DPM Teo Chee Hean at the Sixth Singapore-China Forum on Leadership

DPM Teo Chee Hean at the Sixth Singapore-China Forum on Leadership

DPM Teo Chee Hean | 16 May 2017

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke at the Sixth Singapore-China Forum on Leadership on 16 May, 2017. 


Your Excellency Minister Zhao Leji(赵乐际),
Minister of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon.

Before we begin, I would like to extend our deepest condolences on the passing of former Chinese Vice Premier of the State Council Mr Qian Qichen (钱其琛). Mr Qian was an old friend of Singapore who played an instrumental role in the conclusion of agreements that established diplomatic relations between Singapore and the People’s Republic of China on 3 October 1990.  Mr Qian and then-Singapore Foreign Minister Mr Wong Kan Seng signed the “Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Singapore”.  The agreements arrived at laid the foundation for the strong ties and extensive cooperation our two countries enjoy today.  Mr Qian made extraordinary contributions to develop China’s relations with the international community and also played an important role in the establishment of ASEAN-China relations. He was the first Chinese Foreign Minister to attend an ASEAN meeting.  His legacy will be fondly remembered by Singaporeans.

Next, let me warmly welcome Minister Zhao and our Chinese friends to Singapore for the 6th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership.

This is the third time Minister Zhao and I are co-chairing this Forum. Minister Zhao was in Singapore in 2013, and I still recall our last discussion in Jinggangshan(井冈山) two years ago. Over the years, I have visited the three Executive Leadership Academies in Yan’an(延安), Pudong(浦东)and Jinggangshan(井冈山), and have seen the efforts you are making to build up your cadres’ modern governance capabilities. I am glad to welcome Minister Zhao and your delegation to Singapore to continue our exchanges.  

The Singapore-China Forum on Leadership is a key pillar in our bilateral relations.  Since 2009, we have held five successful Leadership Forums. This platform has enabled us to exchange views and learn from each other’s experiences in social governance, public service delivery and government reform.  

This year, the Forum will discuss “Leadership Development for National Innovation (国家全面创新中的领导力建设)”. It is an issue of great relevance to Singapore and China as we face new challenges in our current phases of development. Although Singapore and China are very different in size, we face a number of common challenges. These include an ageing population, a workforce that is not growing as quickly as in the past, a better educated younger generation who have higher expectations for career and family, and the impact of technology on society and the nature of work.

The ability to have deep, wide-ranging and substantive discussions on such issues of national interest reflects the high degree of mutual trust between Singapore and China, as well as the depth, breadth and strength of our bilateral ties.

Singapore and China have a longstanding and special friendship.  China is our largest trading partner and Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor since 2013.  Both countries have nurtured this relationship through the three Government-to-Government projects and the three high-level bilateral platforms, the first of which was established in Suzhou in 1994. These engagements demonstrate the partnership of our two countries in the progress of China and Singapore, and our commitment to enhancing bilateral cooperation.  

During my recent visit to Beijing to co-chair the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation with Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, we explored many new initiatives founded on our long-standing friendship and our shared commitment to find creative new avenues for cooperation (新中友谊深, 共创新思路).  

Through today’s Forum, I hope that we will build on this momentum, and share ideas on how to tackle common challenges and seize emerging opportunities together.  

As a small country with no natural resources, Singapore needs to continually innovate to survive. We learn from the best practices of other countries, adapting them innovatively to our own circumstances. But increasingly, we have to anticipate change, devise our own solutions, and adopt a whole system approach to policy formulation and implementation.

Let me outline three key strategies which have served us well in our national innovation journey – innovation in policy, innovation in implementation, and innovation in developing our people to be in time to meet the future.  

Innovation in Policy – Taking the Long View, Learning by Doing  

First, Innovation in Policy. We have always taken the long view in developing policy, while being prepared to adapt and improve our policies as we gain experience along the way. 

