DPM Heng Swee Keat's interview with Xinhua (May 2019)

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 17 May 2019

Transcript of DPM and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat's interview with Xinhua on 17 May 2019.


Xinhua News Agency: 首先,祝贺您升任新加坡共和国副总理,也非常感谢您在百忙之中接受我们的访问。我们知道就是前一段时间,新加坡总理李显龙前往北京出席了第二届“一带一路”高峰合作论坛。中国国家主席习近平在与他会晤的时候又提到说新加坡和中国是共建“一带一路”的天然伙伴。新加坡和中国在“一带一路”框架下的合作给沿线国家的高水平,高质量共建“一带一路”提供了示范作用。请问副总理阁下,你对习主席的这番论述有什么评价?
[Translation: Chinese President Xi Jinping recently said that China and Singapore are natural partners in the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Singapore cooperation has played an exemplary role in promoting the high-quality, high-level construction of the Belt and Road. What are your views?]

DPM Heng Swee Keat: President Xi’s proposal for Belt and Road is a very strategic and forward-looking initiative. It has many dimensions to it, so let me just highlight three. One is about connectivity, because by building infrastructure both within each country as well as across the region, we can promote connectivity across countries, across cities. This is very important for us to then enable the second thing, which is flow - the flow of goods, the flow of services, the flow of ideas, the flow of peoples, the flow of capital. Building on that flow, it enables then a third level of work, which is collaboration across all these many different areas. Collaboration in economic development, collaboration in the development of people and collaboration in promoting a deeper understanding of peoples across different parts of the world. So it is a very strategic and forward-looking initiative which Singapore strongly supports. We have been a very early supporter of the Belt and Road initiative because we see the strategic value of this initiative and how it can be a key enabler for the next stage of regional as well as global economic development.


Xinhua: 我们知道今年是新中国成立70周年,我们知道您也多次访问中国,对中国非常了解。请问您如何评价新中国建国70年来的发展道路?
[Translation: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. How do you view China’s development path over the past 70 years?]

DPM Heng: China’s development over the last 70 years has been most impressive and I would say that if you just look at even in just the last 40 years since Mr Deng Xiaoping started the policy of ‘reform and opening up’, the developments have been even more spectacular. The economic growth of China over the last 40 odd years, in particular, has been unprecedented in human history, where 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty. If you look at the development of people, the development of infrastructure, the development of cities in China, it is really quite unprecedented. So this is a very impressive spectacular set of development and in doing so, it has really enabled hundreds and millions of Chinese people to really move into a much better, much higher standard of living for its people and in turn, China’s development has helped to catalyse developments all around China.

China is now the largest trading partner for most of ASEAN countries and with all neighbouring countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea. So these inter-linkages have grown very significantly across and I believe that the Belt and Road initiative will serve to enhance this inter-connection across the region. I know that China is putting in a lot of effort to continue to restructure its economy and I believe that with the right policies, there are many significant changes that can continue to take place in China, that can continue to allow China to develop. Unlike smaller economies, China is now a big continental economy and even within China itself, the stimulation of domestic consumption and the continual upgrading of many aspects - infrastructure, environment, as well as better provision of healthcare, housing, education -  all these will be major drivers of growth for China in the years ahead.

In turn, China’s growth and development can help to also add driving forces to the global economy, and certainly in the regional economies. So I think the development of initiatives like the RCEP (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement), which will cover almost half the world’s population, will be a significant development. But even with or without the RCEP, I think the cooperation can continue to be enhanced. I hope the RCEP and other regional arrangements like ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement would continue to drive growth and open up more opportunities for our businesses.


Xinhua:  我们知道就是明年那个新加坡中国将迎来建交30周年,之前李显龙总理在北京访问间有表示,希望未来新加坡领导人更替后新中关系能顺利发展。您作为JCBC的新方主席,对现阶段新中关系现在的发展有什么评价,未来有怎么方面的展望和促使?
[Translation: Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China. During his visit to China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed his hope for the smooth development of bilateral ties following the Cabinet changes in Singapore. As the Singapore co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), what do you think of the current development of Singapore-China relations? How will you push forward Singapore-China relations in the future?]

