How S’pore can stay relevant with rise of China

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew fielded wide-ranging questions for 30 minutes following the Tate Lecture at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Here and on the facing page are edited excerpts of some of his replies.

“FOR the next 10, 15, 20 years, we will be able to help China with our management expertise and the way we run things.

The Chinese have been sending 50 mayors every three months to learn from us. Nanyang Technological University, for example, runs a course for them on city management – how to keep a city going, clean, efficient, orderly.

In this way, we are making a contribution to them. At the same time, they give us access to their businesses in China.

But over time they will learn almost all that they need to learn from Singapore and then they become, say in 30 years’ time, five times or three times the size of Japan.

Then, like the Japanese, they will come to Singapore and invest and trade in the region using Singapore as a base, which is what has happened with Japan and with the Europeans and the Americans. Similarly, with India.

So I see the roles, first, of helping and facilitating the transformation. And as the years go by, as they acquire all the skills that we have, then the roles will be reversed and we will be sending people to them to learn the new technologies which they will be discovering.

I think that is an inevitable process.

Of course for the time being, and maybe for many years, their systems cannot change so rapidly. For instance, China may want to protect intellectual property (IP), but that is a very tough job in China. So that gives us an opening with all those with IP to protect.

So we have 42 of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies in Singapore doing R&D and manufacturing, because if you do it in China or India, you may find generic products in the market the day after tomorrow. Better to pay for higher-price Singapore and preserve your IP.

But eventually, when they start discovering cures for different kinds of presently incurable diseases, they will want to patent them and they will then begin to respect IP.

Then we’ll get them to come to Singapore and manufacture in Singapore to distribute in the region.”

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