DPM Heng Swee Keat at the FutureChina Global Forum 2020

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 15 September 2020

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the FutureChina Global Forum Special Virtual Edition on 15 September 2020.


To all participants of the FutureChina Global Forum. A very good afternoon!

A World of Uncertainty and Change

The global economy is going through its worst recession in a century. COVID-19 has inflicted a severe supply and demand shock to our economies. Businesses and workers are facing a challenging time.

At the same time, our global order is coming under strain. Globalisation is on the retreat, as some advanced economies are now feeling domestic pressure to turn inwards. Geo-strategic competition between China and the US is intensifying. This will likely persist, in some form, regardless of who assumes the US Presidency, and it will have serious ramifications for all of us in the region.

We also do not know what a post-COVID world would look like. But we know that it will be very different. We are likely to see: a bigger premium on resilience in supply chains, greater emphasis on digitalisation and innovation, and new areas of growth emerging. All countries and businesses, big and small, will have to make adjustments.

This is why the theme of today’s forum is so relevant. In today’s landscape, how can Singapore contribute to China’s and Southeast Asia’s growth and build a more resilient future?

This is crucial because Asia is well positioned to contribute to global economic growth.

Asia’s Outlook

Asia’s weight in the global economy was already growing before the pandemic. China is now the second largest economy in the world. Japan pulled itself out of its “lost decade”, thanks to Abenomics. India, with a large and youthful population, grew at almost 5% last year and can reap a significant demographic dividend. The ten economies of ASEAN also grew at around 5% last year. All have benefitted from investments from one another and from major partners.

The outlook for Asia remains bright. Our economic fundamentals are strong, as we have undertaken the necessary reforms after the Asian Financial Crisis and Global Financial Crisis. Several Asian countries have managed to contain the spread of COVID- 19 and get their economies back on track. Many Asian economies have a large and growing middle class, providing a strong base for production and consumption. Asia is home to a vibrant start-up eco-system and to many innovative companies.

In the case of China, localised outbreaks have been swiftly dealt with, the economy resumed growth last quarter, and China is the only major economy that is expected to grow this year.

But like everyone else, China continues to face risks and uncertainties. China is finding new ways to evolve its economic model and continue its reforms, after four decades of reform and opening up. This is not straightforward given the size and complexity of China’s economy, and its ageing population, but it is clear that China is determined to overcome these challenges, as it did with the adoption of market-oriented reforms from 1978.

So how can we work together to make Asia a vibrant region that supports thriving businesses, creates better jobs and delivers a better standard of living for our people?

Let me offer three suggestions. First, countries must remain open and connected to the world, and make adjustments so that globalisation works for all. Second, for Singapore, we must strengthen connectivity with the region. Third, for our businesses, in an era of tremendous change, we must foster partnerships to emerge stronger from this crisis. Let me elaborate.

Making Globalisation Work for All

Despite the current retreat from globalisation, a basic principle remains unchanged: an open and connected global economy allows all countries to develop and prosper. Since global trading rules were established after the Second World War, world exports increased by more than 300 times prior to COVID-19. Countries in our region are benefitting immensely. 

But in an uncertain economic environment, many workers are anxious about their jobs and the benefits of economic openness. To ensure that the benefits of globalisation remains beneficial to all countries, we will have to restructure our economies and upskill our workers.

In Singapore, we are adjusting our policies to ensure that they continue to serve the interests of our people. We are reviewing our work pass policies, strengthening fair consideration, enhancing efforts to upskill our workers, and strengthening our social safety nets for those affected by economic disruption. But we must not undermine what has made us successful, by closing ourselves off from the world.

China, too, is continuing to reform its economy. President Xi Jinping spoke about “dual circulation” for China’s new economic model. “Domestic circulation”, or reliance on the domestic market for goods and services, would have to play a bigger role in China’s growth, but “international circulation” will not diminish in importance and the two types of circulation must reinforce each other. 

Southeast Asia will be an increasingly important part of China’s “international circulation”. The ten Southeast Asian economies have become China’s top trading partner, for the first time this year. With the restructuring of global supply chains, post-COVID-19, Southeast Asia can be an attractive choice for companies considering a ‘China Plus One’ strategy. Besides manufacturing, the digital economy and infrastructure development also offer ample opportunities in Southeast Asia.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area. We are also aiming to conclude the RCEP this year.

We must continue to signal our commitment to multilateralism, and to free and open trade. To reiterate, my first suggestion is to reform our economies and ensure that globalisation works for all. 

Strengthen Connectivity with the Region

Let me now move to my second suggestion: in the midst of the pandemic, Singapore must strengthen connectivity with the region and the world, to facilitate the movement of goods, data and people.

On the movement of goods, we must work closely with like-minded partners to keep our trade lines and supply chains open. ASEAN and China are also jointly committed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on trade and investment. With China, we are pressing ahead with the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. We saw a 20% increase in trade volume in the first half of this year, despite COVID-19, through this corridor.