DPM Heng: Our economic cooperation with China has been going on for many years. Our former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee was a very early advocate of that. As you know, he was very much involved in the opening up of experimental projects in Southern China. In turn, that little model has been useful, leading to many corporation agreements - we have seven business council now, we have very key projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-city and now the International Land-Transport Corridor.

When you look at all these developments, and building on the work of the business councils driving these different areas of development, new areas of cooperation would have to be explored.

I hope that the JCBC will be able to give it a new impetus. I look forward to co-chairing JCBC with Vice-Premier Han Zheng. In that regard, we have to explore new ways. We have to think about how do we build on what is already a very good foundation and take it to a higher level. We will have to look at how we can continue to grow new areas of cooperation that would meet the needs of both China and Singapore. At the same time, that will allow us to also play a part to stimulate developments in the wider ASEAN region and in the broader Asian region.

If you look at the region, I believe that the potential for growth is there, and economic growth is not for its own sake. Economic growth will enable us to build better lives for our people and to create better jobs, and in this age of technological changes, it is even more critical that we do this. So with the decline in support for globalisation, with the technological changes that are happening, with the many structural changes that are happening all around the world and particularly in our region, the scope for cooperation has actually been enlarged. So the challenges are greater but so are the opportunities.


Xinhua: 您刚才也提到说您即将以副总理身份访中国,出席新加坡上海全能合作理事会的会议。我们知道之前新加坡和中国有七个省市建立了经贸合作理事会。那么新的沪新理事会也涵盖了六方面的合作内容。你如何评价过去七个经贸合作理事会在中新合作方面所发挥的作用?那么未来如何看待沪新理事会可能在中新方面扮演的角色?
[Translation: The Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council covers six areas of cooperation, namely the Belt and Road initiative, financial services, technology and innovation, ease of doing business, urban governance and people-to-people exchanges. Previously, Singapore had established seven business councils with Chinese provinces and cities. How do you evaluate the role of these seven business councils in promoting Singapore-China cooperation? And what role will the new Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council play in the development of bilateral relations?]

DPM Heng: We already have several business councils. In fact, I am chairing one of them, the Singapore-Jiangsu Cooperation Council, and in turn, the Singapore-Jiangsu Cooperation Council builds on what we have been doing on the Suzhou Industrial Park. The Suzhou Industrial Park just celebrated its 25th anniversary. If you look at the history of our cooperation across the JCBC, what you can see is how at every stage of China’s development and at every stage of development of the Singapore economy and the global economy, we have been able to find new modalities of cooperation, building on what was already there, and to keep these strong and growing, but also growing into new areas of cooperation.

First, the seven business councils have performed a very important role. It has promoted deeper understanding among our businesses’ on the potential for collaboration. It has also promoted better understanding among people, among our officials as well as business leaders on both sides.  Having developed that partnership, they can continue to take the partnership further. So the seven cooperation councils will continue its work and I hope they will continue to deepen cooperation.

With regards to the Singapore Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council, I think there are a number of key areas. First, there are three areas which relate very directly to our future economic development - in the area of Belt and Road initiative, in the area of financial connectivity, financial cooperation and in the area of technology and innovation. Now these are important areas for future growth but as the Council’s name suggest, it is also a ‘comprehensive cooperation’ council. So we also have people-to-people linkages, the ease of doing business, as well as urban governance. All these are very important areas for us to work on, for us to cooperate on improving the quality of life, particularly in modern international metropolis. So I very much look forward to looking at how Singapore and Shanghai can cooperate in these areas, and deepen the collaboration. I think we have had many good areas of cooperation in Shanghai region already; many businesses are already there.

