Even in an increasingly complex world rife with global tensions, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that prospects are still looking up for Singapore, and that the country is still in a good position to take advantage of opportunities.
He is also hopeful of an Indo-Pacific trade deal after several agreements were reached during the summit, but also foresees progress being stalled by U.S. politics and tough commitments required of other nations.
PM Lee concluded his six-day working visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco on Nov. 17.
On Singaporean businesses
"Even in a complicated world, there are opportunities," PM Lee said.
He mentioned that Singapore is in a good place to receive these opportunities, and that Singapore "should get further up" on the list, the Straits Times (ST) reported.
While a complex economic environment has made global growth challenging, PM Lee highlighted that the prospects remain optimistic for Singapore.
“The markets are there; the opportunities are there. We have to seize them, and we have to be able to export, to get people to notice Singapore and want to come to Singapore," he said.
PM Lee officiated the launch of an Enterprise Singapore Overseas Centre, which will facilitate Singapore companies' entry to the US.
He also visited the Apple and Google offices, apart from his official APEC agenda, and met with local entrepreneurs who have expanded or founded their businesses and start-ups in the San Francisco Bay Area at a reception for overseas Singaporeans.
He described their venture as "particularly encouraging" to see, referring to Singaporeans who have started their own companies in the US and brought them back to open branches in Singapore, said ST.
PM said that while that was "one way to do it – to go out to the world and do business where the world is," he also highlighted the importance of making Singapore stand out as a unique environment that provides special opportunities in order to "bring the companies into Singapore".
Singapore must make foreign businesses feel welcomed, for Singapore's own benefit
He said that Singapore must make foreign businesses feel welcomed, and that this move is beneficial to Singaporeans by bringing in jobs and opportunities.
This means that Singapore must have the adequate and appropriate infrastructure to accommodate all.
"Around the world, their business goes up, goes down, but in Singapore, they are stable and they are growing and recruiting some more, and not just increasing headcount but bringing in functions to Singapore from elsewhere in the region," he said.
"Singapore is a place where they can do it, and they think they can do it better in Singapore than they can do elsewhere," he added, according to ST.
PM Lee expressed the change in global landscape since APEC was founded 34 years ago and how that has brought on the challenge in navigating a less open, predictable and multicultural environment.
Despite the trials, Singapore has no choice but to continue to depend on free trade and cooperation with other countries, even if those countries may not be partners with each other.
On the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework
The emergence of various economic groupings has made the economic landscape increasingly complicated.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) was launched by the US President Joe Biden's administration in Tokyo last May.
It is intended to offer U.S. allies an alternative to China's growing commercial presence across the Asia-Pacific.
Agreements were reached on clean energy, anti-corruption measures and supply chain resiliency at APEC.
PM Lee said that he saw potential for Singapore to benefit from IPEF's clean energy pillar, which is in line with Singapore's agenda for sustainability, ST reported.
He also noted that while Singapore's stance on anti-corruption remains strict, practices may vary in the region.
Hence, with the implementation of tighter anti-corruption regulations, "more level the playing field they will be able to have, and we hope the more opportunities they will get doing business fairly".
However, no deal was reached on a trade "pillar" due to tough commitments and resistance from some countries.
PM Lee said that while there has been "substantial progress on the IPEF trade pillar, election-year pressures make a deal unlikely, despite the Biden Administration's vow to continue to negotiate the IPEF.
"I think that looking at the state of play of the political scene in the US, they do not feel that they are able to push across the finishing line yet," said PM Lee, expressing his hope to make more progress when the "stars line up", ST reported.
On US-China relations
A meeting between Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping was held concurrently with APEC on Nov. 15.
PM Lee said that the meeting between Biden and Xi meant that there is a "better chance of keeping things on an even keel", but he also emphasised that US-China relations are not amenable to "quick fixes".
"These are deep differences in perspectives and views and interests and philosophies, and it's also a contest for influence for a spot in the sun in the world," he said, according to CNA.
"At the same time, they do need to work together because there are many problems which can't be solved without both America and China participating together. And so the two sides need to talk in order to manage the differences. In order to be able to cooperate when you need to cooperate."
PM Lee emphasised the importance in both countries keeping close in touch with one another due to the possibility of new world issues arising, and the need for cooperation between the two superpowers.
The visit will likely be his last to an APEC summit as Prime Minister, after he recently announced that he would be handing over the leadership of the PAP to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next general election.
Top photo via Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook and MCI