Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Innovation and traditional strengths key to Singapore's role in China's Belt and Road Initiative: Heng Swee Keat

China's innovation buzz creating more opportunities, says Heng
Reading the pulse of tech scene, he says the unique strengths of Singapore will come in handy
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2017

There is a palpable buzz in the innovation scene in China, and opportunities are growing for Singaporeans to learn from and collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Singapore also has unique strengths, such as in legal and finance, that it should capitalise on to get a slice of the opportunities created by China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Mr Heng told reporters at the close of his five-day trip to Suzhou and Beijing.

"I must say that it is a place that is full of buzz and full of young entrepreneurs as well as older ones who are working very well to think about what is the next stage of growth, what they can contribute and how they can better use technology to improve lives," he said. "I hope that we too can make a contribution in that area."

Reading the pulse of China's tech scene was a key goal of the trip for Mr Heng, who is the first minister from Singapore to visit China after last month's key party congress that put in place the country's top leadership for the next five years.

Among the places he visited were the Tsinghua University Science Park, where he saw the university's built-in ecosystem for turning ideas into commercial products, and Didi Chuxing's office, where he was briefed on how the ride-hailing giant uses big data and analytics with local governments to improve traffic flows.

He also officiated at the finals of a tech summit where nine start-ups, including three from Singapore, pitched their ideas to investors.

China's push for greater innovation also comes through various levels of its government, said Mr Heng, who met senior officials such as his counterpart Xiao Jie and Jiangsu party secretary Lou Qinjian during his trip.

"An area they have given a lot of thought to is the promotion of innovation - this is a topic that came across very strongly in all my meetings, both at the provincial level, as well as at the central government level," he said.

With more Chinese companies today looking at going global, a network of deep linkages with innovation hubs across the world is necessary to encourage more of them to use Singapore as a base for their internationalisation efforts.

To this end, the Global Innovation Alliance, which was launched in Beijing last Friday, will give Singapore entrepreneurs a chance to understand the Chinese market and build relationships, while serving as a sort of satellite campus for students to be exposed to China and "understand the buzz" happening here.

Mr Heng also said more Singaporeans need to be encouraged to go abroad "because the more they understand what is happening around our region and the global economy, the better prepared they will be to take on important roles ahead".

"Singaporeans - with our emphasis on bilingual education, with our emphasis on understanding a broad range of areas, a broad range of subjects - are actually very well placed to do this."

Singapore's traditional strengths also mean it can be a role player in the BRI to build infrastructure across much of the region, he added.

For instance, it can help write the rules setting out clearly the role of multilateral development banks like the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, structure projects so that risks are well understood and financing is sound across different stages, and standardise contracts to build predictability and lessen risk.

Getting the legal instruments right, such as for contracting parties to use a neutral body to be the dispute resolution centre, is also key, said Mr Heng.

Singapore aims to be this international arbitration hub, with the Ministry of Law working hard on this front, he added.

"If we can do this well, it will have a major impact," Mr Heng said, adding that the Government is also looking at different ways to expand trade flows, such as through trade and investment agreements and regulatory coordination.

Mr Heng said that as Asean chair next year, Singapore will look at ways to drive greater cooperation in new technologies, digitalisation and creative solutions.

It has designated 2018 as the Asean-China Year of Innovation.

Singapore will also seek to promote deeper understanding between the Chinese and the peoples of Asean, he said.

"The more our economies are closely integrated together, the more our security is interdependent, the more important it is for us to understand people from around the region and promote that friendship (all) across," he said.

Singapore-China ties in good stead to meet challenges: Heng Swee Keat
Heng Swee Keat urges cooperation to tackle issues such as ageing workforce, disruption
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 26 Nov 2017

The enduring relationship between China and Singapore presents an opportunity for both countries to tackle together key problems of the future, including an ageing workforce and technological disruption.

In an address to 200 Chinese students at Tsinghua University yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat described the fast greying populations, especially in Asia, as a critical issue, saying this would mean higher healthcare expenditures.

Slowing labour force growth would also mean a smaller pool of taxpayers supporting more elderly people, which in turn would affect the fiscal health of countries and impact growth. Technology, while presenting new opportunities, would also lead to some skills becoming redundant and jobs lost. Productivity was still growing, but at a slower rate.

Finally, income inequality and other fault lines had weakened social cohesion in many parts of the world, which has led to growing frustration with ruling elites, who have in turn made globalisation "an easy scapegoat", said Mr Heng.

In a 35-minute speech at the university's School of Economics and Management, he laid out three principles and five areas for closer Singapore-China cooperation to tackle problems likely to bedevil the global economy in the next decade.

The first principle is to move with the times and ensure cooperation stays relevant for both sides.

"As our countries progress, our cooperation will have to evolve to meet new needs and interests to remain relevant," said Mr Heng.

