Singapore's future lies in the region

As Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say has said, we must increase our productivity and manage the supply of foreign workers ("Economy needs to become 'less labour-intensive'"; Aug 5).

However, we also must address the demand side of the labour issue. In the years to come, where are the regions of growth?

Many years ago, Western leaders consulted our leaders on how to work with China. Today, they don't; they have their own experts and they have found their own path.

Many years ago, Chinese leaders came to Singapore to study our administration and our political system. Today, they have reached a point where they have to find their own way.

At that time, our Chinese language education policies paid off. We should not be complacent. We should be visionary and anticipate changes before they take place, so that we are ready when they come.

For example, we should be prepared to take in more Filipinos and Indonesians as immigrants.

Both these countries are huge and fast-growing markets, and we should ensure that there are enough well-integrated first- and second-generation immigrants from these countries who can help local small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) take advantage of the growing markets in these countries.

When it comes to language training, we should not thumb our nose at Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, Vietnamese, or other regional languages; at some point, we will wish to do business with them.

Increasingly, multinational companies' Asian headquarters are being based in China or Hong Kong, because the market there is so huge on its own.

As for us, we should be ready to fill the position of "South-east Asian headquarters" when the time comes.

We should learn the linguistic differences between Malay and Bahasa Indonesia; we should boost the learning of the Malay language, and we should embark on more cultural exchange programmes with other Asean countries.

The Government should further its efforts to reduce trade and movement barriers within Asean, so that our SMEs can be less confined by national borders and can gain better access to the region's untapped potential.

Sum Siew Kee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Singapore's future lies in the region'. Print Edition | Subscribe