ST Global Forum: Singapore's ability to stay relevant to the world depends on staying open and united, says DPM Heng

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s economic success is underpinned by openness, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Monday (Jan 11), adding that as a small country, it cannot close up, as doing so means it will soon lose its value and relevance to the world.

This is why it is actively looking for ways to reopen safely while remaining vigilant of Covid-19, he added in his speech at the annual The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum.

While being small and open means Singapore feels the tugs of external events more keenly, being small has its advantages, said Mr Heng.

It can be more adaptable, flexible, and innovative in tapping opportunities brought about by global cooperation.

For instance, Singapore is exploring how it can serve the region as a marketplace for carbon credits, he added. It will also continue to invest in innovation, including in emergent areas like quantum computing.

But its ability to make the best of these opportunities and its relevance to the world ultimately depends on its strengths at home, he stressed.

“As we strive to remain open and grow, we must ensure that the benefits of growth are spread more equitably,” he said.

Singapore will help its businesses to transform, while attracting more companies to set up operations here. It will also invest significantly to bring out the best in its people, while complementing the workforce with expertise from abroad, he added.

“Above all, we must continue to strengthen national solidarity, and push back against the division and polarisation seen elsewhere,” he said.

Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, was reflecting on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and United States-China strategic rivalry globally and on Singapore. He was the keynote speaker at the conference organised by The Straits Times in partnership with presenting sponsor OCBC Premier Banking.

Earlier in his speech, he had outlined three areas of global cooperation – in public health, climate change, and digital governance – that were especially important as countries seek to rebuild after the pandemic, and called for Asean to stand together to advance its collective interests amid the backdrop of US-China competition.

Mr Heng said that while being small and open means feeling the effects of external events more keenly, especially as the multilateral system comes under pressure, Singapore can take advantage of opportunities such as in the fields of climate change and technology.

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Climate change is an existential threat for Singapore, but can also create new opportunities, he said.

As a global financial hub, it can contribute to a “green recovery” in Asia, through looking at how it can serve the region as a marketplace for high-quality carbon credits and providing technology-enabled verification systems for carbon solutions.

The tech sector is also a bright spot for businesses and workers in Singapore, he said, adding that it will continue to grow the tech and start-up ecosystem, nurturing unicorns like Sea and Grab.

“We will continue to invest in innovation, deepen our capabilities in technologies like AI, which already has widespread applications, and develop emergent areas like quantum computing,” he said.

Singapore will also continue to grow partnerships with tech giants from around the world.

But the ability to make the best of these opportunities and ensure Singapore’s relevance to the world ultimately depends on its strengths at home, Mr Heng said.

“The stronger we are at home, the more we can contribute to the global commons and create opportunities for Singaporeans.”

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