ST Global Outlook Forum: Singaporeans need to understand region better, says Chan Chun Sing

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that even as Singaporeans continue heading to more established markets, they should maintain a sense of balance by knowing what is happening elsewhere. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - There is a real need for Singaporeans to understand the region better, so that the Republic can add value as a springboard or gateway when partnering those who wish to enter the South-east Asian market, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday (Nov 28).

"Many people like to say, use Singapore as a platform to the region, as a springboard to the region, as a gateway to the region," Mr Chan noted, during a dialogue session at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum at Raffles City Convention Centre.

"We can only truly do that if our people have a deep sense of perspective of what the region is about, the diversity of the region, so that we can value-add when we partner people who want... to work (here). We need to do much more," he added.

Mr Chan was replying to a question from ST associate editor Ravi Velloor on the observation some made that Singaporeans tend to focus only beyond the region.

The minister noted that even as Singaporeans continue heading to more established markets such as the United States, Europe or China, they should maintain a sense of balance by knowing what is happening elsewhere.

"I've met (leaders from) many multinational companies... who say that if our people want to reach the highest leadership echelons in their big companies, they will need to have market knowledge not just of Singapore and the established cities of the world, but also some of the emerging markets.

"That's where opportunities start," he said, adding that schools have a part to play by sending students abroad to countries around the region.

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Keeping Singapore's borders open and understanding the region better are key ways the country can thrive, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at The Straits Times' Global Outlook Forum 2019.

In response to a question from moderator Zakir Hussain, ST's news editor, Mr Chan said he would like to see Singaporeans take paths less travelled and return with good ideas on how lives here can be improved.

Having such a perspective is important for Singapore, given that the more successful a country is, the greater its tendency to focus on internal affairs rather than larger forces that are at play globally, said Mr Chan.

"We also need to... help people understand the external environment that we have to operate in. If our people understand that, then that urge, that alertness, the desire to want to stay ahead will be there," he said.

"For Singapore to continue to be successful, we must never allow ourselves to only focus internally."

Asked how Singaporeans can avoid being left behind as other countries develop rapidly and on a larger scale, Mr Chan noted that technological developments will not be linear, and emerging technologies will allow less developed nations to "leapfrog" ahead of more developed ones.

The Republic, he said, must be aware of its weaknesses and strengths, which include its long-term perspectives and strategies, as well as rule of law and predictable business environment where people can thrive.

"If we are not determined enough, there is absolutely no reason why someone else would not take away our lunch," he said.

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