To bounce back stronger and make headway in a future beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore, China and the rest of Asia should work together to address the two major trends of digitalisation and sustainability, said government and business leaders at a Business China event yesterday.
As part of its annual awards night, the non-profit organisation, which aims to strengthen ties between Singapore and China, held a panel discussion comprising Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Koh Poh Koon and OCBC Bank group chief executive Helen Wong.
Business China chairman and former MP Lee Yi Shyan moderated the in-person session at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, which was also streamed virtually.
In his opening remarks, Mr Heng said the trend of digitalisation had accelerated during the pandemic, with South-east Asia's digital economy projected to grow by three times by 2025.
Citing the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative and Singapore's digital trade documentation trials with ports in Qinzhou and Tianjin, he said: "Fintech and digital payment will reshape not just finance, but also the global economy in a significant way. The digitalisation trend is here to stay, and we are just seeing the beginnings of a major revolution."
Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, added: "I would encourage our businesses to think hard about how we can continue to collaborate with China and the region on the entire digitalisation trend."
Dr Koh said that even the traditionally "human-centric" space of health was becoming increasingly digitalised, with the advent of telemedicine, e-pharmacies, wearables and electronic records, among other innovations.
This opens up opportunities for technopreneurs and businesses in different spaces, he added.
In the area of sustainability, Mr Heng noted there was "fresh momentum" with the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow.
"Within this region, we can do a lot more," he said. "South-east Asia has huge potential - with its terrestrial forests, mangrove swamps and seagrass meadows, using nature-based solutions to sequester carbon can be a major game changer.
"But to do this well, we need a significant amount of investments, and we will need to look at how we can set standards for green investments," Mr Heng added, noting that Singapore hosts Climate Impact X, a global carbon exchange and marketplace.
Ms Wong highlighted renewable energy, green buildings and the greening of supply chains as three important sectors for her bank and its corporate customers to actively get involved in.
Asked by the moderator about the manpower challenges for companies, the panellists said it was important to amass regional knowledge, experience and networks.
Dr Koh said talent should envision playing a "tri-cultural" role as a conduit bridging East, West and Asean needs. This would be a Singaporean's "real value-add", he added.
Mr Heng noted that the Government has been supporting the development of regional business connections through scholarships and fellowships over the years.
He recalled that when he was education minister between 2011 and 2015, he turned down a request to shift funding for exchange programmes from Asia to the United States and Europe, which were more popular destinations then.
"It is so important for our young people to know more about the region... to learn more about Singapore's immediate neighbourhood," said Mr Heng, who instead told his staff to work harder to get the students to Asean, China, India and the rest of Asia.
Three awards recognising individuals and businesses for contributions to bilateral ties between Singapore and China were also given out at the event.
Receiving the Excellence Award was Mrs Jennifer Yeo, founder of the Viva Foundation for Children with Cancer and wife of former foreign minister George Yeo.
A Young Achiever gong went to Ms Jessica Tan, co-chief executive and executive director at Chinese insurance company Ping An Group, while the China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City project was recognised with an Enterprise Award.