I have been to Shanghai on many occasions, including when I was at the Monetary Authority of Singapore. I was looking at how Shanghai can continue to develop its financial services and to grow as a business service centre. And that also fits in very nicely with our work, with regards to your earlier question on the Belt and Road, because I think the Belt and Road will also open up new areas of collaboration. Not just in trade and investment, but also in many modern services, financial services, legal services, professional services. All these are needed as the global supply chain reconfigures, as structural changes are happening all around the world.


Xinhua: 作为新加坡新任的副总理,您认为工作中面临的最大挑战是什么,您将如何应对这一挑战?
[Translation: As Singapore's new Deputy Prime Minister, what do you think is the biggest challenge in your work and how will you deal with it?]

DPM Heng: The biggest challenge for Singapore is how we can keep politics constructive and forward-looking. Because if you look at our history in the last 50 odd years of independence, we have been able to achieve very good consensus on what our short-term challenges are and what our long-term challenges are. And for us in Singapore, and I would say that even for many other countries around the world, it is important for us to be able to first tackle the immediate challenges because the challenges are right in front of you and you have to tackle them. But at the same time, even as we tackle immediate challenges, it is important for us to look forward and think about what our longer-term developments. And for longer term development, you sometimes have to undertake policies that may not be so obvious or of immediate concern to our people. But if we set ourselves on the right trajectory from the beginning, I think we have a better chance of succeeding.

In that regard, how do we keep the consensus and how do we mobilise our people to come together to deal with short-term challenges, as well as longer term challenges and opportunities. So that I would say is the biggest challenge. Keeping Singapore united, cohesive and forward-looking is critical to our future.

Now with that sense of unity, we can then tackle the many challenges which are now happening all around the world. Challenges such as first and foremost, our own aging population. Our population is aging and aging rapidly, and we must think of ways and means in which we can keep our people productive and live long and healthy life, and to be able to continue to do what they enjoy doing.

Then at the same time, we have to transform our economy. This is going to become more challenging as you see the support for globalisation around the world is coming down, it is declining because people feel that the benefits of globalisation have not benefited them. The most immediate manifestation of this is the trade friction between the US and China.

With that, it complicates many, many calculations by many business leaders. It creates great uncertainty among investors everywhere around the world. Therefore, you are seeing global trade falling, global investment falling, the IMF has lowered its growth forecast thrice now. So those are some of the medium term and I would even say, both short term, medium term and some of it will be long term challenges that we would need to tackle.

But at the same time, there are many opportunities for us. I believe that the economic growth in the region, in the Asian region, will continue to be fairly good. If you look at the projections by all the international bodies that are looking at the global economy, 10-20 years ahead, Asia will continue to be one of the fastest growing regions in the world. One of the fastest growing regions in the world. ASEAN itself with a population of over 650 million people is likely to be the 4th largest economy in the world and with the growth of China and China now being the second largest economy in the world, so you have China, you have ASEAN, you have India.

If you look at the whole RCEP countries, it is about half the world’s population and Singapore is situated in the heart of this vibrant growing region. So I hope Singapore will continue to prosper, to grow.

But of course it means that for us to do that, we have to make many changes. We have to make a great effort to transform our economy, we have to make a great effort to tap into technology and innovation.  Therefore, building Singapore as a global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise will be a very key part of our work going forward. And at the same time, building our social, strengthening our social fabric in Singapore.  And then building very constructive relationships with China and with partners in our Asian region and all around the world, because I believe that it is important for us to build a more stable and prosperous world in the coming years.


Xinhua: 今年新加坡庆祝开埠200周年,在这个新的历史节点上,咋们未来,你觉得你刚才也有谈到一些,就是新加坡怎么保持,继续保持她的经济活力以及竞争力?
[Translation: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of modern Singapore. What are the opportunities and challenges for the future of Singapore’s economy? How will you maintain Singapore’s economic vitality and competitiveness?]

DPM Heng: We are commemorating the 200th anniversary of the landing of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore for several reasons, and it is not just to look at the economic challenges. The main thing is we hope to inspire our people.  For us to continue to look outwards because if you look at Singapore’s history over the last, not just the 200 years, but the last 700 over years, how our people came together to respond to challenges happening around the world, and how do we deal with challenges and build new opportunities, is a very important part of our DNA for being successful.