Take water for instance. We became independent more than 50 years ago. But we remained dependent almost entirely on imported water from Malaysia. Our struggle to make sure our people have clean water is the struggle for Singapore’s survival and independence. We made water a strategic priority, doing everything possible - developing local water sources, sewering homes to protect waterways from pollution, building reservoirs in the heart of the city. 

This has allowed us to gradually reduce our dependence on water from Malaysia so that by 2061, when our water agreement expires, we can be self-sufficient in water if necessary. Over the decades, we have been trying bolder new ideas - recycled NEWater for drinking, and membrane-based desalination, including using biomimetic membranes. 

This experience has been useful when Singapore and China started on the Tianjin Eco-City project. Our collaboration in Tianjin has expanded to include innovative ways to recover land for productive use, and sustainable and innovative city-planning and urban solutions. Now, Singapore companies can in turn learn from China’s experience in the field of renewable energy where Chinese cleantech companies are now global players. For instance, in solar and wind power generation. I look forward to further collaborations between our two countries as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Tianjin Eco-City next year.     

Sustainability continues to be a priority as we address the challenge of climate change. Managing our own environment is not enough. We share China’s position that a global solution is required to deal with climate change which affects all of us. Hence, as a policy, we have long adopted cleaner fuels for power generation even though they were more expensive, and we will implement a carbon tax from 2019 so that we can meet our international commitments to control carbon emissions.   

Singapore has taken a long-term, integrated view in our policies for the economic, social and security sectors as well. Two years ago, to strengthen our integrated planning further, we formed the Strategy Group in the Prime Minister’s Office to lead future-oriented policy formulation in an even more integrated, whole system way. 

Innovation in Implementation – Delivering citizen-centric services, Collective Contribution to Policy Outcomes

This brings me to the second aspect - Innovation in Implementation.

While the policy objective may remain the same, we should always look for innovative new ways to more effectively and efficiently implement the policy for the benefit of our citizens. 

Like China, we now have a more educated populace. As basic needs are met, they have more diverse and higher aspirations. At the same time, many citizens are also coming forward to volunteer, with energy and ideas, eager to make a contribution. A new social compact needs to be forged with our citizens as we seek to engage them more extensively to build our future together.

In recent years, we have made two shifts in our approach to policy implementation – designing more citizen-centric services, and encouraging more ground-up initiatives and ideas.  

Our public policies used to be formulated largely within the Government, and our communication with citizens was mainly “Government to people” (由上至下,政府对民众). To build more public support and participation in formulating policies and implementing programmes, we have shifted to a “Government with people” approach (由下而上,政府和民众). 

We design government processes from the citizen’s perspective, to make them more tailored and convenient for our people. An example which is not often thought about as delivering a service is tax collection. The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore believed that it should make it easier for taxpayers to pay their taxes, encouraging more to do so on time. This meant treating taxpayers as “customers” and providing them with convenient services to fulfil their tax obligations.

In 1998, 7% of tax-payers e-filed over the internet. Today, almost 100% of tax-payers do so. About 60% of tax-payers no longer even need to fill in a tax return as this has been computed with the data from employers. All they need to do is to verify electronically that it is correct. They can pay their taxes electronically by monthly instalments from their bank accounts.  Taxpayers need less time and effort to pay their taxes, the tax department saves times and manpower; there is less need for reminders and enforcement action, and taxpayers are more satisfied. The Government also gets its tax revenue reliably and on time.  

Redefinition and re-design of government processes can help to involve the citizens and bring about better policy outcomes. Minister Zhao and I spoke in Beijing about re-examining the healthcare model so that the healthcare clusters are rewarded when people stay healthy and there is less need to come to the hospitals, compared to funding them for treating patients when they are hospitalised. Such a change in the way we design and deliver healthcare, can result in a healthier and happier population while managing personal and national health expenditure. 

Technology also provides opportunities to explore process changes and redefine how a service is provided. Take for instance, the ambulance service. If we define the problem as how fast the emergency services can get an ambulance to a person in need, it may never be fast enough. But if we redefine the problem as how fast help can be provided to a person who has a medical emergency, then we can find more creative and innovative solutions. 

