Preserve stability for continued prosperity in Asia, says DPM Heng at Belt and Road Summit

DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre) at the 7th Belt and Road Summit Policy Dialogue in Hong Kong on Aug 31, 2022. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - China's Belt and Road Initiative plays an important role in Asia's future, but peace has become more "brittle" and so it is important to preserve the stability that has enabled the region to prosper in the past few decades, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Speaking at the 7th Belt and Road Summit Policy Dialogue in Hong Kong on Wednesday (Aug 31), DPM Heng said better infrastructure and a more integrated region depend on stability. While the region has enjoyed many decades of stability with Asean playing an instrumental role, tensions have mounted in recent years.

Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, said situations around flashpoints including the Taiwan Strait, South China Sea and Korean Peninsula have at times been tense.

"Peace has become more brittle in Asia," he said. "No one wants war."

He added: "But with intensifying strategic competition in the absence of trust, the next flare-up or miscalculation could shatter the peace. We must steer away from such a precarious future."

DPM Heng called for all parties to take a step back to ratchet down the tensions.

"This means to keep the region open and inclusive, maintain open and constructive channels for dialogue, and identify common grounds for cooperation," he said.

The theme of this year's summit is Heralding a New Chapter: Collaborate and Innovate.

The annual summit is an international platform for senior government officials and business leaders to share insights and promote collaboration surrounding the Belt and Road Initiative - a global infrastructure project started by the Chinese government in 2013.

Using the acronym for the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI, DPM Heng highlighted the importance of "Bankability, Responsibility, and Interconnectedness" to unlock Asia's significant potential and improve the lives of its people.

Projects must be well designed with robust business models, good financial models and governance. By ensuring bankability, they can generate sustained benefits for the communities, the economy and investors, he said.

As a financial centre, Singapore has been playing a constructive role with a full suite of professional services offerings and a good ecosystem of infrastructure players. Singapore has also strengthened mechanisms for international commercial dispute resolution, and both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have operations in Singapore to support development, he said.

DPM Heng added that Singapore has created Infrastructure Asia, a government facilitation office set up by Enterprise Singapore and the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to co-create infrastructure solutions and promote collaboration in the region.

On responsibility, he said infrastructure projects must be sustainable as the climate crisis becomes more urgent. As co-chairs of the Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition, Singapore and China will work with partners on environmentally responsible development along the Belt and Road, he said.

He added that beyond infrastructure, there are opportunities for collaboration such as developing clean energy and decarbonisation solutions.

As for interconnectedness, the BRI should also develop soft infrastructure including connectivity, he said. One such initiative is the world's largest trade agreement - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - formed by Asean and other partners like China.

Besides trade connectivity, air connectivity is important as the Covid-19 risks subside. So is digital connectivity through multilateral partnerships like Digital Economy Partnership Agreement and mechanisms like the Asean Data Management Framework to bring the region and the world closer together, DPM Heng added.

At a dialogue session, Hong Kong Deputy Financial Secretary Michael Wong asked how the various governments can continue to benefit from the BRI.

Mr Heng replied that they can look beyond enhancing physical connectivity and aim for other connectivity, like economic integration. 

Given that Asean has 680 million people, of which 380 million are below 35 years old, there are areas of development like healthcare that governments can pursue together, he said. 

With economic growth leading to 70 per cent of Asean nationals living in cities in future, countries can also collaborate to promote urbanisation, DPM Heng added.

Mr Heng is on a working visit to Hong Kong from Aug 28 to 31. He has met Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee and other Hong Kong officials over the past two days to reaffirm ties between Singapore and Hong Kong and discuss ways to further strengthen cooperation.

Writing on his Facebook on Tuesday, he said: "Singapore and Hong Kong are both vibrant cities playing complementary roles in Asia. In a complex and volatile world, we can achieve much more by working together."

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