Building good relations with foreign partners on different levels: Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat talks about his plans for the economy and the Future Economy Council.
Singapore has been able to work together with its closest neighbours in Asean to strengthen the grouping's solidarity and resilience, says DPM Heng.
Singapore has been able to work together with its closest neighbours in Asean to strengthen the grouping's solidarity and resilience, says DPM Heng.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE (THAILAND)

In his first interview since becoming Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat talks about Singapore's relations with other countries, and what it can do to strengthen these ties.

Q How do you see yourself and the fourth-generation team strengthening some of Singapore's partnerships with Asean and internationally, and building on them?

A Well, I have been very fortunate that when I was principal private secretary to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we visited many countries, particularly China and the US, and it is very important for us to continue to maintain good relations with all our partners.

When I was in the Ministry of Trade and Industry as permanent secretary, I was in the trenches discussing many initiatives, including the Asean Economic Community, and I am very glad that we have been able to work together with our closest neighbours in Asean to strengthen the solidarity and resilience in Asean.

Of course it is also a work in progress and we must continue to do so.

We have over the years been building very good relations first with our immediate neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, and then within Asean, and then with all the key countries in the region.

With all the key countries in the region, like China, we have so many business councils now and will continue to create more.

But just beyond the business councils, we are also looking at many positive areas of collaboration.

I negotiated a free trade agreement with India. It was a difficult set of negotiations but we learnt so much and we see the progress that we have made between India and Singapore, and India and Asean.

 
 
 
 

Now, we are discussing the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) which will take the 10 countries of Asean together with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. We have had very good relations with all our partners.

I was in Japan last year discussing with many of the officials as well as the bankers because the Japanese are very keen to also look at how they can mobilise the huge pool of savings that they have to catalyse growth in Asean.

They are very keen to share what they have been doing as they deal with an ageing population.

So there are many things that we must continue to learn from others and also to find ways and means in which we can collaborate and that we can agree on outcomes that are positive on both sides, whether bilaterally or regionally.

And I am glad that not just myself but many of our colleagues have been very active travelling around to make friends.

And last year, when we chaired Asean, almost all the ministers had discussions with their colleagues. In my case, I had many good meetings with the Asean finance ministers.

So we must continue to build on this not just at the government-to-government level but also at the business-to-business level as well as at the people-to-people level.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 05, 2019, with the headline 'Building good relations with foreign partners on different levels'. Print Edition | Subscribe