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DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Opening Ceremony of the 2019 Pujiang Innovation Forum

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 25 May 2019

Keynote Address by DPM and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Opening Ceremony of the 2019 Pujiang Innovation Forum on 25 May 2019.


Your Excellencies 
Secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee, Li Qiang 
Minister of Science and Technology, Wang Zhigang 
Mayor of Shanghai Municipality, Ying Yong 
Vice Mayor of Hebei Provincial Government, Xu Jianpei 
President of Pujiang Innovation Forum, Xu Guanhua 
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


Good morning. I am pleased to join all of you at the opening of the 2019 Pujiang Innovation Forum.

Singapore is deeply honoured to be the Country of Honour at this year’s Forum. This is the first time that an Asian country is the Country of Honour. This is both a testament to the rapid economic development in Asia and the progress the region has made in harnessing technology and innovation. China in particular has made rapid advancements in technology and innovation over the years. In fact, until the First Industrial Revolution, China has been at the forefront of science and technology for over a thousand years. The many inventions by the Chinese are well-documented by the renowned Professor Joseph Needham from Cambridge University. These included the four great inventions of papermaking, printing techniques, gunpowder and the compass.

Today, China continues to place high priority on science and technology, putting in more than 2% of its GDP into R&D. President Xi Jinping, in his speech at the 19th CPC National Congress, also emphasised the importance of innovation as the primary force driving the development of China into a modernised economy. Several years ago, China launched the Shenzhou. 

Many Chinese companies are now at the forefront of deploying technology, making dramatic changes to how people live, work and communicate with one another. 
These include China’s “BAT” – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Baidu is one of the top online search engines in Asia; Alibaba – the world’s top e-commerce retailer; and Tencent – an internet company with one of the largest social networks, linking billions of people across the globe. Just two days ago, the CRRC Qingdao Sifang unveiled a prototype of the magnetic levitation train with speeds of up to 600km/h. 

The rapid advancements made by China and the rest of Asia mean that the region is not just a passive recipient. Asia is now seeking to play a key role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is taking place at a rapid pace and scale. The fusion of technologies is driving the convergence of the physical, biological and digital worlds. 

Technology and innovation have opened up many new possibilities, from transportation, to healthcare, to sustainable development. But with new technologies come new challenges:

Geopolitical tensions – resulting from the disruption of economics and value chains;

Social fabrics are fraying – due to the prospect of jobs being displaced by automation, widening inequality, reduced human interactions and echo chambers enabled by social media;

Security is stretched in the digital realm – as data security and integrity, data protection and digital privacy are challenged by hackers of all sorts;

Trust is strained – because of the speed with which fake news can be spread and digital anonymity are challenging the trust in our communication; and

Ethics and governance now require new interpretations, as AI and Blockchains raise new dimensions of accountability and liability. 

These are challenges that we must work hand-in-hand to resolve, if we want to harness the opportunities that technology is opening up. Let me share three key thrusts that Singapore is taking to harness the potential of technology:

First, to take a holistic, integrated approach to technology and innovation;

Second, to address issues that are most critical to our people; and 

Third, to take concrete action towards collaboration. 

Holistic and Integrated approach to technology and innovation

The first thrust is to take a holistic and integrated approach – linking our basic research and development, with innovation and enterprise development, and in the deployment and diffusion of technology. Like China and many other nations, Singapore is a firm believer that technology and innovation are key driving forces to our future. Our national R&D effort started in 1991, with our first five-year National Technology Plan. We are now investing in our 6th plan to build our R&D base. 

Today, the Singapore government invests about 1% of GDP in research and development and this has catalysed private sector spending of more than 1% of GDP. We are taking a further step to look at development of start-ups, which is now a major force in innovation. This is a total of about 2% of GDP invested in supporting research and development– similar to China and other OECD nations.

In Singapore, we have invested in a number of areas:

Research-intensive universities like the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University, whose leaders are here with us today, to lead our basic research efforts;

Advanced academic medical centres undertake clinical translational activities in health and biomedical sciences; and

We are also partnering distinguished foreign institutional partners, including Shanghai Jiaotong University, to co-develop ideas together.

A holistic integrated approach also means having a governance structure that upholds the research integrity and the protection of intellectual property. We also seek to address issues that are critical in the adoption of new technologies. For example, in January this year, we released the Model Artificial Intelligence Governance Framework at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Besides investing in research and development and creating the governance framework, a part of our holistic approach to innovation also means investing in our people.

For innovation to flourish, having people with the right skills are most important. Singapore invests heavily in growing our talent from young – building up STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and also the arts as a foundation – to inculcate a spirit of inquiry. We aim to stimulate their interests in school, through our science and mathematics curriculum that includes Computer Studies as a secondary school subject and elective programmes in robotics. Our secondary schools, and increasingly also our primary schools, have Applied Learning Programmes to encourage students to apply basic scientific concepts to solve real world problems. Beyond school, we promote lifelong learning. We launched SkillsFuture as a national movement – to enable Singaporeans to learn emerging skills, including skills for jobs, many of which will be created by new emerging technologies.

To enable our people to broaden their networks and horizons, we encourage them to gain overseas experiences. The launch of our Global Innovation Alliance links Singapore with innovation nodes around the world. I am happy to welcome Shanghai as our latest alliance partner, with the signing of the MOU between Enterprise Singapore and Xnode yesterday. I am confident that Shanghai will be a key partner in these efforts.

We also work together with our companies to help them transform and to manage the dislocations to workers. We do so through our Industry Transformation Maps. Singapore’s tripartite framework brings together Government, industry and workers. It is a very important aspect of this. For example, our unions support our workers to learn new skills, thereby supporting employers to adopt new technologies and innovation. We must not leave our workers behind.

Sustaining innovation requires long-term commitment of time and resources. We must be prepared to be a committed and patient investor. 

Address issues that are most critical to our people

The second thrust is to address issues that are of critical importance to our society. Innovation is not just about coming up with the most number of patents, the most complicated formula or the most complex device. We must not change for the sake of change. Our aim is to enable people to lead better lives – to live healthier and for longer, to be better connected with other people, to be more productive, and to have a higher quality of life. Given limited resources, we need to focus on what is most critical to our people and society. Singapore is a small island with limited supply of fresh water, we invested heavily to develop desalination plants and water recycling technologies. Today, we managed to turn our adversity to strength, and we can now meet up to two thirds of our country’s water needs through technology. 

But we are not stopping here. We continue to invest in R&D, such as innovative membrane technologies, to lower the overall energy needed to produce water. We are integrating the energy-waste-water loop. 

In the process, our water agency and our economic development board had catalysed the growth of a cluster of water companies in Singapore. These companies work together our water agency to co-develop innovative technologies that can be scaled up and used in water plants in the region and globally. Interestingly, the technology that has been developed can also be used for waste treatment, including industrial and chemical waste. 

We host the biennial Singapore International Water Week to exchange the latest technologies and experiences with experts from various countries, to further promote innovation. 

Another story that I would like to share is about waste management. Like many cities, Singapore generates much waste. We incinerate our waste, and the ashes from waste incineration are used as landfill at one of our offshore islands – Pulau Semakau. In 2007, Pulau Semakau was dubbed by the publication “New Scientist” as the “Garbage of Eden”. Due to efforts to conserve biodiversity, there are many trees on the island. We are now aiming for zero waste. 

Our water story and waste story are examples of how we are focusing innovation on the needs which are most critical to Singapore.

Take concrete action towards collaboration

The third thrust is to take concrete action towards collaboration. Let me use the themes for this afternoon’s forum – Environmental Sustainability and Health to illustrate the power of collaboration. China and Singapore have been collaborating on many initiatives, including:

The Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City;

The Energy and Environmental Sustainability Solutions between NUS and Shanghai Jiaotong University;

The Fujian(Xiamen)-Singapore Friendship Polyclinic; and

Joint grant-calls between the Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Research Foundation of Singapore for projects ranging from emerging infectious diseases, to environmental sciences, to synthetic biology.

