Drawing FDI still relevant to Singapore but is no longer enough: Ong Ye Kung

The post-colonial strategy of attracting foreign direct investment remains relevant for the Singapore economy but it is not enough in this next phase of nation-building, said Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung on Monday.

Delivering his maiden speech in Parliament on the first day of the week-long debate on the President's Address, he noted how things would be different for the economy in the next 50 years.

China's ongoing economic transition will have a significant impact on Singapore even as the United States, Europe and Japan continue to be major players and important investors here.

China's economy, the world's second-largest, will be more discerning in allocating capital to more productive uses and this will allow it to move up the value-added ladder, said Mr Ong, a Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC.

The trade surplus that ASEAN experienced with China in the early 2000s has since flipped into a deficit because China now produces components, assembles them into final products and ships them globally. 

Mr Ong said that it was not possible to look at China's value chain and try to fit in, just as Singapore did in the past when it outsourced more labour-intensive manufacturing activities to China.

"Today, China drives the value chain. We must look at China now as a tremendous business and consumer market that we can tap into," he added.

"Many Asian economies are facing headwinds not because there is slower growth in China, but that a new division of labour is emerging in the world, and each economy is finding its footing in the new configuration."

He also singled out India as another country that could have an impact on Singapore's economic fate. India, already the fastest growing developing nation in Asia, is likely to be the largest country in the world by population and third-largest economy globally by the year 2050.

Outside of Asia, Africa will account for a quarter of the world's total population by 2050 and be a major part of the global equation on growth, climate change and international migration.

Mr Ong stressed that Singaporeans must "know the markets around us intimately", be it traditions, customs, taste, language, habits or psychology.

"We used to encourage Singaporeans to anchor in Singapore. With a strong anchor now planted, it is now necessary to seek our fortunes in the region. The learning curve will be steep," he said.

Noting that the institutes of higher education in Singapore are busy encouraging their students to go on overseas internships, Mr Ong said that it was important to be able to understand, bridge and operate across different cultures.

With depth in one's know-how and skills, the Singaporean worker's expertise would be valued and put to good use, no matter which country he or she was in.

The Singapore economy was one of three aspects of governance that Mr Ong felt had to evolve in the coming years due to changing domestic and external circumstances.

He spoke about how there was a greater need for "wiser minds", or the way people make decisions. While there is a need to continue to emphasise integrity and stand firm against corruption, there can be a certain degree of judgment and discretion.

He cited the example of social assistance schemes, which are means-tested with criteria but require a lot of qualitative assessment and judgment on the ground.

"Who's to say a person earning S$2,500 with two aged and sick parents to support is less deserving of help than someone living alone earning S$1,500?" he pointed out.

Similarly, when it comes to public tenders, the consideration is no longer just price but on how compelling and attractive the proposals are.

On his point about the resolve to define the Singapore identity, Mr Ong said that the ability to develop a more distinct national identity and strengthen the Singapore soul would be "our monument" for the next 50 years.

"But our identity is not derived merely by a legal fiat that pronounced everyone 'Singaporean'. There is richness in the identity, drawn from our diversity, ancestry and cultural origins," he said.

The Parliament sitting on Monday also saw Mr Ong and six other MPs appointed to the powerful Committee of Selection.

The others are Chan Chun Sing, Cedric Foo, Grace Fu, Indranee Rajah, Low Thia Khiang and Masagos Zulkifli. They will be tasked to pick MPs to sit on Parliament's various committees.

Separately, Charles Chong and Lim Biow Chuan were elected as Deputy Speakers. Mr Chong, an experienced backbencher who entered politics in 1988, served as a deputy speaker in the previous Parliament while it will be the first time for Mr Lim in this role.


This article was first published on Jan 26, 2016.
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