DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore International Cyber Week 2023

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 17 October 2023

Opening keynote address by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW) on 17 October 2023.


Minister Josephine Teo,
Ministers and Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning, and to our overseas friends, a very warm welcome to Singapore.

We are in the midst of a digital revolution. 

While computers and information technology have become mainstays in our daily lives for a few decades already, the pace of digitalisation has accelerated in recent years. Just a few years ago, we were talking about the metaverse and Web 3.0. Today, generative AI is top-of-mind. Digitalisation has improved lives and livelihoods across the world. By enabling people to communicate with one another over vast distances almost instantaneously, it has created new opportunities like e-commerce, which uplift individuals and communities, especially those in rural areas or archipelagic countries. Digital technology has also enabled people to raise productivity and empowered the shift towards higher value-added work. This is why digitalisation is a new and powerful engine of economic growth for many countries. According to the World Bank, the digital economy contributes to more than 15% of global GDP. 

At the same time, this digital revolution has also created worry and anxiety. While successive technological leaps strengthen information flows and generate more possibilities, they also create new risks and vulnerabilities that we need to guard against. There are fears that these advances could fuel a more dangerous world of untruths, and enable malicious actors to execute harm like scams,  cyber attacks and even armed hostilities, at scale and with ease. There are also deeper issues of ethics, privacy and governance. All these means that it is critical for us to work together to gain a fuller grasp of digitalisation’s potential, and devise solutions to shape and harness it as a force for good, for all. 

It is therefore encouraging that more and more, we hearing about the need to develop a new “digital order” – in a world that is so interconnected and interdependent, we need to develop a shared understanding of how to harness new possibilities and manage new risks. But this will not be straightforward, given the state of the world today. International cooperation today is constrained by geopolitical circumstances, from the US-China strategic competition, to the protracted war in Ukraine, and now the conflict in Israel and Gaza.These have affected collaboration in the technology domain, particularly when countries frame technology through a national security lens. Rather than work with one another to understand and harness the possibilities of technology, including digital technology, some countries are now adopting a protective, insular stance. This will bring not just inefficiencies, but the danger of a bifurcated, fragmented world, where access to, and therefore the benefits of technology becomes curtailed. So I am glad we are gathering here today – from different countries and organisations, bearing different roles – to further this conversation about how we can shape and harness this digital revolution to build a more prosperous and inclusive world together. How can we go about shaping the emerging digital order to enable this? I would like to offer three suggestions. 

Foster partnerships across borders and sectors 

First, given the pervasive and fast-changing nature of digitalisation, we must adopt a multi-stakeholder approach and foster partnerships across borders and sectors. At the government and international organisations level, we have started to do so through the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Security of and in the use of Information Communications Technologies, and discussions on setting out a Global Digital Compact, some countries have forged ahead as pathfinders by inking Digital Economy Agreements (or DEAs), as an extension of free trade agreements. Singapore, for example, has DEAs with Australia, the UK and Korea. Even more ambitiously, we have ventured into multi-country agreements such as the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (better known as DEPA) between Singapore, Chile and New Zealand, as well as the recently announced commencement of negotiations for the ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement. Singapore is prepared to work with all countries on challenges that confront us all in the digital domain, and I am glad that we have so many like-minded partners. Beyond DEAs and the DEPA, we also work with many others through initiatives such as the US-Singapore Dialogue on Critical and Emerging Technologies which took place last week, and the Singapore-Shenzhen Smart City Initiative.

But we need to look beyond governments and international organisations, to also include stakeholders like non-government organisations, academia, and technology companies. Platforms like the Singapore International Cyber Week provide a good start by bringing different stakeholders together. All of you here come from different sectors and countries.  It is a sign of our willingness to work together to uphold the safe and secure utilisation of digital technology. Take “big tech” for example. These are the world’s largest technology companies whose products we use and interact with on a daily basis. It is in their interest to build a digital domain that is secure, trusted, and inclusive, so that they can maximise their reach and impact. By working in partnership with the public sector, both sides can realise synergies and achieve better outcomes. For example, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (or CSA) will be establishing separate partnerships with Microsoft and Google, to address cybersecurity threats and enhance our national cyber defence. 

We must encourage more of such public-private partnerships, to develop win-win solutions that safeguard and expand the public good. 

By proactively facilitating public-private partnerships, we can bring together the strengths of different stakeholders and build up trust in the process. Singapore’s CSA is also organising the Cybersecurity Industry Call for Innovation or CyberCall. CyberCall provides a platform for cybersecurity companies to develop innovative solutions to solve cybersecurity challenges faced by large end-users in Singapore, such as private and public sector owners of critical infrastructure. It taps on the Government’s ability to coordinate and pool cybersecurity challenge statements, which is then complemented by stakeholders’ capacity for innovation, and agility in action. Concrete partnerships enable different stakeholders to appreciate one another’s perspectives and develop a better understanding of the broader issues and interests at play. The digital domain is a shared one, akin to a new “global commons”. We must thus collectively steward the space and ensure it remains secure, accessible and beneficial to all. 

