As the two Asian giants, China and India, grow in competitiveness and economic dominance, Singapore will have to zoom in on what it can do better than others, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.
This may be a daunting challenge, a question that has occurred to him "again and again, like a broken record", he said at a forum yesterday, but ultimately, he believes the rise of China and India are positive for Singapore.
Mr Goh was speaking at a dialogue at The Arts House, the first in a six-forum series called Pioneering the Future, organised by The EDB Society and The Straits Times.
"I see the rise of China as being very positive," Mr Goh said. "China wants to be an open economy. It emphasises a peaceful rise."
As for India, it has the potential to grow and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been active at getting things done and shaking up the bureaucracy, he noted.
These developments mean China and India will eventually become very competitive in every field, but will also open up business opportunities for Singapore firms, he said.
"I think China, for the foreseeable future, will still need Singapore. China will take a long time to build up a certain brand name that we have in Singapore, so the Singapore brand is very important," Mr Goh said.
"So maybe outside China... if we can go together with China, lend them the Singapore brand, ride on China's talent and innovation, we could do something."
Singapore firms can also seize opportunities sure to be created through the China-led "One Belt, One Road" initiative. Largely aimed at developing the region's infrastructure, the initiative can ultimately do much more than that, he noted.
"When I went to China... they were thinking about infrastructure, transportation development. But we pointed out that the belt and the road should be much more than just physical infrastructure, it should be about air connectivity, financial services and cultural exchange."
Singapore also has three government-to-government projects in China - in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing - offering opportunities to Singapore firms that want to venture into these growth markets.
Similarly in India, Singapore is already involved in building whole cities there and more opportunities will arise as the economy reforms. Also, if India opens up its aviation sector, Singapore would be a natural hub for people flying between India and destinations such as Australia, China and Hong Kong, he said.
The launch of the Asean Economic Community and a planned integration of financial services in the region also hold much promise.
"It's not just about tapping deposits, wealth management and private banking. We can create a quality regional infrastructure which can serve all countries. The most sophisticated products in financial technology can be created here. We can be the centre and China and India will plug in."