Opening Remarks by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, Conference Chairman of Singapore Summit, at the Singapore Summit, on 16 September 2017, at 8.30a.m. at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.
Your Excellency Honourable Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay,
Prime Minister of Bhutan,
Your Excellency Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati,
Finance Minister of Indonesia,
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong,
Patron of Singapore Summit
Distinguished Guests and Friends,
1. On behalf of the Singapore Economic Development Board, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, GIC, and Temasek, I would like to welcome all our returning as well as first-time participants to the sixth edition of the Singapore Summit, a premier gathering of business and thought leaders from Asia and around the world.
2. As the new Chairman of this event, I would like to thank Mr George Yeo for his invaluable contributions and leadership during the past five years. Unfortunately George is not able to join us today, but sends his warmest wishes to all of you.
3. As the ancient blessing – or curse – says, may you live in interesting times. To admit these are interesting times is the understatement of the year.
4. Just as climate change has unleashed monster hurricanes recently, thunderstorms of populism and unbalanced globalisation have wreaked political maelstroms across the developed world. First Brexit, then “America First”. Before, potential missile bases on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea. Now, intercontinental missiles possibly raining down on Guam.
5. The rare black swan has become as commonplace as ducks in a pond. Thinking the unthinkable has become cocktail chat.
6. For business leaders whose priorities are stability and risk mitigation, these are stressful times. But VUCA – that by-now famous ex-military acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – are not our only stress points. With increasing polarisation between extremist forces in almost every continent, the proverbial fence-sitting business executive, uncomfortable with taking sides and trying to please everyone, is increasingly untenable. Whether it be the issues of climate change or white supremacy, American business leaders have had to take sides.
7. Is that a trend which more of us in other countries around the world, will soon also have to do? Issues as disparate as the plight of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, or the culprits causing the pollution haze in Indonesia, or legal boundaries in the South China Sea, are just a few random examples of increasingly polarising views on which it is increasingly difficult to be neutral.
8. This year’s Summit focuses on three issues which will be separately discussed in the plenary sessions. The first session is entitled “Navigating the New World Order: Critical Uncertainties and Possible Scenarios”.
9. The end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in, according to political scientist Francis Fukuyama, the end of history. Western liberal democracy would become the sole political system in the world, with its superiority unchallenged.
10. The opposite, of course, has come about. The new world order has ironically become the new world dis-order. The legitimacy of Western liberal democracy and its handmaiden, economic globalisation, has been seriously undermined by numerous reactionary, populist movements which have come to power, particularly in the United States of America (USA).
11. The “America First” doctrine of the Trump administration with its isolationist overtones has created a vacuum in global affairs which other countries may in due course fill. On the other hand, China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea is blunted by its open inability to rein in North Korea’s belligerence.
12. Where are the flashpoints in Asian geopolitics; how and when may they erupt, and how do we take shelter? The ramifications of all these changes and what scenarios might result, will occupy the discourse of our panelists.
13. “Staying Interconnected and Interdependent” is the theme of the second plenary session. In the face of uncertainties about American foreign and trade policies, China has emerged as an unexpected champion of globalisation, free trade and global connectivity.
14. Initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may partially fill the gap left by the collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. But with the 19th National Congress soon to be convened, there are questions as to whether China’s domestic issues will inhibit its rise to global pre-eminence.
15. To what extent are recent events, whether in Europe, the USA or Asia, immutable and permanent? There is already talk that a soft-Brexit will morph over the long years of stalled negotiations, back to some form of face-saving non-exit. Similarly the American pendulum may well swing back after next year’s congressional elections and be reflected in the next presidential elections. These vexing issues will occupy our panelists.
16. “Facing Up to Inequalities: Harnessing Technological Advancements and Redefining Policies to Address Societal Challenges” is the somewhat long title to an intriguing topic. Basically, this session addresses the notion that technological improvements such as in the hot areas of robotics and artificial intelligence – touted to be the next big thing after the internet – provide both the means to redress widening societal inequities, as well as to exacerbate the divide.
17. We all know but too often forget that technology is always simply an enabler without any inherent ethical proclivities, and it is people – their idealism as well as their selfishness – which give technology its moral or immoral impetus.
18. Whether robotics will enrich the lives of the elderly in demographically shrinking societies, or displace millions of third world textile workers due to a process economists call “premature de- industrialisation”, will be entirely due to policymakers and business leaders. Most likely, it will be a mix of both as we muddle towards progress, with two steps forwards and one step backwards.
