Sunday 13 November 2011

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the APEC 2011 CEO Summit: Future is in openness

Best for Singapore to integrate closely with Asia-Pac region, stay attractive to talent
By Chua Chin Hon, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2011

With Asia-Pacific economies geared for rapid growth in the coming decades, Singapore can best position itself for future success by integrating closely with the region and staying attractive to talent at home and abroad, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday.

He noted that the best way to stay ahead in the increasingly competitive regional environment was with greater openness, rather than protectionism.

'I don't think it is possible for us to have a closed group and say we will work within this group and we will develop our economies together,' he told top business leaders and officials at a business forum.

'We have to bring talent and companies from around the world so they can work with the people you have (domestically) in order to spawn new centres of ideas and prosperity. The future is in openness rather than in a limited pool of competition.'

He was speaking on the topic 'The Future - Redefined' at the event held on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

Greater openness is certainly on the agenda for world leaders gathering in Hawaii this weekend, as they look to use the annual APEC meetings to boost free trade and economic integration. The economies of the 21-member grouping already account for over half of global economic output and 43 per cent of world trade.

With the US economy stuck in neutral and Europe mired in an escalating debt crisis, many are also looking to the Asia-Pacific to help sustain global economic growth.

But if questions posed to Mr Lee and his two co-panellists - Mr John Lechleiter and Mr Dennis Nally, the respective CEOs of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers - are any indication, the general optimism about the region's economic future is not without dark spots.

Specifically, some entrepreneurs and academics asked: Can China manage its growing pains - be it its heated property sector or the acrimonious economic spats with the US - and sustain its stellar economic performance? And how can smaller or weaker economies compete against the mainland economic juggernaut?

Mr Lee, who said he expected the region to perform well as long as China's development and relations with the rest of the world remained on track, stressed that the mainland's economic rise inevitably brought both opportunities and challenges.

To stay competitive, countries in the region have to continuously raise the quality of their workforces through education and try to attract the best talent from around the world, he added.

'(Singapore) has constraints because we are so small, if we just open our doors, we would be completely swarmed,' said Mr Lee. 'But for talent, for people who can make a contribution, I think our doors need always be open.'

But economic success will also bring its own set of challenges, the panellists noted. For one, a more educated and assertive middle class would increasingly question or even challenge the government's decisions and policies.

In the Singapore context, Mr Lee noted, the need to constantly fit new infrastructure and communal facilities into a small crowded island can sometimes clash with the residents' desire to preserve the tranquillity or property value of their estates.

In China, residents have also risen up in protest against plans to build petrochemical plants near their homes. Faced with these new socio-economic pressures, policymakers in the region will have to adjust and adapt, he noted.

But when asked whether such developments would dilute authoritarian rule in China, he quipped: 'I'm sure the nature of the government will have to adjust (but) I don't think they are going to have Democratic or Republican primaries anytime soon.'

Mr Lee, who arrived in Honolulu last Thursday, held talks with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard on Friday afternoon. He also met Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen to discuss education, the impact of social media on government-citizen relationships and other topics.

What would you do if you were 25 all over again?

Asked this question by moderator Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of Associated Press, PM Lee told a business summit in Hawaii that he would spend time in three of the most economically vibrant parts of the world:

'I would spend some time in America, particularly in Silicon Valley where you have one of the brightest constellations of talents who believe they can change the world and are trying very hard.

'I would spend time in China, to understand them and how they are going to impact on the rest of us from first-hand experience, by knowing the culture, the language, and the people.

'I think I would spend some time also in India. It has a lot of talent, a lot of energy, and many complicated social and political problems to solve. But learning how they tackle these problems will be useful in other context.

'And having done that, I would come back to Singapore, because I'm Singaporean and I belong there, and I hope some of these (experiences) will be useful.'

West-to-East shift on the horizon
All will have to adapt, challenge is in making change peaceful and constructive: PM Lee
By Chua Chin Hon, The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2011

The shift in the global centre of gravity from the West to the East would be the biggest long-term trend that businesses and governments around the world have to adapt to in future, said visiting Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

While there are hopes that this transition would be a constructive, win-win process, there is also the danger that it could become an ill-tempered affair marked by souring relationships and 'bad outcomes', he noted.

Foremost in many people's minds is the prospect of conflict between a rising China and the United States as they clash over, say, supremacy in the Asia-Pacific.

Modern history certainly has no shortage of examples of how relationships between rising nations and incumbent powers can go wrong, he said.

'It has happened before, we hope it doesn't happen again,' Mr Lee said last Friday at a major business forum held on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.

'The Chinese are certainly aware of how the Japanese came unstuck in the Pacific war. They've studied the Germans, they've studied the previous empires. They know they shouldn't go in that direction,' he said.

'Whether a new generation of young Chinese who have grown up in a stable, self-confident country realise it quite acutely and will be as careful and restrained remains to be seen.'

While APEC leaders gathering in Hawaii are focusing primarily on economic issues, the region's strategic outlook has come into sharp focus as well, following Washington's announcement of its intention to 'pivot' towards the Asia-Pacific after years of relative neglect.

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, top US diplomat Hillary Clinton reiterated the Obama administration's plan to 'lock in a substantially increased investment - diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise' over the coming decades to build a new trans-Pacific architecture.

Some, however, doubt whether the US has the wherewithal to carry this out, given the multitude of crises it has to deal with at home and abroad. Deep budget cuts on the horizon could also severely limit the administration's options on this front.

So is Washington serious about this strategic 'pivot'? Mr Lee said he believed that the US is well aware of the stakes it has in the Asia-Pacific.

But as a 'hyper-power', America cannot focus exclusively on one region either.

'(The US) has interests all over the world. Asia is an important part of the world, but not the only part,' said Mr Lee.

'So we have to share you with other preoccupations. But with this administration, you've made a very big effort, and I'm sure as time passes and as Asia's weight grows, your attention would be here.'

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