On digital connectivity, we launched the ASEAN Smart Cities Network during our chairmanship of ASEAN in 2018. We embarked on the Singapore-China Smart City Initiative in Shenzhen to facilitate digital collaboration between Southeast Asia and the Greater Bay Area in China. We are also entering into digital economy agreements with partner countries.

On the movement of people, we are re-opening our borders gradually and carefully. Our first Fast Lane was launched with China in June 2020 for essential business and official travel. We have since agreed on similar arrangements with Malaysia, Brunei, South Korea and Japan. We relaxed border controls for visitors from Brunei and New Zealand, to allow the resumption of general travel. We are also in discussion with other parties to expand travel arrangements.

Singapore will also continue to promote regional cooperation and deepen our bilateral relationships. I have been keeping in touch with my counterparts through video conference and telephone calls. I was happy to receive Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi when he visited Singapore a few weeks ago. He is my first foreign visitor since the COVID-19 outbreak, and I look forward to hosting Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng in Singapore later this year to co-chair the 16th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation.

By strengthening cooperation with countries in the region and the world, we will be in a better position to emerge stronger from COVID-19.

Besides making globalisation work for all, and strengthening connectivity, my third suggestion is to build partnerships among businesses.

Keeping Our Businesses Connected

Adapting to COVID-19 has not been easy for our businesses. In a time of rapid change, it is hard for any company to deal with it alone. We need to build partnerships to deal with the turbulence ahead and seize new opportunities.

In Singapore, we are pressing ahead with economic transformation as part of our tripartite partnership between Government, the unions and businesses. We set up the Emerging Stronger Taskforce to find new bright spots in Singapore and the region. We established industry-led Alliances for Action as a new form of partnership, to prototype new solutions quickly, in areas such as smart commerce and sustainability, and we are stepping up sector transformation through our Industry Transformation Maps.

Our trade associations and chambers have an important role to play. Business China is one good example. Business China develops our business leaders through efforts like the Advanced Leaders Programme, and builds bridges with other partners, like the MOU with Yabuli China Entrepreneurs Forum that will be signed later.

Cross-border collaborations can also help our business grow. One example is the ASEAN Online Sale Day launched in August. This was Southeast Asia’s first online shopping event on a region-wide scale. Another example is the China-Singapore Infrastructure Co-Investment Platform by Surbana Jurong and China’s Silk Road Fund, which brings together networks and capabilities for infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia.

Our businesses should continue working with a wide range of stakeholders. With workers, to create better jobs and opportunities for upskilling, so that both businesses and employees benefit together; and with local communities, to ensure that their business activities benefit the wider society. In this way, we make economic growth inclusive and sustainable.

Allow me to now say a few words in Mandarin.

刚才我提到了,由于冠病疫情的影响,全球经济正经历这个世纪以来最严重的 衰退。对许多企业和员工来说,这是个非常艰难的时期。后冠病的世界将和过 去大不相同,我们必须做好准备。

世界各国和全球经济体系都必须保持互联互通。不过,各国也要做出相应调整, 以确保他们能够继续从全球化中受益。这样一来,各国才能取得发展和繁荣。 疫情当前,新加坡正在努力,跟区域国家和世界各国在贸易、数码互联互通以 及人员流动方面加强合作,为亚洲的经济增长做出贡献。此外,新加坡也会继 续加深和中国的双边关系。今年是新中建交的 30 周年。我期待今年和中国副总 理韩正共同在新加坡主持新中双边合作联合委员会会议。

在这个瞬息万变的时代,企业必须加强合作,共同应对未来的挑战,同时把握 新机遇。我们的商团、商会在这方面,将扮演更重要的角色。通商中国就是一 个很好的平台, 促进联系与合作。
在此,我要感谢通商中国举办今年的论坛,把它搬到线上。尽管冠病对国际活 动带来了严峻的挑战,却没有阻挡大家继续交流、互相切磋。祝愿本届论坛圆 满成功, 大家收获满满。


COVID-19 has added to the stresses and anxieties of globalisation. But Singapore must remain open and connected to Asia, and the world, and believe in our ability to adapt, evolve our approaches, and forge new partnerships with one another. Only then, can we contribute to and benefit from Asia’s growth.

This year marks thirty years of Singapore-China diplomatic relations. Next year, we will commemorate three decades of ASEAN-China dialogue. However, our ties go way back. More than a thousand years ago, there was already a vibrant trading network between China and Southeast Asia, and between our region and the world, as shown by the discovery of a ninth-century shipwreck in the Java Sea, containing Tang Dynasty ceramics bound for the Middle East.

This trading network and the bonds of our people have been resilient, ebbing and flowing over the last ten centuries.

With such strong foundations, even as we battle COVID-19, I am optimistic that we can emerge from this pandemic to a brighter and more resilient future for our people and for the world.

Thank you very much.