Countries all over the world face common challenges which we can collaborate to tackle. Let me cite two examples.


One example is food. There is a global food security challenge. By 2050, the world must feed 9 billion people. The demand for food will increase by 60% from today1. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change2 warned that crop yield, on the other hand, may drop by up to 25% in 2050, due to climate change.

The issue is especially pressing for China, which has 20% of the world’s population but 10% of the world’s arable land. 

Singapore imports almost all of our food as we have limited agricultural land for crops. We therefore must learn to grow food in an urban environment. 

This year, we have set ourselves the ambitious target of 30 by 30. That is, to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs in Singapore, by the year 2030. To achieve this ambition, we need to innovate to develop high-yield urban agricultural solutions, which are also climate-resilient, while overcoming the constraints of limited land and water. 

I am glad that younger Singaporeans have taken to urban farming, and have started promising enterprises. For example, Sky Greens, Singapore’s first vertical farm, has devised technologies that produces five to ten times more vegetables than conventional methods in the same land area. Sky Greens currently has a pilot project in China. Another example is VertiVegies, which is with us here at the forum today. VertiVegies is currently building Singapore’s largest indoor vegetable farm that allows for year-round production. 

By turning challenges into opportunities, these are exciting areas where our companies can help solve global problems through partnerships with other nodes of innovation. 


The second example is cancer, which is rapidly increasing in incidence and mortality is rising worldwide. Almost half of all new cases of cancer are occurring in Asia3 and China accounts for half of new cases in Asia4.

The types of cancers that prevail in Asian populations differ from those commonly seen in Western populations. There is an urgent need to develop treatments that are effective for Asians, whose genetic make-up, food and lifestyles are different. In this area, Singapore has invested significantly and have built up a stable of biotech companies which are starting to bear fruit. 

One example is Tessa Therapeutics. Tessa is currently conducting the world’s first FDA Phase III cancer T-cell therapy trials to treat nasopharyngeal cancer – a condition which is common among Asians. Premier Li Keqiang visited Tessa when he was in Singapore last year, and generously invited Tessa to conduct clinical trials in top-tier hospitals in China. Discussions are on-going and progressing very well.

There are many opportunities for collaboration, as China too has invested significantly in healthcare. Through cooperation between Singapore and China and other interested countries, we can develop technologies to fight cancer and other diseases that will significantly improve the lives of patients and their families in Asia, and hopefully, globally. 

Beyond these two examples – food and cancer, we look forward to exploring further opportunities with China through our various bilateral platforms, including the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council, as well as the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation. We can and must explore opportunities to collaborate with scientists and innovators around the world, many of whom are here today.


To conclude, the world is changing at an unprecedented pace. We must collectively harness technology and innovation to improve the lives of our people and protect Planet Earth. 

With imagination, we can explore new frontiers. For innovation to flourish, we need to embrace diversity, collaboration and openness. Individuals will need to work closely with each other across academia, industry and government; and across countries and regions.

This is why we are here today, at the Pujiang Innovation Forum. This forum is well-organised and brings people from more than 20 countries, across different fields to exchange ideas and to make new connections. President Xi, in 2014, designated Shanghai to be China’s leading science and innovation centre by 2020. All of us here are honoured to be part of this journey.

Like Germany, the UK, and other Countries of Honour before us, Singapore hopes to contribute to the vibrant discussions in technology and innovation. I hope you will take the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from each other; forge new partnerships and synergies; and break new ground and build a better tomorrow for ourselves and future generations. 

I wish this forum great success.

[1] World Economic Forum (18 January 2016) – Food security and why it matters.

[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations – FAO’s Work on Climate Change. United Nations Climate Change Conference 2017. 

[3] International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), World Health Organisation – Press Release (12 September 2018)

[4] International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), World Health Organisation – GLOBOCAN 2018 database, Factsheet on China