S'pore 'should play to its strengths in global finance'

S'pore 'should play to its strengths in global finance'

SINGAPORE - Singapore is unlikely to overtake Switzerland as the biggest wealth centre in the world any time soon but it should strive to play to its strengths in the world of global finance, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Assessing Singapore's future as a financial hub, Mr Lee said yesterday that Singapore is focusing on a number of growth areas, not just in wealth management.

He noted that over the years, the Republic has steadily honed its expertise in many areas of finance, including fixed income, capital markets, foreign exchange and investment banking.

More recently, Singapore has successfully built its reputation as a wealth management centre.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers released earlier this week said that Singapore could overtake Switzerland, currently with US$2 trillion (S$2.6 trillion) in assets, as the top wealth centre in the world by 2015. Singapore was ranked as the second-biggest wealth centre.

Mr Lee said in a dialogue with DBS chief executive officer Piyush Gupta that although Singapore has about $1 trillion in assets under management, the Republic is unlikely to take top spot.

"I don't think that's true. I don't want that to be my marketing line," he said at the DBS Asian Insights conference on Friday.

"We are quite happy to continue our way quietly in the world."

Mr Lee highlighted the unique strengths that Singapore can leverage to continue building its reputation as a global financial hub.

With its robust regulatory system, it will be in a good position to remain a key financial centre amid sweeping regulatory changes introduced globally in recent years to curb problems like tax evasion.

"We are a financial centre, not quite like New York, neither are we like Cayman Islands. We are a reputable jurisdiction, and we play according to global rules," said Mr Lee.

He also added that Singapore has been focusing on other areas of growth such as becoming an offshore Chinese yuan centre.

Singapore joined Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau in having a yuan clearing bank in February.

As the region's economies continue to grow, banks will also want to base their operations out of Singapore, he noted.

Mr Gupta asked Mr Lee if he was confident that the ASEAN Economic Community, a move to create stronger regional economic integration, will be achieved by 2015. Mr Lee said major progress has been made in areas like free trade agreements, but not "every piece will fall into place" on time.

As to whether the United States should continue to balance China in the region, Mr Lee said that the US will always have an important role to play.

"We've always believed that the US has an important and constructive role in the region, balancing China but also participating, cooperating with China in a constructive relationship," he said. "And it's not a zero sum game."

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