Singapore is Small and Beautiful. Taiwan Can Be Too
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 13, 2010
This newspaper recently addressed the issue of Singapore, and interviewed Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. We reported on the economic cooperation agreement between Taipei and Singapore. We also published an in-depth investigation of Singapore's path to economic success. Singapore and Taiwan are quite similar in terms of innate advantages. But Singapore has been more courageous in confronting real world difficulties and international challenges. It has aggressively transformed deficits into assets. In many ways, Taiwan would do well to emulate Singapore.
Singapore is a small country, which like the Taiwan Region of the Republic of China, lacks natural resources. Yet it has been an amazing success story, one that nations with far larger populations and far greater resources look on with envy. In terms of national competitiveness and cleanliness, it is invariably ranked near the top. The World Economic Forum released its Global Competitiveness report on the 9th of this month. Singapore came in third. Singapore's success is due to outstanding leadership, but also because it has the courage to confront challenges, to seize opportunities, to make judgements, to act decisively, to follow through, and to look to the future.
Singapore is a tiny island nation. Drive 20 minutes northward, and one finds oneself in Malaysia. Indonesia is visible with the naked eye to the south. Singapore is virtually defenseless and without natural barriers. Singapore is highly exposed. Yet it is utterly fearless and has not the slightest desire to close itself off. Instead, it courageously welcomes the challenges posed by the outside world. It makes superb use of its location as a geographic hub. It has turned itself into a zero-tariff free port. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, "To develop, we must develop outward. We must make use of the economics of scale. We must transcend the limits imposed on our nation by its size." Singapore may be small, but it is courageous. Its positive and pragmatic strategies have transformed it into "the world's Singapore." So far the results have been outstanding.
And so it is with Mainland China's rapid rise in recent years. Singapore also took the initiative to hitch its wagon to Mainland China's star. It has established close economic and trade relations with Mainland China. It is also taking advantage of its experience with economic development to cooperate with Mainland China in developing such projects as the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-city. Taipei and Singapore are about to sign an economic cooperation agreement. This will further contribute to trilateral trade between Singapore, Taipei, and Beijing. It will open yet another channel for Singapore's economic growth.
In recent years, Singapore has been plagued by a shrinking and aging population, It has substantially increased the number of foreign workers, permanent residents and immigrants. It must make up for insufficient human resources and human labor. in order to maintain its economic vitality and competitiveness. Singapore's current population of 4.8 million includes over one million foreign workers and permanent residents. The ratio of locals to outsiders is nearly three to one.
Taiwan confronts a far less numerous foreign labor and immigrant population. Yet we often hear shrill demands for their exclusion. Singaporeans may complain about overpopulation, skyrocketing real estate prices, and about being elbowed out of jobs and educational opportunities. But their acceptance of immigrants as the driving force behind their economic policy remains unchanged. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged people to accept immigrants with open hearts, and to learn how to cope with international competition even earlier, in school. Actually, despite fierce international competition, Singapore has never pullled back merely to protect itself. Instead, it has bravely charged into battle. It has forced itself to grow and to leapfrog the competition. For example, it adopted an open skies policy. Singapore Airlines was required to complete on the basis of its own strength, Singapore Airlines is now one of the best airlines in the world. Singapore's basic philosophy is that government should take care of the people, but not over-protect them. Otherwise, the people and the country will lose their competitiveness. People on Taiwan ought to think long and hard about Lee's insight.
Another example is the use of water resources. Singapore has long been short of water. It must purchase it from Malaysia. This puts the lifeblood of its economic system in someone else's hands. But Singapore overcame all difficulties to develop advanced water harvesting and waste water recycling and purification technology. This, along with desalination technology, has made it self-sufficient in water use. It has even made Singapore an exporter of water resources technology. Singapore confronted its disadvantages and overcame them. It transformed weaknesses into strengths. Singapore's success story teaches us that any country that makes the right choices and has an unyielding will, can create its own growth.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in an interview with this newspaper, also offered some views on Singapore/Taipei economic cooperation and cross-Strait relations. He pointed out that economic cooperation and free trade are advantageous for many countries. Singapore has a large network of partners. If one cooperates with Singapore, other Asian countries may well consider following suit. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he also looked forward to Taipei and Beijing signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). He said that although it is an economic agreement, the long-term narrowing of the cross-Strait gap is part of a larger historical current. It is the right thing to do. ECFA will have a postive impact on the Asia-Pacific region. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments were pertinent and pragmatic. They were further evidence that the international community looks forward to improved cross-Strait relations.
Taiwan and Singapore have similarities and differences. Conditions for Taiwan and Singapore are also different. But Singapore's experience of successfully confronting its challenges, its ability to make forward-looking and pragmatic decisions, and its ability to effectively execute those decisions, are precisely what Taiwan needs to learn.