Singapore wants to remain open to both China and US: Chan Chun Sing

It aims to be a neutral place where Europe, US and China can do economic activities, he says

Singapore is looking for a middle ground so it can remain open to both the United States and China amid increasing tensions between the world's two largest economies.

The "stay neutral" strategy was outlined by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who said yesterday: "Our role is to keep asking ourselves how we can value-add to China and the US at the same time.

"We play in a space where we want to remain neutral, remain open so that this is a place where US, China, Europe can come, be engaged and conduct productive economic activities - and I think that is how we position ourselves."

Mr Chan also pointed to the challenges Singapore faces beyond those thrown up by the escalating trade conflict.

"Trade frictions - those are perhaps just at the surface. There are wider issues that have to do with the technology competition and, even wider than that, perhaps geo-strategic competition," he said of the US and China.

"Results of the talks will very much depend on the domestic politics of both the US and China."

Mr Chan told Bloomberg TV: "I don't think we want to be in the position whereby we are only dealing with one and not the other, and I believe this is the same position for the rest of the Asian countries as well. Everybody wants to be plugged in."

LOOKING FOR MIDDLE GROUND

I don't think we want to be in the position whereby we are only dealing with one and not the other, and I believe this is the same position for the rest of the Asian countries as well. Everybody wants to be plugged in.

TRADE AND INDUSTRY MINISTER CHAN CHUN SING, referring to relations with the United States and China.

 
 
 
 
 

He also noted that Singapore can mount a compelling pitch to attract global firms like Dyson, which said last month that it would move its headquarters here from Britain.

Mr Chan pointed to the longer-term business and political certainty here, "superior connectivity" and strong intellectual property laws as selling points for foreign firms to relocate to Singapore.

The minister also narrowed his focus in the interview to more local issues raised by Monday's Budget statement. He said tightening foreign worker rules was a "surgical" move targeted at specific industries to fine-tune the labour market.

The aim is "to make sure that the Singapore foreign manpower dependency is on a sustainable trajectory", Mr Chan said. "We are not going to have an unlimited number of foreign workers in Singapore, but what we have and what we want is a higher quality of foreign workers."

Quotas for foreign workers in service industries such as food and retail will be lowered from next year to help boost productivity and curb labour growth.

Mr Chan said Singapore would remain open to talent, particularly in industries such as artificial intelligence and financial technology, and is "playing for the long game" with this Budget.

He added that the Government wanted to guide firms to being more "manpower-lean", while reassuring them that there will be benefits in the long run.

"I don't think we run our foreign workers policy on a feast-and-famine strategy," Mr Chan said. "We want to have a smooth trajectory to allow our firms the ability to plan long term."

He added that steps to help small businesses adjust to the policies will be outlined in the Budget debates.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore wants to remain open to both China and US: Chan'. Print Edition | Subscribe