19. Intergenerational dialogue and succession is another important theme, and therefore this year, we are happy to launch the Young Societal Leaders (YSL) programme, with 18 young societal leaders from the region joining us in their own plenary session, during when the leaders of today and tomorrow can interact and learn from each other. We will broaden and deepen the intergenerational engagement even more next year.
20. These themes will be discussed against the backdrop and within the context of a few long-term trends. I will touch on three such trends.
21. The first is what I call Back to the Future – some of you may recall this science-fiction movie series in the 1980’s about time travel into the past in order to see the future. Some people talk worriedly about the end of Pax Americana and the decline of Western civilisation’s global dominance.
22. The Asian triumphalists on the other hand, crow about burying the West, in an ironic echo of Stalinist propaganda.
23. Mostly however, we forget that before the ascendancy of the West starting about 300 years ago, the world consisted of regional civilisations – Christian, Islamic, Buddhist – all thriving and jostling under the sun. This past may well hold the key to understanding the future, which is that our world may consist of largely co-equal, competing civilisations, with all the attendant frictions but in the main, co-existing. In fact, the dominance by a single civilisation – the broadly Judeo-Christian culture we call the West – for the past few centuries may have been more an aberration than the norm.
24. The second trend is what I call the End of Universalism and Rise of Contextualism. Western civilisational dominance was due to the confluence of several factors which historians have variously identified as the rule of law, the scientific or empirical approach to intellectual inquiry, the separation of state and church, and a liberal democratic state. Because of this, Western liberal democracy has been seen as the universal norm towards which every political system should aspire.
25. Going back to the future, however, more societies will recognise that their own historical context should influence if not determine political institutions. A 5,000-year-old civilisation where political legitimacy or the mandate of heaven, has depended more on delivering the fruits of good governance rather the specific structures of parliamentary democracy, may hold the key to China’s political evolution.
26. A contextualist approach to looking at the world recognises for example, that there has never been a universal form of capitalism. During the halcyon days of Wall Street exuberance before its near collapse with the Lehman Bros bankruptcy, everyone thought that Wall Street or American capitalism was and should be the universal norm.
27. Now of course, people recognise that there are other variants of capitalism, shaped by their own historical contexts. Whether it be Japanese, Korean, Scandinavian, or even a Singapore model of capitalism, each has its own paradoxes and permutations, and routes to pragmatic success.
28. The point here is that if Asian business leaders are to build their own model of capitalism within their own historical contexts, perhaps they should look back at the communitarian ethos which underpins our own societies, and not have to accept that the highly individualised ethos, the intentionally wide compensation disparities, and the extreme short-termism which has characterised American capitalism, need to be our norms. We can and should create our own variant of communitarian capitalism.
29. That leads me to the third and final long term trend, which I call A Single Word: from Shareholder to Stakeholder. The very essence of communitarian capitalism is embedded in the replacement of the word shareholder by stakeholder – where the shareholder is undoubtedly one of the primary stakeholders, but where the interests of the community, the customer, the employees, the suppliers – are also critical.
30. If we believe that business is a fundamental force for good, and a critical change agent, then it follows that the most pressing issues of the future – education, inequality, climate change, to name a few – require a multi-stakeholder approach.
31. If we practised more stakeholder-driven capitalism and rewarded our executives by appropriate key performance indicators or balanced score cards which can weigh the appropriate impact of each category of stakeholder, we can do away altogether with the futile, false dichotomy of corporate social responsibility (CSR) vs total shareholders return (TSR). We can reframe the debate altogether on new terms, as creators of a new world and not beholden to the past.
32. On that note, I look forward to all of us learning from each other today.
33. It is my pleasure to now move to our first event of the day, the S Rajaratnam Endowment Dialogue, named in honour of Singapore’s first Foreign Minister.
34. We are honoured to welcome as the speaker, Her Excellency Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Minister of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia since last year. She served in the same position from 2005 to 2010, and has also held the positions of Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and National Development Planning.
35. In 2010, she joined the World Bank as its Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer and chaired the International Development Association – the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. She has also been an executive director of the International Monetary Fund.
36. Minister Sri Mulyani is highly regarded internationally, and is also a good friend of Singapore.
37. Please join me to welcome Minister Dr Sri Mulyani Indrawati.
Your excellency, please.