Capitalise on strengths for role in China’s Belt and Road initiative

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There is a buzz in China's innovation scene, and opportunities are growing for Singaporeans to learn from and collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Singapore also has unique strengths, such as in law and finance, that it should capitalise on to get a slice of the opportunities created by China's Belt and Road Initiative, he told reporters at the close of his five-day trip to Suzhou and Beijing.

Reading the pulse of China's tech scene was a key goal of the trip for Mr Heng.

Among the places he visited were the Tsinghua University Science Park, where he saw its built-in ecosystem for turning ideas into commercial products, and Didi Chuxing's office, where he was briefed on how the ride-hailing giant uses big data and analytics with local governments to improve traffic flows.

He also officiated at the finals of a tech summit where nine start-ups, including three from Singapore, pitched their ideas to investors.

China's push for greater innovation comes through various levels of its government, said Mr Heng, who met senior officials such as his counterpart Xiao Jie and Jiangsu party secretary Lou Qinjian during his trip.

"An area they have given a lot of thought to is the promotion of innovation - this is a topic that came across very strongly in all my meetings, both at the provincial level, as well as at the central government level," he said.

With more Chinese companies looking at going global, a network of deep linkages with innovation hubs across the world is necessary to encourage more of them to use Singapore as a base for their internationalisation efforts.

To this end, the Global Innovation Alliance, which was launched in Beijing last Friday, will give Singapore entrepreneurs a chance to understand the Chinese market and build relationships, while serving as a sort of satellite campus for students to be exposed to China and "understand the buzz" happening here.

Mr Heng also said more Singaporeans need to be encouraged to go abroad "because the more they understand what is happening around our region and the global economy, the better prepared they will be to take on important roles ahead".

He said that as Asean chair next year, Singapore will look at ways to drive greater cooperation in new technologies, digitalisation and creative solutions. Next year has been designated as the Asean-China Year of Innovation.