Singapore

Reconnecting with Asean a key focus as Singapore reopens economy

Minister also stresses need for digital connectivity as many businesses are now online

Reconnecting with its Asean neighbours will be a key focus for Singapore as it reopens its economy and recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

He also said if people can travel in and out of Singapore safely, the country can re-establish its hub status and better serve the interests of Asean and Asia. But the linkages should extend to the digital realm too, as rebuilding physical links will take time.

Mr Lee made the remarks at the Asean and Asia Forum, organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, with the theme of Seeking Recovery Amid Covid-19: Regional Strategies And A Digital Future.

Delivering the keynote speech at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, where the physical portion of the hybrid event was held, he noted that many sectors in Singapore were affected by movement restrictions and border closures around the world.

For instance, companies in the construction, marine and offshore engineering sectors found themselves unable to bring in foreign workers, and travel ground to a halt.

Mr Lee said reconnecting with the world is critical for a small and open economy like Singapore's.

"Therefore, the first big step is to find safe means of reconnecting with our neighbours, while building resilience locally to cope with future disruptions that will surely come our way," said the minister, who is a co-chair of the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, set up to chart Singapore's economic recovery post-Covid-19.

"If we can manage physical travel safely and become an oasis of hope during troubled times, we can better serve the interests of Asean and Asia."

Even as these physical links are being rebuilt, Singapore should push ahead with digital connectivity with its neighbours, said Mr Lee.

He said this was the "best window" for Singapore to embed itself in the digital networks that have grown in the region, with many people and businesses having been pushed online during the pandemic.

In this regard, Singapore's reputation as a neutral, trusted broker may help, he said.

Mr Lee said that ultimately, Singapore will be able to open up carefully and safely only if as many people as possible get vaccinated.

Given the virulence of the new coronavirus variants, it will be impossible for the world to maintain indefinite restrictions on society and the economy, he said, noting Singapore's push towards managing Covid-19 as an endemic disease.

"We will open up at a controlled pace, making adjustments from time to time, so that the rate of transmission is managed without us having to return to a heightened alert state," he said, calling on people to encourage their friends and relatives to get vaccinated.

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