Singapore must stay open to talent and ideas: Heng Swee Keat

He calls for businesses to continue innovating and opportunities for youth to be global-ready

Singapore must strive to be a place where talent and ideas congregate, remaining open to the world amid the changing economic and geopolitical landscape, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

"No one group or country has all the ideas or expertise to tackle the many challenges that the world is facing. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, we need to remain open and collaborate to achieve better outcomes together," he added.

For a city-state like Singapore to thrive, businesses must continue to innovate and internationalise, he said. Also, young people must be given the opportunities to be global-ready, and must acquire a deep knowledge of Asia, for Singapore to truly benefit from Asia's growth as global economic weight is shifting towards the region.

Mr Heng also noted Singapore and many other countries have benefited from globalisation, but increasingly, people in many countries are questioning the value of it.

"People feel that they are left behind. They are frustrated that wages are stagnating and lives are not improving. They lost faith in their political systems and governments. These have led to a weakening of social cohesion," he said.

"These winds of change remind us about the importance of remaining open to the world and being resourceful."

Singapore's multiracial, multicultural society, and openness to diversity, are its strength as this has inculcated a global mindset, Mr Heng said at Grand Hyatt Singapore for the launch of food heritage book They Came from Jaffna: A Historical Culinary Journey And Enchanting Tales Of Roots, Routes And Vivid Memories As Told By A Pioneer's Granddaughter.

Written by Singaporean author and playwright Indra Iswaran, 69, the book is supported by the National Heritage Board. It traces the journey made by members of the Singapore Ceylon Tamil community to come to Malaya and Singapore, such as Mrs Iswaran's grandmother Meenachi, who "braved the winds of change" and sailed from Jaffna, a city in Sri Lanka, in the 1890s.

Mr Heng picked up on that phrase from the book, and said that for Singapore, braving the winds of change also means ensuring society remains multiracial and multicultural even as tensions and fault lines, such as religious polarisation, xenophobia and social stratification, have been growing in some parts of the world.

The Internet has also been used to spread misinformation and fake news, and to sow distrust between communities. "If the same happens to us, our society will fracture, and our economy and way of life will suffer. So, divided we fall, but united we stand," said Mr Heng.

He highlighted the contributions of Ceylon Tamils here, given that the community started as a "minority within a minority" in post-independence Singapore.

One of the nation's founding fathers, Mr S. Rajaratnam, who drafted the National Pledge, was from the Ceylon Tamil community. And many educators, engineers, medical professionals, academics, legal professionals, senior public servants and members of the judiciary are of Ceylon Tamil heritage, he noted.

The community understood that talent and effort are rewarded regardless of race, and thrived, he said.

Mr Heng also said it is fitting that the book was launched during Singapore's bicentennial year, which marks 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore.

"As we commemorate our bicentennial year, it is a good time for us to reflect on our rich history and learn from our past, so as to chart our future together," he said.

Mrs Iswaran said she was grateful for the chance to record and share her family's story. "Each of us has a beautiful story to tell of the past. Do not be afraid of telling that story because it helps to conserve history for generations to come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 24, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore must stay open to talent and ideas: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe