Singapore can be global hub for bridging cultures, suggests FM

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - Singaporeans' multilingual ability puts them in very good position to build links, says Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. 

In the age of globalisation, the fact that two countries can speak the same language is a big advantage to both, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday (Jan 13).

Singaporeans' multilingual ability thus puts them in a very good position to build bridges with people and cultures around the world, he said.

He was speaking to members of the Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan, a clan association, at the Chui Huay Lim Club, where he launched a book chronicling the contributions of the Teochew community here.

"With globalisation, Singaporeans are more likely to gain an advantage in cross-border negotiations. At the same time, Singaporeans can further connect across different cultures. In this way, Singapore can also become an international hub for bringing together cultures and blending ideas," Mr Heng said in Mandarin.

A member of the audience then asked how this could be done, during a panel discussion at the end of yesterday's event.

Responding, Mr Heng said Singapore should leverage all kinds of links, but at the same time, Singaporeans should be sensitive to the interests of other nationalities and the relationship should be a win-win one for all parties. "Every culture will be slightly different, but if we are humble, respectful and make an effort to learn, then I think we have a very strong asset," he said.

In his speech, he also cited the uncertainties of the global economy due to the United States-China trade war, the unclear prospect of Brexit, as well as the volatile financial markets today.

Asked about this grim economic outlook, Mr Heng explained that trade protectionism is the result of a reaction against globalisation in the past decade, as some people feel they have not benefited from it.

"The particular problem of trade is that the benefits are spread very widely, but the costs are focused on a few," he said.

Americans, for example, gained from lower prices of imported goods from China, but the reliance on trade had led to some workers being displaced in certain US states.

Mr Heng said Singapore's direction is to help companies transform amid the intense competition and rapid technological advances faced by various industries. "Equally important is that we must also help our people, our workers to learn new skills, do new jobs, so that we can all benefit from (globalisation)," he said.

He also urged clan associations, as well as trade associations and chambers, to strengthen regional and international contacts, with the goal of creating more business opportunities for Singaporeans.

Singapore can also learn more from its Teochew community's entrepreneurial spirit and social contributions, he added.

At the event, Mr Heng launched the English edition of the book, The Story Of Singapore Teochews, a 448-page compilation of stories of the community put together by project director Lim Kim Huat, a former executive editor of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao.

The book, which first came out in Chinese last September, is a chronicle of the Teochew community's contributions to the country since its pre-independence days, and features 80 influential Teochew Singaporeans.

An electronic version of the book - available in both English and Chinese - was also released yesterday.