Tapping digital economy opportunities and helping shape its future key reasons for S'pore taking part in WEF: Iswaran

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

DAVOS - Seizing opportunities provided by the digital economy and helping shape its future are among the key reasons why Singapore is an active participant at the World Economic Forum's annual meetings, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said on Tuesday (Jan 21).

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 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 round of developments for the digital economy.

He was speaking on CNBC's Squawk Box show, where anchors Steve Sedgwick and Geoff Cutmore put to him 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 in 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 Mr 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".

On Tuesday, Mr Lee had a roundtable lunch with several business leaders. He also met Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

In the CNBC 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.

Surely Singapore saw some beneficial impact, he was asked.

Mr Iswaran replied: "Businesses constantly evaluate and they will want to take a medium to long 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."

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