Singapore

Singapore must stay open to foreign business and talent: PM Lee

He says Republic must strike balance between drawing on global talent and making sure S'poreans are taken care of

Staying open to business and talent from around the globe is key for Singapore to prosper, and the Government will have to explain this to citizens while making sure they are taken care of, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

It is not hard to make the argument that Singapore needs business, markets, investments and technology from abroad, he said in an interview to round up his participation at this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"But we have to bring this down in terms which individual Singaporeans can relate to in terms of their lived experience - at work, in the community spaces, in the crowd which they meet - and that they feel they are taken care of and in Singapore, this is a Singapore for Singaporeans," he added.

"We are open, but this is our home."

PM Lee acknowledged that this is not an easy balance to strike, because globalised companies draw on talent from many parts of the world that come together to be creative and break new ground.

The backlash against globalisation in societies around the world was a key topic at this week's meetings, which brought together corporate, political and social leaders to discuss ways to address common challenges, such as climate change and migration.

Yesterday, PM Lee shared how a young Chinese start-up entrepreneur he met in Davos had a workforce in Shenzhen that was 40 per cent foreign, and he wanted to double this to 80 per cent because he needed that diversity of talent.

DIVERSITY

"This is in China - you are drawing from 1.4 billion people, bringing in talent to one city, and you still need to have that diversity and that mix from around the world," said Mr Lee.

He noted that many companies that are breaking new ground have a similar talent mix, and Singapore wants them.

But when they come, and workers see that only 40 per cent or 60 per cent in the company are Singaporeans, and many of their colleagues and their boss are not Singaporean, they will ask: Why is it here?

"It is here because that is the way our economy can prosper, and that is where we can generate jobs for the 40 per cent of Singaporeans who are working there," he said.

"If they were not here, those jobs would not exist. And if you said: 'We want Singaporeans to take over the jobs, which the non-Singaporeans are holding', I'm not sure that we will be able to make it work."

This is a reality that has to be brought home in a way which people can understand, he added.

Singaporeans must also feel assured that if they are working in such a company, they are fairly treated.

If they are not, there is a process and fair employment watchdog Tafep has guidelines and a procedure for them to appeal and to put things right, said Mr Lee.

He noted that some opposition parties were trying to exploit and widen the divide between foreign and local workers.

PM Lee said: "They think they see a divide there, and they want to make it wider and exploit it. It's our job to make sure that we don't allow a divide. And even if that is a weak point, it doesn't get exploited."

He added: "It's important for us to explain to Singaporeans that we are doing this to make things work for Singaporeans, and this is the best strategy for Singapore to prosper."

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