Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to this year’s conference.
2. The theme for this year’s conference, “ASEAN on the global stage” is apt as the region positions itself to capture growth opportunities in the post-pandemic era.
a. I am glad to see many business leaders, government officials, and thought leaders gathered here today. All of us have a part to play in understanding and seizing the many opportunities arising from ASEAN-China collaboration.
b. As we transit towards a new normal, we will need to forge and rely on strong and meaningful partnerships that can mutually uplift each other.
3. Our ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations have grown from strength to strength.
a. Just last year, we achieved the significant milestone of 30 years of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. To celebrate the anniversary, ASEAN and China announced the establishment of the ASEAN-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership at the ASEAN-China Special Summit on 22 November 2021.
b. This shows the close ties between ASEAN and China, and our mutual commitment towards deeper cooperation.
4. I believe that ASEAN, together with China, have much to contribute to the international community.
a. In particular, our trade networks, the future economy, and people-to-people exchanges are key areas that have the potential to deliver significant economic benefits and spark new ideas for innovation and cooperation. Let me elaborate.
Strengthening trade networks
5. First, strengthening our trade networks – this is vital in facilitating business and growth, and ensuring that supply chains operate smoothly across the region.
a. Over the years, many businesses have chosen the region to set up their production base and diversify their supply chain operations. Enhancing our regional trade architecture will thus allow us to retain this important competitive edge.
b. Although protectionist and anti-globalisation sentiments has been on the rise, ASEAN and China remain committed to deepening our cooperation in trade, investment, and supply chains.
6. One such initiative is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP.
a. It is the world’s largest Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that accounts for 30 percent of global GDP and about a third of the world’s population.
b. The agreement entered into force on 1 January. To date, it has come into force for a total of 12 countries, namely Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
c. The RCEP will bring businesses greater cost and time savings. Benefits include additional preferential market access in selected markets, a streamlined and common set of rules for all 15 Parties, and simplified customs procedures.
d. We look forward to the remaining signatories ratifying the agreement soon so that the RCEP can be effectively implemented.
7. Apart from the RCEP, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, or ACFTA, is a cornerstone in ASEAN-China economic relations.
a. ASEAN was China’s first FTA partner, and the ACFTA was also ASEAN’s first FTA with an external partner.
b. ASEAN and China have agreed to enhance the ACFTA as part of our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Both sides are currently working on completing a joint feasibility study to identify and include new areas. For instance, there are many promising opportunities in key growth areas such as the digital and green economy.
c. It is also important for the ACFTA to address non-tariff measures, promote competition, improve consumer protection, and support micro, small, and medium enterprises. Enhancing the ACFTA will empower our businesses to seize rising opportunities as well as boost the importance of this FTA.
d. Singapore supports enhancing the ACFTA and looks forward to the early finalisation of the joint feasibility study and the start of upgrade negotiations.
8. Another key enabler for our regional trade links is the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative – New International Land Sea Trade Corridor, also known as the CCI-ILSTC.
a. Jointly developed by Singapore and China as a multimodal trade link, between Southeast Asia and Western China, the CCI-ILSTC has strengthened regional economic integration and supply chain resilience.
b. Despite disruptions caused by COVID-19, cargo flows via the CCI-ILSTC have continued to increase steadily. In fact, northbound cargo had increased by 60 percent in 2021. This underscores the trade corridor’s growing attractiveness as an alternative shipping route for traders.
Embracing the future economy
9. Second, in addition to our vibrant trade networks, the future economy beckons us with rich opportunities, especially in the digital and green spheres.
10. As home to almost 680 million people, Southeast Asia has a growing middle class that is increasingly digitally-savvy and armed with rising purchasing power and Internet connections.
a. According to a joint report by Google, Temasek Holdings, and Bain & Company, Southeast Asia’s digital economy is expected to reach around USD 360 billion by 2025, and hit USD 1 trillion by 2030. So, ample opportunities await our companies in sectors such as electronic commerce, online media, urban solutions, and financial services.
b. Chinese companies have successfully captured these growth opportunities by expanding in the region through investment and acquisition, local partnerships, and localisation. For example, China’s one-stop healthcare services platform Ping An has a joint venture with Grab to create a digital insurance marketplace in Southeast Asia.
c. Given our proximity to key cities in the ASEAN region, Singapore serves as an ideal base for Chinese companies to connect with Southeast Asian companies and be at the hub of the regional ecosystem.