And countries have always been very interdependent and in this age of globalisation, we are even more interdependent. So when we look back at the last 700 years, in particular the last 200 years, developments in and around the whole world - whether it is the economic relationship, trading relationship, or changes in technology or industrial revolution - all these have tremendous impact on us, on all our neighbours and all countries in the world. Understanding how global forces shape our own development and how in turn we respond is a very critical part of this commemoration.

So we hope to use this opportunity of commemoration for our people to reflect on the past, so that we can look forward to the future. If we reflect on our past deeply enough, we can look forward to the future with greater confidence. Our Bicentennial exhibition at the Fort Canning area is coming up soon and I am glad that many Singaporeans have signed up for this experience.

So it will be a very meaningful exercise. Now as to your question on the economic relations in the coming years, if we look at our economic relations and the world’s economic relations over the last 200 years, the one major theme in the last 200 years is that it has been a very turbulent period. We went through two major World Wars; we went through several industrial revolutions. In every period of massive changes like these, it can bring great discomfort to people around the world and that if this discomfort is not properly handled, the consequences can be rather disastrous. So I think it is important for us to reflect on that.

But at the same time, I think every citizen in the world hopes to have a better life, hopes that the standard of living can improve. So the big question for us is in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, if we learnt from the past industrial revolutions, is how can people around the world and countries around the world come together (or not come together) to manage these massive changes.

It is always very easy to overestimate the impact of industrial revolution and technology in the short-run and say, ‘well this is going to change the world tomorrow’, and then of course people over-invest and end up with financial crisis, and people become very disappointed. But it is also very easy to underestimate the impact of technological changes in the longer run.  So we will have to have a very calibrated approach -  to look at what we must do in the short-run and what we must do in the longer-run.

Personally, I am optimistic that technological revolution can be a force for good in the years ahead.  But we must undertake a lot of changes in order to better prepare our people and our businesses for the future. And that is why for us in Singapore, the work on the Future Economy Council is so critical - that we want to work together with all our businesses and all our workers to transform our economy, to make sure we are able to keep up with these very major changes which are coming our way.


Xinhua: 对您所领导的未来经济委员会和国家研究基金会在新加坡未来的那个国家规划,长期规划当中将扮演什么样的角色?
[Translation: How will the Singapore Committee on the Future Economy and the National Research Foundation, which you lead, help to formulate Singapore's long-term development strategy?]

DPM Heng: The Future Economy Council came out of our earlier exercise to look at how we can change the structure of Singapore’s economy, and in particular, with the changes that are going on around the world, the growth in the Asian region, particularly the growth of China and the growth of our ASEAN partners. It is very important for us to think about how we can restructure our economy. So we now have 23 Industry Transformation Maps that are designed to work together with businesses and our unions and workers as well as our academia, to look at how we can help to transform these 23 sectors. This is the first important phase of our work.

But going into the future, I mentioned earlier that technology and innovation would be a very critical part of our transformation. So I am happy that I am also chairing the National Research Foundation and I will be bringing together the work that we do in the National Research Foundation to transform our economy. I would say that the National Research Foundation has a responsibility, not just about the economy but also about our society. So for instance, we have an aging population. How do we make the best use of our research in health and bio-medical sciences, to enable our seniors to live even better as they grow older? So those are very major changes that we are undertaking in this exercise but I believe that it is necessary.

I am optimistic that we can make progress because I think we have a very high level of support from our people and of course, being able to do all these well is important for us to address both our short-term challenges, as well as our longer term challenges, and to make use of the developments in our knowledge of sciences, in our technology and in search for new business models. We are looking for innovative ideas for us to continue to do that.


Xinhua: 好,谢谢您接受我们的采访。祝愿您北京中国之行圆满成功,新加坡的未来越好,越来越美好。

DPM Heng: Thank you I look forward to working more closely with our colleagues in China in many areas of collaboration.

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