Singapore can be an effective launch pad for Chinese digital companies to expand into the region, says Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.
He noted yesterday that the growing middle class in Asean and the large number of new Internet users are creating opportunities for companies to target consumers through the digital economy.
About 194 million new Internet users are expected to come online in Asean by 2020, with digitisation projected to generate an annual economic impact of $625 billion by 2030.
Mr Iswaran told the inaugural China-Singapore Digital Economy Forum that the digital sector will also be a key area of focus for the Committee on the Future Economy.
Led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, the committee will develop strategies to ensure Singapore stays competitive.
The digital era offers interesting opportunities for our two countries. It is a unique opportunity for our companies to combine their strengths for mutual benefit in this sector, which is rich in potential.
MR S. ISWARAN, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry)
Mr Iswaran noted that Chinese companies could leverage on Singapore's established infocomm technology infrastructure and capabilities, deep knowledge of Asean and a growing ecosystem of leading digital companies.
There is also immense potential and synergy for Chinese and Singapore companies to co-develop and implement new technology solutions for the region, he added.
SingPost and Chinese Internet giant Alibaba's collaboration to establish an e-commerce logistics platform for the region is one such example. The platform will help retailers deliver their goods to regional customers more efficiently, and help small logistics providers raise their productivity.
Mr Iswaran also cited the example of the Alipay Flashpay transport card devised by Nets and Alipay that Chinese tourists can use in Singapore.
The card can be bought in China using the mobile Alipay Wallet and funds not used can be transferred back into the Alipay account - in yuan - after the card is returned.
"The digital era offers interesting opportunities for our two countries. It is a unique opportunity for our companies to combine their strengths for mutual benefit in this sector, which is rich in potential," the minister added.
The forum, held at the Pan Pacific Hotel, was co-organised by IE Singapore, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and Cyberspace Administration of China.
It attracted 250 companies from Singapore and China, including Ctrip, China's leading online travel service provider. Ctrip co-founder Fan Min told The Straits Times that it invested $15 million to set up its regional headquarters here last year.
"While the domestic Chinese market is big, the Asia-Pacific market is even bigger," said Mr Fan in Mandarin.
"Our regional headquarters in Singapore will help us reach out to markets in the region, including countries in Asean as well as India."
Mr Fan noted that Ctrip "has done fairly well" within China, and it is time to expand beyond the mainland.
Its hotel department in the Singapore office is already up and running, and its headcount of 15 here will be doubled this year.
China's recent slowdown may have hit the big incentive tours organised by the state-owned enterprises, but Mr Fan is still predicting strong double-digit growth for the tourism industry this year.
"There's not much of an impact on independent travellers. They want to go out there to see the world, and there are still many who have not done so," said Mr Fan.
"There is still a lot of room for expansion."