Singapore looks to work with Japan on rules for digital economy

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat leaving after his speech at the Nikkei Future of Asia conference in Tokyo on Thursday, where he called on the US and China to "work out a model of constructive cooperation". PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat leaving after his speech at the Nikkei Future of Asia conference in Tokyo on Thursday, where he called on the US and China to "work out a model of constructive cooperation". PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

DPM says Japan's priorities at G-20 Summit dovetail with Singapore's interests

A digital economy will need new rules that can support digital transactions across borders in different industries, as well as to address concerns about privacy and data security, visiting Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This was an area that the Republic was looking forward to working more closely with Japan, he said.

He cited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to formulate data governance rules under the so-called "Osaka Track" at the Group of 20 leaders' summit in Osaka this month, which Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is slated to attend.

"Data governance is a very forward-looking initiative," Mr Heng told Singapore media in an interview at the end of his three-day visit to Tokyo. "If data is going to be key to the function of the digital economy, then data governance in privacy, the preservation of trust and the security of data - all these are going to be critical elements to maintain public trust and confidence in the digital economy."

During his visit, Mr Heng spoke at the 25th Nikkei Future of Asia conference at which he called on the United States and China to "work out a model of constructive cooperation" amid their hardening positions. He also met Mr Abe and his Japanese counterpart, Mr Taro Aso, on Thursday, and Foreign Minister Taro Kono last night.

Mr Heng said yesterday that Japan's priorities at the G-20 Summit this month - areas of free trade, infrastructure and the digital economy - dovetail with Singapore's interests.

Further, to withstand the global uncertainties, Singapore should maintain its sense of unity, continue to diversify and deepen its global economic engagements, emphasise science, technology and innovation, as well as focus on developing its people, Mr Heng said.

 
 
 

On trade, the Deputy Prime Minister said: "We can't just wait, we should take specific action and look at ways in which we can sustain the momentum for trade (and) investment liberalisation across many different sectors."

In this regard, multilateral deals such as the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, involving Asean as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, are crucial, he said, noting that free trade has benefited the region substantially.

Though he declined to "set an arbitrary date" when asked about the completion of the agreement, he said it was good that the countries had set a target to conclude the pact by this year.

"We should take a very practical approach and make whatever progress we can make, because if we aim for the ideal agreement, it may never happen," he said.

But that does not mean negotiators should aim low, he added.

"We should aim high, but at the same time take into account the needs of all the members to conclude one which is satisfactory to all," he said.

"There has to be a lot of give and take because particularly in multilateral negotiations involving so many nations, it is not possible for one country to be able to satisfy everything it wants."

On infrastructure development, Mr Heng said Singapore is well-poised to play a key role through its Infrastructure Asia office - an initiative that facilitates the development, financing and implementation of infrastructure projects in the region.

He also said Singapore is keen on Japan's Society 5.0 super-smart society initiative that, at its heart, is a focus on the people.

Given that both Japan and Singapore have ageing populations, Mr Heng said: "It is very important for us to think of new ways in which we can serve our seniors better through digital technology."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore looks to work with Japan on rules for digital economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe