Economic growth not a 'zero-sum game': President Tony Tan Keng Yam

Visiting Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam (left) and Ambassador of Singapore to Japan Chin Siat Yoon, during the media wrap-up of Dr Tan's state visit to Japan on Tuesday (Dec 6).
Visiting Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam (left) and Ambassador of Singapore to Japan Chin Siat Yoon, during the media wrap-up of Dr Tan's state visit to Japan on Tuesday (Dec 6).ST PHOTO: WALTER SIM

TOKYO - Both Japan and Singapore have a "strong sharing of minds" on economic growth, which the two nations do not see as a zero-sum game, visiting Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Tuesday (Dec 6).

"The more we can see growth in our own country and in other countries, the better it is for everyone. So it's not a zero-sum game. It's a plus-sum game," Dr Tan told reporters at the end of a nine-day state visit to Japan.

This is why the two countries have been pursuing economic partnerships with other countries - including the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement (JSEPA) which is undergoing its third review to make it more open .

"Japan and Singapore are working together to ensure a trend of freer trade and liberalisation of the economy is not stalled or reversed. It's happening in some countries and that's not a good thing for us as a trading nation, for Japan as a trading nation," he said. "Both of us are a little worried about the isolationist views which will retard the world from growing further."

It is on this basis that Dr Tan stressed it is beneficial for Japan and Singapore to work towards the ratification of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Its future is now uncertain after Mr Donald Trump won the presidential election in the United States in November. He has said that he will disavow the pact.

Likewise, Dr Tan said the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will benefit both countries.

He also urged Japanese companies to use Singapore as a hub to expand into South-east Asia, especially with the 10-nation bloc establishing the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

"Japan is a very strong economic partner and it will benefit Asean to work very closely with it. Japan companies have technology, knowledge and expertise which will benefit all the Asean countries," Dr Tan said, stressing the fundamental nature of Japan-Asean ties.

During his state visit to Japan, he had a glimpse of Japan's "practical technology" innovations in robots and the Internet of Things that could be put to use in everyday life.

He also recalled the "very comfortable ride" on the Japanese shinkansen bullet train, which he took from and to Tokyo on his visits to Kyoto and Miyagi.

He said the shinkansen is well-known to be safe, reliable and efficient, and praised its punctuality as its "main selling point". Dr Tan welcomed Japan, as well as other countries, to put in competitive bids for the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur high-speed rail project when an international tender is called.

Dr Tan was also impressed by how Japan taps on technology to promote a sense of inclusivity, including helping the elderly and those with physical disabilities to become more mobile.

"We hope that we'll not only add years to your lives, but to add life to your years so that no matter how old you are, you can still make a contribution," he said, adding that this is one area Singapore can look towards Japan. "The point is not to look at ageing as a liability, but as an asset and an opportunity."

Japan, too, is looking towards Singapore, Dr Tan said, and one area is Singapore's experience in introducing integrated resorts and casinos.

Even as Japan’s Lower House of Parliament on Tuesday passed a Bill to legalise casinos, Dr Tan noted that there was much interest among Japanese parliamentarians in what Singapore has done to "balance the economic benefits with social issues which could arise."