Singapore must stay plugged into world to succeed: DPM

It must balance dual identity as an open city and a united, independent nation, he says

Managing the country's dual identity as both city and nation is critical to Singapore's success, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said.
Managing the country's dual identity as both city and nation is critical to Singapore's success, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said.PHOTO: GOV.SG

Even as the Covid-19 situation in Singapore stabilises and the country shifts its focus to economic recovery, it needs to stay open and connected to the world, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Managing the country's dual identity - as both city and nation - is critical to Singapore's success, he added.

As a city, it must remain open to new and exciting ideas.

As a nation, it has to stay united and defend its independence.

"These seemingly conflicting objectives are not choices, but necessities for us," Mr Heng said, rounding up two days of debate on the Third Supplementary Supply and Budget Adjustments Bill, during which 33 MPs spoke. "And they will always define us as a country, and guide how we manage our economy and society."

In his speech, Mr Heng recapped plans to rejuvenate the economy and spoke of how Singapore will shift its approach from broad-based help to more targeted support to help firms and workers stave off the worst effects of the pandemic.

He also addressed Singapore's fiscal outlook, noting that the country's medium-term revenues are expected to be subdued and uncertain, and outlining plans to ensure the country's financial security.

As a city, Singapore's global competition includes cities such as London, New York, Shanghai and Mumbai, said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance.

All these cities have their own hinterlands and can draw talent from large national pools.

But Singapore, with its small domestic population of four million, has to assemble the "best possible team" to stay useful and relevant to the world.

"We want to make sure that we have the best players in our team, playing to one another's strengths, working together as a team," Mr Heng said. "This is why we must remain open to the best talents from all over the world. So that we can put forth the best team and step out onto the world stage."

Giving examples of how openness has benefited Singapore, he noted that global companies have set up operations here, bringing their know-how and networks, creating a vibrant ecosystem for local companies and start-ups and enabling them to be part of a global value chain.

Top talent has also chosen to call Singapore home and allowed locals to collaborate with the best. For example, Sir David Lane and his wife, Professor Birgitte Lane, have provided thought leadership that has spurred Singapore's advancements in the biomedical sciences, he said.

In addition, the country sends its top minds overseas to learn from others, through scholarship programmes such as that offered by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

At the same time, Singapore is making every effort to help its workers upskill and reskill, Mr Heng said. The future of work may be very different in a post-coronavirus world, he said, and the rise of digitalisation and the gig economy will make the job market more volatile.

"The new economy will require workers who are versatile and know how to build on existing skills, embrace lifelong learning, and be able to move between adjacent industry clusters," he added, calling on companies to play their part in developing training programmes for workers.

These efforts to upskill the Singaporean workforce, coupled with its openness to ideas, innovations and innovators, will help secure a better future for this country, Mr Heng said. "As a global city competing and collaborating with other global cities, it is crucial that we remain open, and at the same time, invest in our people," he added. "That way, we remain relevant and useful to the world."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2020, with the headline 'Singapore must stay plugged into world to succeed: DPM'. Subscribe