Sep 21, 2010
S'pore's strength: courage in tackling challenges
Taiwan's China Times recently ran a feature on Singapore and interviewed Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Below is a translated excerpt of the paper's editorial published after the interview.
BOTH Singapore and Taiwan share similar strengths and weaknesses, but Singapore is more courageous in confronting international challenges and turning negatives into positives. There are many areas where Taiwan can learn from Singapore.
Like Taiwan, Singapore lacks natural resources. But Singapore's achievements are so amazing, other countries with bigger populations and greater resources pale in comparison.
In this mini-island, one can reach Malaysia by driving north for 20 minutes, and you can see Indonesia if you face the south. Singapore can be said to have no protective screen. But though exposed it does not cower and pull down the shutters, but instead faces the challenges of the outside world bravely.
It utilised its geographical location as a hub and positioned itself as a free port with zero tariffs. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: 'To develop, we have to venture overseas, and to have an economic scale, we have to go beyond our national limitations.'
Faced with the rapid rise of China in recent years, Singapore took the initiative by latching on to China's growth impetus. Besides closer economic and trade ties, Singapore worked with China on various projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-City.
Taiwan and Singapore look poised to sign an economic agreement that will take the formation of a Singapore-Taiwan-China trade triangle to another level, opening another channel for Singapore.
Singapore faces a declining and ageing population, and it brought in a large number of foreign workers, permanent residents and new citizens to make up for the shortfall in talent and labour. There are rumblings about overcrowding, rising property prices and competition for job and education opportunities, but Singapore's general policy of accepting immigrants to boost the economy remains unchanged.
PM Lee has even urged Singaporeans to accept the new citizens with an open heart and learn how to face international competition early in schools.
In reality, Singapore has never flinched in the face of fierce international competition just to protect itself. It proceeds to face the challenge and forces itself to grow and surpass its rivals. For example, it adopted an open-sky policy that required Singapore Airlines to rely on its own ability to stand out from the competition. As a result, SIA is now one of the best airlines in the world.
Singapore's basic philosophy is that the Government should take care of the people, but it should not be overly protective of them lest the people and the country lose their competitiveness. This is something worth pondering on for Taiwan.
Another example is the use of water resources. In the past, Singapore had to rely to a great extent on water from Malaysia, which means that its lifeline was at the mercy of others. But Singapore overcame these difficulties by developing an advanced technology in water recycling and purification. Together with desalination technology, it is not only rapidly becoming self-sufficient in water, but has also become an exporter of water technology.
Confronting its shortcomings, striving to overcome them and turning its weaknesses to strong points - Singapore's success shows that a country can create its own growth given the willpower not to bow to defeat.
PM Lee also analysed the economic agreement between Taiwan and Singapore and the cross-strait ties during the exclusive interview with China Times.
He pointed out that economic cooperation and free trade have brought many benefits to many countries. Other Asian countries would consider whether to follow suit when they see countries cooperating with Singapore.
PM Lee said he welcomed the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (Ecfa) between China and Taiwan. He said that although it is an economic agreement, it will bring the two sides closer in the long term, which is the general trend and something that should be done. He said that Ecfa would also have a positive impact on the region.
PM Lee's comment is to the point and pragmatic, illustrating the expectations the international community has on cross-strait ties.
There are similarities and differences between Taiwan and Singapore, and some conditions in Taiwan are different from those in Singapore. However, what Taiwan can learn most from Singapore is its courage in facing challenges, its forward-looking and pragmatic policy-making, and effective policy implementation.
Translated by Lim Ruey Yan