to what some might think, globalisation is not on the decline. Instead, what the global economy is seeing is a reconfiguration as a result of China’s evolution, said Mr Tharman.

China’s economy is growing and its capabilities are getting stronger, which means that it can produce more goods for export.

“And that might give the impression of some waning of globalisation. But actually, it’s the same story – it’s about a country that’s emerging and moving up the global value curve and creating more value for itself and others,” said Mr Tharman, noting that China’s exports are stronger than ever, even amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The global economy is still the future, he said, noting that big tech companies still set up offices in different parts of the world and have teams internationally.

The coronavirus might have thrown a spanner in the works for some of these firms in terms of international expansion, but Mr Tharman said the pandemic has also accelerated real-time unified global management, where companies are managed not by individual sites but as a whole.

This, he added, is possible through data flows, which are global and instantaneous, making them efficient.

Singapore as an international resilience hub

Covid-19 has made clear the need for hubs which international companies can count on to continue doing business in a stable manner, even amidst unprecedented challenges.

Mr Tharman said different kinds of hubs are already present all around the world.

Some are hubs of talent, some hubs reflect reliable collaboration opportunities between businesses and their governments, and some are connectivity hubs that facilitate links to other stakeholders internationally.

But what companies could also be seeking now are resilience hubs – places where they can feel assured that despite any disruptions, their businesses will be able to continue.

Singapore’s aim is to be a multi-faceted hub that corporations can rely on to steer them through crises like the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Tharman said.

“Our future is as a hub – a hub for talent, local and foreign; a hub that is connected to the rest of the world as efficiently as possible, and where data in particular flows in and out without friction; but also a hub in the new sense that is very important, which is about resilience – predictable, reliable, and resilient,” he added.

Covid-19 and belief in the public good

An emerging differentiator between countries arising from the pandemic is whether people believe in civic-mindedness, or what Mr Tharman referred to as the “public good”.

Societies like Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and New Zealand have managed to bring their infection numbers to low levels because their people respect the public good, the senior minister noted.

If people think that wearing face masks or respecting norms to keep Covid-19 at bay are less important than their own personal rights, everyone is going to be worse off in a society, he added.

“Your chances of succumbing to Covid-19 are much greater if people think it’s just a matter of free choice and independent individual preferences. But if you believe in the public good, in everyone playing their part, then everyone is better off,” he said.

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