5 ways S’pore can thrive in this fragmented world: Chan Chun Sing


Make no mistake — it’s an unruly and divided time for the world.

But the Government is facing this new age undaunted. It is focusing on opportunities while managing challenges.

“In this fractious and fragmenting world, we believe there will be a premium for connectivity, stability, progressiveness, cohesion, and trust,” said Minister for Education Chan Chun Seng at the 21st Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific Summit on Nov 17.  

But in every crisis, lies an opportunity.

And here he outlined five ways Singapore can thrive — even in this fragmented world.

1. Bridging gaps

A more fragmented world means that there will be a greater premium for places that can allow global talent and businesses to bridge gaps and serve markets across fractures, he noted.

“Singapore is and will continue to be one such place. We don’t take sides. We take positions to uphold existential principles and the international rule of law for the greater good of all, and for the long-term. We are committed to being a consistent and reliable partner. We will not sacrifice this for short-term political expediency or populist tendencies,” he told the audience.

Singapore’s commitment to international partners has indeed been consistent and is also one reason why investors have continued to keep faith with us.

“From the depth of the two global oil crises of the 1970s to the global pandemic in the 2020s, we have kept ourselves open and connected to the world, so as to enable our international partners to fulfil their commercial obligations,” he said.

2. Providing a predictable and progressive environment

Having this is vital for businesses as they can continue to grow without having to worry about the external environment.

“We appreciate the time necessary to gestate impactful investments – from deep tech, to biopharma, green tech, digital infrastructure and other capital-intensive sectors. We also appreciate the need to evolve our rules quickly to match the rapid evolution of new business models and technologies.”

“Progressiveness based on principles, and predictability to support evolving needs are not oxymoronic but two sides of the same coin for us,” said Minister Chan.

3. Staying competitive and cohesive

“For Singapore, these are again two sides of the same coin that must come together,” he said.

That is because Singapore’s open and meritocratic system lets us mobilise talent and ideas from across the globe. So Singapore remains competitive on the world stage.

“At the same time, our competitiveness is not based on the abilities of individuals alone, but on the strengths of our system,” the Minister added.

“As a small city-state, we have been able to take tough and necessary decisions for the long-term. This has only been possible with a strong and cohesive society as our foundation.”

“Our cohesiveness has allowed us to withstand pressures to succumb to factional demands, especially as insecurities and inequalities grow,” he noted.

“We have done this not by capping the top, but by constantly uplifting the bottom by doing more for them, and running a fair and meritocratic system to provide fair opportunities to all.”

For example, at a Forward Singapore dialogue a few days later on Nov 19, Minister Chan focused on lifelong learning and supporting all sorts of students.

But back to his Summit talk.

“We are committed to take care of those with the least, providing hope for the broad middle, and encouraging those with the most to contribute more,” he said.

4. Competing on speed, not size

The Education Minister then touched on how Singapore must compete on the speed of our evolution, rather than the size of our resource base.

“Our education and training system must and will increasingly focus on supporting our people to learn for life, and stay relevant and competitive for life. We believe that no amount of frontloading will be sufficient for a constantly and fast evolving world.”

And that’s why the SkillsFuture movement is so important.

In order to maintain the speed of our evolution, industries and institutions must connect and collaborate with the best in the world to create new value propositions.

“And this is important. Knowledge is becoming increasingly commoditised. Our value-add comes from value creation. Our challenge is not just to equip our people the know-how to solve yesterday’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Our challenge is to be able to define, to frame tomorrow’s challenges and find solutions.”

“This will allow us to achieve the speed of evolution necessary to stay globally competitive, and make it much harder for us to be displaced by price or size.”

5. Focusing on our niche of high trust, high touch, high tech

Focusing on these high-value sectors play to Singapore’s strengths.

“The reason is their need for a high-trust environment where companies and innovators can be assured of their intellectual property and consumers can be assured on the standards and quality of the products and services,” said Minister Chan.

“For us to be in the sectors requiring ‘high touch’, our people must be prepared to deeply understand our worldwide customer base,” he added.

How so, though?

“By living and working overseas in their formative years to build up the deep knowledge and wide networks to succeed in the highest echelons of global leadership,” explained the Minister.

“This is why we spare no effort to provide opportunities for our youths to connect with the rest of the world beyond Singapore, from a young age to their years in the universities, polytechnics and ITE.”

Reducing distrust and going forward

And regarding international affairs, the Minister noted the value of regular, patient communication for increasing trust.

He noted how conflict is likely when countries misinterpret each other’s plans; this due to listening to their own domestic “echo-chamber” of opinion.

“There is no quick antidote to strategic distrust,” he laid out.

“However, there can be a better chance to avoid miscalculation, if there is more and regular communication, as well as efforts to check blind spots and revisit assumptions, at every level.”

And Covid reducing the frequency and intensity of exchanges at all levels didn’t help.

“Time, effort, and patience are required. Statesmanship, courage, and strategic vision, on both sides, will serve everyone better, than political opportunism,” said the Minister.

Here, Petir.sg notes that there’s a way for us to reduce the effect of these echo chambers — Forward Singapore, an exercise for Singaporeans to unite, examine our values and aspirations, build consensus and so refresh our social compact.

The Government’s uniting society at all levels.

It’s, in other words, building a strong foundation of trust so that Singapore’s served well on the voyage ahead.

All photos from Chan Chun Sing Facebook