ESM Goh Chok Tong: Singapore, Kazakhstan can work together as regional hubs

ESM Goh Chok Tong with Kazakhstan Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev on Monday.
ESM Goh Chok Tong with Kazakhstan Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev on Monday.PHOTO: MFA

Singapore and Kazakhstan can work together to maximise each other's strengths as hubs for their respective regions, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said.

Mr Goh, who is on a visit to the Central Asian country, was speaking to members of Kazakhstan's Senate yesterday on "Turning Vulnerabilities Into Strengths, Turning Resources Into Wealth".

On Monday, he met Kazakh Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev and thanked him for his country's support for the proposed Singapore-Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) Free Trade Agreement.

Yesterday, Mr Goh was hosted to lunch by Senate chairman Kassym- Jomart Tokayev. They discussed ways to enhance cooperation in various areas, including the economy.

In his Senate address, Mr Goh noted that while their two countries are "at two ends of the spectrum" in size, both economies are complementary and share similarities in vision and strategy.

Singapore seeks to strengthen economic ties with Kazakhstan through a bilateral investment treaty and the EAEU FTA.

"Beyond Singaporean companies investing in Kazakhstan, we should also explore ways to leverage on Singapore's reputation as an international financial centre, and encourage other Asian corporations to bring investments into Kazakhstan through Singapore," he said.

Mr Goh said there is scope to cooperate in Central Asia on China's One Belt One Road initiative to revive the Silk Road trading routes and boost regional connectivity.

"Both Singapore and Kazakhstan are key nodes on the New Silk Road," he said, noting that Singapore is already working with China on the government-led Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Singapore also openly shares its experience in public governance and capacity-building, and Mr Goh was happy that Nazarbayev University had established "a strong partnership" with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to create a public policy programme.

He shared three insights from his 14 years as PM: the importance of human resources, of building strong institutions, and of strong leadership. There is no resource as valuable and integral to nation-building as investing in its people, he said.

And building institutions is "key to unleashing the full potential of the state and the people", he added, citing how Singapore's organs of state give both foreign investors and citizens long-term confidence.

As for leadership, Mr Goh said: "It provides the vision for the future, the inspiration to unite the people, the steel to enforce discipline, the organisation to deliver results, and the political skill to trade off competing demands."

But strong leadership is hard to achieve and sustain, he said.

And replicating Singapore's governance model may not be the best way forward for Kazakhstan, given differences in demographics, culture, history and context, he said.

"This chamber knows best to distil best practices and experiences from all over the world, in order to evolve its own system of governance and path of development."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'ESM Goh: S'pore, Kazakhstan can work together as regional hubs'. Print Edition | Subscribe