Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at Google for Singapore on 23 August 2022.
President of Google Asia Pacific, Scott Beaumont,
Excellencies and Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to join you for Google’s 15th anniversary in Singapore.
Of course, we all know Google started earlier in 1998 – it has really been an incredible journey of nearly 25 years. I think all of us might remember our first encounter with Google. I certainly do, because I started work at about the same time when Google was founded in 1998. I was then a research economist in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. When you are doing research, you scour through all sorts of research documents. The Internet was fairly new then, but it was emerging as a treasure trove of information. Brilliant for doing research, particularly in 1997/1998, when the Asian Financial Crisis was ongoing and we wanted to find out more about region. So we started using the internet. And when you start using the internet, to do it well, you need a good search engine. Of course, you had a few options then, I will not mention names. But someone said to me: “have you tried this new search engine, it’s really good!” So I went to Google, started using it, and the results were remarkable. I switched to using Google, and have not looked back since. I do not think I am the only one, because I know many people have the same experience, which is why Google remains the dominant leader for search on the Internet.
And of course, over the years, you have done a lot more in many other areas, whether it is Gmail, YouTube, Google Pay, Google Cloud, Google Maps, just to name a few. Google has been an essential part of this digital transformation for the world, and for Singapore. You have changed countless lives for the better.
Of course, Google has done a lot within Singapore too. You have made Singapore your home in Asia, serving users and businesses in the region and across the world. You have grown your presence here considerably, now to 3,000 employees; You have also progressively invested in infrastructure, and I understand that today you are officially opening your 3rd data centre facility here. In particular, Google has been a steadfast partner because, over the course of the last two and a half years of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic together, we have had to make significant adjustments to our lifestyles. We have had to study, learn and work from home, and find new ways of connecting with one another virtually. Technology has been a big enabler, and Google has stepped forward to provide such solutions. We have also had to reach out to seniors, and other different groups in the community, to embrace and learn how to use technology. In particular, to SMEs as well, to get them started on their own digitalisation journey so that they can make better use of digital tools to continue doing business even in the midst of lockdown and restrictions. We are very grateful to everyone in Google in the last two and a half years for working closely with the Government in tackling the pandemic. Thank you very much for your contribution and hard work.
We have had a strong partnership with Google these past 15 years. What will the next 15 years look like? No one can tell; we do not have a crystal ball. But I think when you look around the world, we can be sure that the next 15 years will be very different from the last 15 years. There are of course major uncertainties in the economic outlook. Whether there will be a slowdown or inflation, these are issues that we watch out for very closely. But more fundamentally, I think we all know that the world is likely to be at a turning point. The last 15 years and more, we were operating on the logic that we could all do business together. Countries do not have to be friends for business to be done. I think now, increasingly, there is a new logic at work – Let us be friends first, before we do business. So Geo-politics is increasingly driving trade and investments, and if this trend were to continue, and it looks likely for a longer period of time, then we are heading to a more bifurcated and decoupled world. We must brace ourselves for more uncertainties and more challenges down the road.
But dealing with challenges has always been part of Singapore’s nation building journey. Because we are an improbable nation – we are a country that was never meant to be. We are a little red dot with no natural resources at all. No one gave Singapore any chance of success when Singapore became independent. Because of our inherent vulnerabilities, we are constantly reminded that the world does not owe us a living – that we have ultimately to count on our wits and ingenuity to survive and thrive.
That’s what we have been doing since our independence. In the process of this journey, we realise that for every challenge and vulnerability we face, there are also new opportunities. In fact, our challenges make us stronger, our constraints and limitations become powerful motivations for us to keep on doing better, and to seek new opportunities for growth and transformation. By embracing our karma – that we are small and constrained, I think we end up becoming better and better, year by year.
So when we look ahead at our next bound of development, when we see challenges and uncertainties around us, we do not have to feel intimidated or overwhelmed. Because indeed amidst great uncertainty, there are still tremendous opportunities here in Singapore and all over Asia, in particular, Southeast Asia. In fact, the digital economy in Southeast Asia is only just getting started – fuelled by a huge, untapped but fast-growing digital consumer market. Singapore, located at the heart of Asia, is well placed to capitalise on these opportunities.
On the government’s part, we will do everything we can to enhance our value proposition as a hub for the region, so that we are in a much better position to capitalise on these opportunities. We are already a hub for finance and ideas. We will make it even more attractive. We will enhance our role as a hub for trade, and for people and talent flows. Which is why, if you heard the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally over the weekend, we are doubling down on our plans to expand both Changi Airport and our maritime ports. We also want to be a hub for digital connections and technology. That is why we are making investments in critical infrastructure, and putting in place important enablers like the Digital Economy Agreements we have been pursuing with different countries.
Of course, to be an effective hub, we also have to work with companies like Google to strengthen our tech eco-system here in Singapore, especially in the areas of skills, innovation and sustainability. And I am glad that Google has been a strong partner of Singapore in all of these aspects. For example, through your Skills Ignition programme, which you highlighted just now, partnership with the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group on AI – and we look forward to the applications that may arise from this collaboration – as well as your partnership with MAS on ESG data.
Of course, as we work together on these different opportunities, on all of these different areas, we must also ensure that tech always remains a force for good here and everywhere around the world. We all believe in the tremendous transformational potential of technology. But we also know that there is a need for guard rails to manage the downsides of technology. For example, downsides with regard to fake news, misinformation, online falsehoods and online harms. So we should work together to engage young people on cyber wellness and digital literacy. We should also work together to ensure everyone can benefit from technology, including engaging seniors to help them learn new technology. I think it was one of our previous speakers, Ben, who said it was difficult for his parents. I know that for a fact too, because I have been trying to get my mother to do this too. She is 82; she is getting better now with virtual connections and using the Internet, so it is possible. We also have to upskill and reskill our workers, equip them with new IT skills or, for that matter, continue to reach out and engage Small and Medium Enterprises so that all local businesses are able to harness the potential of technology.
In this regard, I am very glad that Google is on board with us on all of these areas. In fact, you have launched several initiatives on these fronts, in partnership with Government – from training SMEs in digital marketing, to helping promote good digital habits and creating safer environments for children online. These are important initiatives and we value greatly the opportunity to work closely with Google on all of these programmes.
All in all, we welcome Google as our partner in development and we thank you for your many contributions over the last 15 years in Singapore. A big thank you to each and every Googler, all 3,000 of you here in Singapore, and I certainly look forward to growing and deepening this partnership together for many more years to come. Thank you very much.
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