The second is to collaborate through all-round partnerships and seek new frontiers. Mr Heng pointed out that the two economies are becoming more interconnected, while technological advances present new opportunities for teaming up. "We need to remain open to new ideas, and seek new areas of partnership," he said.

The third principle is to build on each other's strengths and form win-win partnerships. "By learning from one another, drawing on our respective strengths, we can achieve mutual benefits," said Mr Heng. "In turn, we can build our ties in substantial and fruitful ways."

He also listed the five areas of potential cooperation: trade, innovation, finance, people-to-people ties and environmental sustainability.

Mr Heng said that with the right policies, future challenges can be turned into opportunities for Singapore and China to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth. "The challenges which I've talked about are complex - and especially so for China, a nation of more than 1.3 billion. As tomorrow's leaders in business and government, the future is in your hands," he told the audience.

"Moving forward, there will be increasing cooperation at the government, business and people-to-people levels to meet evolving needs and form all-round, win-win partnerships."

Mr Heng is on a five-day visit to China which started on Wednesday. He is accompanied by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon, officials from the ministries of Finance, Education, and Trade and Industry, and IE Singapore.

The Sunday Times, 26 Nov 2017

In his speech at Tsinghua University yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined five areas of potential cooperation between Singapore and China.

1. TRADE. As the Asean Chair next year, Singapore is committed to working towards the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

2 INNOVATION. Singapore and China have been partnering each other in areas relevant to both sides, including national science programmes and university collaborations. Singapore firms are actively engaging the Chinese market to testbed new ideas and build experience with large-scale projects.

3 FINANCIAL COOPERATION. Singapore has been an early supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative. With a strong financial hub and professional services base, Singapore will support the ventures along the Belt and Road.

4 PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE EXCHANGES. There are cross-cultural learning and exchanges between schools, universities and research institutes, including collaborations with Tsinghua University. Prominent groups such as the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Beijing People's Art Theatre perform regularly in both countries. Singaporeans Joanna Dong and Nathan Hartono entered the finals of Sing! China to compete with and be inspired by the best talents in China, and vice versa. ''I'm sure they have their own fan base in China now!'' said Mr Heng.

5 ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY. Citing the Tianjin Eco-city as an example, Mr Heng said collaboration in this area has broadened to include sustainable and innovative city-planning and urban solutions. Singapore companies are also learning from China's experiences in renewable energy and cleantech.


Right approach needed to meet the challenge of disruption from technologies: Heng Swee Keat
Make the most of disruption, and minimise harm
It is about creating value, he tells students at Tsinghua University
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 26 Nov 2017

New technologies will have an impact on a wide range of sectors and jobs, but there are ways to respond to make the most of the coming disruption while minimising harm, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Responding to questions from students of Tsinghua University, Mr Heng said a more globally integrated and digital economy means competition can come from totally unanticipated sources, pointing to home-sharing firm Airbnb, for example, which now has the largest network of "hotels" in the world.

Other sectors that are seeing significant change include manufacturing and finance, where fintech (financial services using innovative technology) firms threaten to disrupt banks.

"I believe that the digital economy will cause a lot of changes in many sectors, not just in the financial sector but in practically every sector that you think about," he said.

Cryptocurrencies, for instance, have the potential to cut out the middleman in sectors where they have long played the role of a trusted go-between. But it is their underlying technology, called blockchain, that has the potential to cause significant change to many industries, said Mr Heng.

"You now have a machine, an algorithm, that can be that trusted partner, and can match demand and supply much more efficiently," he said.

"It is something that is worth monitoring very closely, because it will have some impact on many transactions, particularly in the services industry, an industry which depends on a high level of trust."

But the disruption on the horizon is also about creating value and eliminating inefficiencies in the market, rather than disruption for its own sake, said Mr Heng.

"In the old days, many (fintech) companies said 'I'm going to disrupt the big companies'," he said.

"I noticed that many of them are now realising that there is also a lot of scope to work with major financial institutions, to match the strengths of existing financial institutions with the agility and innovativeness of a fintech to see what new value they can create."

Yesterday, Mr Heng also visited ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing, where he was shown how the ride-hailing platform was able to lessen traffic jams in gridlocked cities by sharing its data and analytics with local governments. The platform has also helped bus operators kept afloat by state subsidies become profitable again through on-demand services.

Answering a question about universal basic incomes, Mr Heng said it is important to have a better understanding of the future and to navigate carefully, adding that it is "very hazardous" to try and predict it.

On cashless payments, Mr Heng said Singapore started on the back foot but is now making an effort to catch up.

"We will continue to make some progress, but at the same time, we must never underestimate the pace of change, and we just have to move a little faster than before," he said

Mr Heng has met senior Chinese officials while on on a five-day visit to China, beginning last Wednesday.

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