Build the Right Frameworks and Rules

I spoke about the importance of fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships to steward this new “digital global commons”. To do this effectively, we must build the right frameworks and scaffold it with shared rules, to facilitate constructive and meaningful discussions among stakeholders. We can think about rules at two levels. At the technical level, rules exist to ensure interoperability. Why is interoperability important? Simply put, it enables technologies to communicate with one another, which is the basis for developing an encompassing and inclusive digital domain. The alternative would be fragmentation – distinct, mutually exclusive technology stacks that cannot comprehend or communicate with one another. If that happens, it will hinder the free flow of information and data, which is the lifeblood of the digital economy. Some of us may remember what this looked like – in the 1990s, Japan used a mobile telecommunications standard which was different from the rest of the world. So visitors to Japan found their mobile phones incompatible with Japan’s mobile networks, and had to buy a separate phone for Japan. This was inconvenient and costly back then – if it happens in today’s far more interconnected world, the cost and disruption would be many times greater. In fact, it will negate the very benefits that digitalisation brings. 

To achieve interoperability, we must share a commitment that standards, as the fundamental building blocks of digital technology, remain objective and technically sound. The work of standard-setting organisations, such as the International Organization for Standardization and the International Telecommunication Union, is important. We must continue to lend support and contribute constructively to building trusted, secure, and inclusive digital infrastructure.  
Besides technical rules and standards, there must also be rules and norms among countries to ensure peaceful co-existence in an increasingly crowded digital space. In prescribing and proscribing what are acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, we foster stability and predictability. This in turn can reduce the risk of escalation or conflict in the digital domain. This is especially pertinent for small states, which make up more than half of all UN member states. Rules and norms in the digital domain help to build trust, and instil greater confidence that all countries, regardless of their size or rate of development in the domain, will not be disadvantaged. Singapore has been playing an active role in the case of cybersecurity, for example. Singapore currently chairs the UN Open Ended Work Group which I mentioned earlier. Its second annual progress report was recently adopted by consensus in New York. This report sets out the operationalisation of the first global inter-governmental Points of Contact directory, which is important because it gives all UN members a platform to reach out to their relevant counterparts in the event of cyber incidents. The report also allows  members to reach an agreement on a global list of voluntary confidence-building measures. It is a good development, as it demonstrates that despite geopolitical circumstances, there is a shared desire to continue building trust and building bridges in the digital and cyber domains. 

Build the right capabilities

This brings me to my third and final point: to keep the digital domain secure, trusted, and inclusive for all, we must build up capacity to secure and protect ourselves from threats and harms. 

Digital security and resilience are prerequisites for reaping the benefits of digitalisation. We must ensure that all countries build up this capacity, and no one is deprived of harnessing the possibilities of digitalisation. Those of us who are further along in their digitalisation journey must support those who are catching up.This is why Singapore is committed to help build capacity in cybersecurity, a key prong of the digital domain. In 2019, we set up the ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence, which has delivered over 50 programmes for over 1,500 senior officials from ASEAN and beyond. We have also collaborated with the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs to develop and implement the UN-Singapore Cyber Fellowship. This Fellowship equips senior officials with inter-disciplinary expertise to effectively oversee national cyber and digital security policy, strategy, and operations. There have been three iterations of the Fellowship so far, involving over 70 Fellows from all around the globe. 

We intend to deepen our commitment to capacity building, to build a more secure and inclusive digital world. To better meet global demand for cyber training, Singapore will launch the SG Cyber Leadership and Alumni Programme. This new Programme is open to all countries, offering courses at the foundational, advanced and executive levels. It will kick off its first course in March 2024. Participants can look forward to increased networking opportunities, and richer exchange of perspectives with participants from across the globe on the latest cyber issues. To support these new requirements, Singapore will extend our funding commitment of $30 million for cyber capacity-building by another three years.


Let me conclude. Singapore shares the view of many other states and organisations, that the digital domain should be open, secure, stable, accessible, peaceful and interoperable. To achieve this, we must proactively shape the emerging digital order by: Fostering partnerships across borders and sectors; Developing shared rules and norms of behaviour to scaffold the digital domain; and Building capacity across the board to guard against harms and threats. As we navigate the digital revolution, we must remain focused on the end-goal of enabling a safer, more prosperous, and more inclusive world. We must collectively lean forward to learn from and collaborate with one another, and shape the emerging digital order to be trusted, secure and inclusive. 

I wish everyone a meaningful and fruitful Singapore International Cyber Week 2023. Thank you.