Technology has enabled us to change the way we think about the medical services. We now have the myResponder App. If an emergency occurs, the nearest trained volunteers can be alerted to provide timely resuscitation. We have also encouraged Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to be installed in many public places. By locating the nearest responder and AED by the Global Positioning System and mobile phone, we can bring help more quickly in an emergency before the ambulance arrives, saving more lives. Close to 800 volunteers were activated last year, saving several lives. Most importantly, this is a very powerful way of mobilising the community, family members and the public to help others.  This now becomes our collective responsibility, and not just the responsibility of the ambulance service. 

Engaging, consulting and partnering stakeholders has become a key part of the implementation process. It recognises that the Government may not have the answers to all issues, empowers citizens, and promotes collective responsibility and ownership.  

Tomorrow, you will hear from Minister Ong Ye Kung on transforming our governance systems, and from Senior Minister of State Dr Janil Puthucheary on the use of technology to transform the way services are delivered. 

Innovation in Developing Our People – Recognising Talent in Many Forms and Leadership Development

Third, Innovation in developing our people. 

Meritocracy has been a cornerstone of our social compact. Singaporeans succeed through hard work and their abilities, regardless of their family background or race. We have broadened the concept of meritocracy, and expanded and improved the way that we develop the abilities and leadership of our people.

Human capital development

In the 1960s and 1970s, we greatly expanded basic education in schools – providing access to primary and secondary education for all Singaporeans. We achieved primary and secondary education for the masses. As we moved from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive economy in the 1980s and the 1990s, we re-designed our education system to provide expanded opportunities for post-secondary education. As Singapore entered a knowledge-based global economy in the 2000s, we created multiple pathways in our post-secondary education system to offer a broader array of options to cater to the diverse abilities of our students. We achieved mass tertiary education. 

Today, we are preparing for a new educational challenge. Rapid technological advances will change the nature of work.  Robots and artificial intelligence will disrupt routine jobs in manufacturing and services. Workers will need new skills, and move to new jobs and industries several times in their now longer working lives. The knowledge and skills acquired in education during the first twenty years of a person’s life are not going to be sufficient for a working life of over forty years and beyond. 

We have to enable Singaporeans to seek knowledge, skills and experience throughout life. Minister Ong Ye Kung has been driving this SkillsFuture movement since 2014 to help Singaporeans deepen and refresh their skills, throughout life. After achieving mass primary, mass secondary and mass tertiary education, we are embarking on the next frontier of mass continuing education. 

This applies too for public officials. For example, to prepare for the digital economy, we are training our public officers to use data analytics and data science in policy formulation and service delivery, and strengthening cybersecurity. 

Leadership development

A key element in building an innovative future is to have leaders who can inspire Singaporeans to do their best, not just for themselves, but for society and for our country. You will hear more on developing and inspiring our public officials from Minister Josephine Teo tomorrow. We will need leaders at all levels – in the political arena and public administration, in the private and people sectors. Leaders who have the moral courage and integrity to do what is right, and not just what is populist.

We are systematically deepening and broadening the experience of a younger generation of political leaders. I am glad that many of my younger ministerial colleagues were in Beijing in February for the 13th Joint Council on Bilateral Cooperation to meet their counterparts. I hope that both sides have further opportunities to interact over these next few days in Singapore on leadership training and development.


There is an old Chinese saying, “穷则变, 变则通, 通则久”. Necessity is the mother of Invention. Innovation requires us to focus on the challenges of our times, while working with our people to find innovative ways to build the future together. Innovation in policy, innovation in implementation and innovation in people development will help ensure that we have good leaders with the right mindsets and skillsets to lead and effect reforms.

I look forward to hearing our Chinese friends’ views and ideas. I am certain the delegation members from both sides will benefit from the in-depth discussions today and tomorrow, and build strong bonds of friendship. Thank you.