d. In addition, ASEAN has introduced initiatives to guide our region’s digital integration which will lead to greater benefits for businesses and consumers.
e. In 2019, ASEAN adopted the Digital Integration Framework Action Plan, which is the blueprint for ASEAN’s digital priorities. Among other things, the Plan aims to facilitate seamless trade, protect data, enable seamless digital payments, broaden the digital talent base, and foster entrepreneurship.
f. Last year, on the back of accelerated digitalisation due to the pandemic, ASEAN endorsed the Bandar Seri Begawan Roadmap on Digital Transformation. The roadmap seeks to speed up ASEAN’s economic recovery and digital economy integration. ASEAN will conduct a study on an ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement by 2023 and commence negotiations for this agreement by 2025.
g. As we work closely together to deepen our digital economy collaboration, businesses will be better-placed with the tools and environment to unlock the potential of the digital economy.
11. Looking ahead, the green economy is another promising area brimming with untapped opportunities.
a. According to a joint report by Bain & Company, Microsoft, and Temasek Holdings, Southeast Asia’s green economy could provide up to USD 1 trillion of annual economic opportunities by 2030. This would require significant investments in renewable energy, nature conservation, and more efficient agricultural practices.
b. To facilitate the transition to a green economy, ASEAN adopted the Framework for Circular Economy for the ASEAN Economic Community in October 2021. The Framework has five strategic priorities: (i) standard harmonisation and mutual recognition of circular products and services, (ii) trade openness and trade facilitation in circular goods and services, (iii) innovation, digitalisation, and emerging or green technologies, (iv) sustainable finance and innovative ESG investments, and (v) efficient use of energy and other resources.
c. Along with other existing initiatives, ASEAN is also undertaking efforts to engage Dialogue Partners such as China and the private sector to scale up and accelerate the region’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
12. ASEAN and China share similar aspirations in developing our digital and green economy, so as to deliver tangible benefits to businesses and consumers. By tapping on our complementary capabilities and innovative populations, I am positive that we will witness exciting collaborations and novel solutions in the near future.
Resuming people-to-people exchanges
13. Third, to capture the economic opportunities we see, borders need to re-open and cross-border travel has to grow in a safe and sustainable manner.
a. With the experience gained in the past two years, Singapore is in a much better position to cope with COVID-19 and re-open our borders at the same time.
b. Since the second half of 2020, we had introduced initiatives such as the Air Travel Pass. This has allowed travellers from certain parts of the region to visit Singapore for essential meetings and interactions to maintain connections.
c. Our steady expansion of Vaccinated Travel Lanes has given us more confidence to move towards quarantine-free travel for all fully vaccinated travellers.
d. I am glad to hear that our neighbours in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam are reopening their borders to international travellers. We also look forward to China easing its border restrictions when the conditions allow.
14. As we move into a post-pandemic era, one of Singapore’s key priorities will be to restore safe travel between countries. Singapore regularly reviews our domestic policies and streamlines our various Safe Management Measures to enable large-scale business events to take place smoothly.
a. We are glad that Singapore’s reputation as a safe and trusted location for large-scale events continues to be upheld.
b. This year, we have in store a pipeline of events, such as the upcoming Singapore International Water Week, Asia Tech X Singapore and Singapore Fintech Festival.
15. This year’s conference sets a strong foundation for a possible physical meeting in Singapore and for future iterations of the SCMP China Conference to be held in our city state.
a. Dialogues, such as the ones we will be having today – enable business communities to network and forge partnerships in order to build a better future together.
b. We hope to welcome members of the global business community to convene in Singapore for key conversations and discussions as the region works together to emerge stronger.
16. As we gradually emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to face an increasingly complex and volatile world.
a. To tackle the challenges ahead, countries around the world will do well by collaborating and developing innovative solutions together.
b. In the past 30 years, ASEAN and China have developed a strong and robust relationship that has endured some of the toughest of challenges. China will remain as an integral partner for ASEAN and Singapore as we nurture this partnership and contribute our unique strengths on the global stage.
c. In the next 30 years, we hope ASEAN and China will continue to evolve and progress together, to achieve greater heights.
d. As we continue to strengthen our trade networks, embrace the future economy, and resume people-to-people exchanges, we can achieve our common goal of a more prosperous and vibrant future for all.
17. With that, I would like to wish everyone present today an enriching and fruitful discussion ahead. Thank you!