S'pore 'must stay ahead or risk losing hub status'

SBF chief calls on firms to play role in China's One Belt, One Road plan

Singapore firms in sectors like logistics and finance can expect to benefit from China's One Belt, One Road strategy, although the city state must continue building on its strengths to stay ahead or risk being bypassed as a hub, said Singapore Business Federation chairman (SBF) Teo Siong Seng.

"Other countries also want to have the centre role in this plan so we must think about how to... play our part," he said.

"Our market is very small and we are not a big export or import market to China. We can easily be bypassed so we need to stay relevant in terms of hardware, such as our port and airport, and also to ensure that our banking system keeps ahead," he told The Sunday Times.

Mr Teo was speaking yesterday on the sidelines of the Singapore Seminar on the second day of the 12th China-Asean Expo, an annual trade fair held in Nanning, the capital of southern Guangxi region.

The forum, organised by SBF and with speakers from government agencies like IE Singapore, pitched the Republic as an important hub in China's efforts to revive the ancient Silk Road and as a springboard to Asean.

BUILDING ON STRENGTHS

Our market is very small... We can easily be bypassed so we need to stay relevant in terms of hardware, such as our port and airport, and also to ensure that our banking system keeps ahead.

MR TEO SIONG SENG, Singapore Business Federation chairman

Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the One Belt, One Road initiative is meant to spur economic development along a land route and a maritime one that links China with South-east Asia, Africa and Europe. But it has been met with scepticism and suspicion by some who see the plan as an attempt by China to supplant the United States as Asia's predominant power. In this area - so far driven exclusively by the Chinese - Singapore can step up to provide thought leadership, Mr Teo noted.

"Singapore is a neutral place; we are also an East-meets-West destination and can help the Chinese better understand the feelings of Asean states and use Singapore as a platform to exchange ideas."

Some 33 Singapore firms, like Nanyang Old Coffee, Khong Guan Biscuit and DBS Bank, are showcasing the Republic's products and services at the four-day expo.

While fears of a slowdown in the Chinese economy are growing, Mr Lim Eng Lam, 48, managing director of Nanyang Old Coffee, said he is still looking to the Chinese market for growth opportunities.

"We've had many business inquiries from China... We think it will not be affected much by the economic slowdown," he said.

Still, he is taking precautions. The firm is looking to enter the Chinese market from a second-tier city where costs are lower and where adjustments can be made.

Mr Teo noted that the slowdown could also provide new opportunities. "China is now relooking the businesses it wants to go into and also at overseas markets. Hopefully, they can work with Singapore firms to go into third countries," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore 'must stay ahead or risk losing hub status''. Print Edition | Subscribe