Seizing opportunities in digital economy a key focus: Iswaran

Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran speaking during an interview with CNBC's Squawk Box show in Davos on Jan 21, 2020.
Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran speaking during an interview with CNBC's Squawk Box show in Davos on Jan 21, 2020.PHOTO: CNBC

Seizing opportunities provided by the digital economy and helping to shape its future are among the key reasons why Singapore is an active participant at the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meetings, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said yesterday.

The digital economy has implications for business models and jobs, but can position Singapore for a new phase of growth, he noted. "We are an early adopter of technology, we are actively thinking about the issues," he said.

"The reason we are here is really to share our experiences, but also to learn from others, and find possibilities to collaborate and partner - whether it is with the private sector or with governments, and essentially, like-minded partners."

A number of Singapore companies are also in Davos this week, including DBS Bank and Grab. Added Mr Iswaran: "We are a small, open economy. Connectivity, innovation and trade are our lifeblood."

He noted that Singapore is playing its part in shaping the next bound of developments for the digital economy.

It was put to him during an interview with CNBC Squawk Box that Singapore was good at adopting new technologies, but these had yet to yield economic benefits.

In response, Mr Iswaran said while artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies are at an early stage, Singapore had to invest in developing them and apply them to the right areas. For instance, AI applications are focused on a few areas like financial services, logistics and transportation.

Building up trust in such technology is also important, he added. "If you do not have trust, it is very hard to take the full benefit of these technologies," he said.

Tapping the power of the digital economy was also a common theme at an informal chat Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had on Monday with young business leaders from Asia, including Singapore.

They were in fields such as AI, banking, new media, logistics, real estate and telecommunications, and PM Lee said in a Facebook post that he "was impressed by their drive and desire to change the way business is done, and also to improve lives through their work".

Yesterday, PM Lee had a roundtable lunch with several business leaders. He also met Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

 

The two leaders reaffirmed the close and friendly relations between Singapore and Hong Kong, and exchanged views on regional and international developments, PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday in Davos, Switzerland, where they reaffirmed the close and friendly relations between Singapore and Hong Kong, and exchanged views on regional and international developments. PM Lee expressed confidence that the city will overcome its current challenges and find a way forward under the "one country, two systems" framework. PHOTO: MCI

"PM Lee wished Hong Kong well, and expressed confidence that the city will overcome its current challenges and find a way forward under the 'one country, two systems' framework," she added.

In the interview, Mr Iswaran was also asked about the impact of events in Hong Kong on Singapore. "When we all do well, we all stand to benefit. If there is a problem in any one of our markets in the region, it has a dampening effect on all of us because it affects sentiments - consumer sentiment, investor sentiment and so on."

 
 
 

"In the case of Hong Kong, what we would like to see is an early and amicable resolution so that we can then go on with the larger issues of creating jobs and opportunities for people in the region," he added.

Asked if Singapore saw some beneficial impact, Mr Iswaran replied: "Businesses constantly evaluate and they will want to take a medium to long-term view, and not rush to conclusions."

"Overall stability is important. It is not about short-term volatility or gyrations," he added.

He was also asked about the fake news law, and if it is directed at stamping down on opposition from other parties. Mr Iswaran replied that there is a global dialogue on how best to tackle fake news. "Different countries have been seeking out different methodologies to deal with it, and this is our approach to it," he added.

He said all Singapore's law requires of those who publish falsehoods is to juxtapose the truth with the false statement of fact.

"If the party concerned is aggrieved, they can have recourse to the courts, which indeed is the case right now," he said. "We think it is a system that will work in our context and help address some of the concerns our citizens have."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2020, with the headline 'Seizing opportunities in digital economy a key focus: Iswaran'. Print Edition | Subscribe