S’pore’s ability to understand different markets makes it ‘untouchable’: George Yeo

Singapore’s maintenance of high standards makes it a trusted hub while its ability to understand different markets makes it untouchable, said Mr George Yeo.

He was speaking at the pre-conference session of this year’s Singapore Perspectives on Jan 11, 2022.

To illustrate his point, the former Foreign Affairs Minister gave the example of the herb Lingzhi. Back when he was Health Minister, the ministry had to destroyed entire batches of Lingzhi from China because of heavy metal contamination. Importers then made sure that their Lingzhi were clean when it came to Singapore.

“I discovered to my delight that Chinese tourists when they came to Singapore, will buy herbs from china in Singapore because they knew that Singapore maintained higher standards than China,” he said.

“So our economic competitiveness relies upon our ability to understand different markets, different domains. And no one can touch us.”

He added that Hong Kong could but is now undergoing a period of difficulty because of the National Security Law.

“For the next 10 years Singapore has no competitor in this space within a thousand miles,” he concluded.

The advantages of a city state that is Singapore

This year’s conference, held over four days, is on cities and asks specifically how can Singapore continue to succeed as a global city and a city-state in the 21st century?  

Mr Yeo opined that as a city state, Singapore enjoys certain advantages such as control over influx and outflux.

“When we are city state, we are borders, which means we can control what comes in what goes out, that which we want flow in and out freely, that which we don’t want, we keep out.”

And with this “semi permeable membrane”, managed by many ministries, is assurance of autonomy, he said.

“If we were a part of a big country, we are not masters of our destiny and sometimes our interests are not aligned with the interest of the larger country. And even with opportunities, we can’t reach out to grab them. We can as a city state.”

Bright prospects for Asia and by extension, Singapore

Moderator and ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee asked Mr Yeo if Singapore will be among the great cities in the region and in the world in the next 20 years.

Mr Yeo predicted bright prospects for Asia, with Singapore, which is “right smack in the middle”, in an advantageous position.

“If we position ourselves well both in terms of connectivity and software, then our prospects are bright,” he said.

However, he added that if Singapore remains just a city state, it would find itself between a rock and a hard place.

Thus, he urged Singapore to reroot itself in Asean and become a capital city of the region. Working through Asean would help Singapore not to take sides but lean “a little to the other side”, if a larger and more powerful nation pushes Singapore too hard.

To be Singaporean is to be bigger

He also spoke about how its diversity makes Singapore special.

“Singapore is special because our different communities retain their ancestral cultures… and we encourage them to be proud of their ancestral cultures. Our diversity is not based upon everybody curbing themselves to become Singaporean, but everybody being bigger in accepting others who are not like themselves.

“If we can make this happen – that to be Singaporean is to be bigger than what you were when you were in China or India or Indonesia or Thailand… then to be a Singaporean is to become bigger.”

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Cover photo credit: IPS