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Keynote Address by Mr Raymond Lim, Minister, Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Foreign Affairs at The Pre-University Seminar 2005, 31 May 2005, Nanyang Technological University

31 May 2005

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Education
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Morning,


1. When I saw the theme of today's seminar, New Engagements, New Opportunities, I wondered what it means to students like you. So we gathered some ideas from young people, and what we heard was - the opportunity to do well in school, to be able to do a university course that interests you, to travel widely and engage with people from other cultures, and later on, to find good jobs, to raise a family, and engage Singaporeans in making a difference to society.

2. These are all reasonable aspirations - in fact, my friends and I had the same aspirations when we were in school. But there is a sense among some of you that the competition is tougher today - and the opportunities less. And also that all the big and important things to build Singapore as a successful country have already been done - by the generation that fought for independence and the generation that grew up during Singapore's economic transformation. There is not much more to do except to keep improving things at the margin.

3. I think not. The years ahead will be most rewarding, and most exciting. The competition is no doubt tougher - but as a people and as a country, we are better prepared. We have more resources, less restrictions. The emerging global paradigms play to Singapore's advantages. And contrary to what some of you may think, the real challenges in bringing Singapore to the next plane of development are only beginning. There is so much for your generation to do.

New World - How We Can Make a Living

4. The global economic landscape has changed. The policies that differentiated Singapore - liberalise markets, compete for foreign investments and talent, provide excellent infrastructure - are now being adopted by more and more countries. But the two driving forces that will shape the global economy in the decades ahead will provide us with new engagements and new opportunities to succeed - the rise of China and India and the rise of the Knowledge Economy.

5. Rise of China and India. First, the opening up of China and India will set off the biggest tectonic shifts in the global economy this century. Yes, many activities will move there. But China and India are not just factories, they are also markets. Their growth will present us with new engagements and new opportunities - bigger and more far-reaching than when Japan and the four NIEs industrialized in the 1960s-80s. But success is not guaranteed - we must make ourselves relevant to China and India, just as we made ourselves relevant to America and Europe in the earlier phase of our development.

6. Last year, China became the world's third largest trading power behind the United States and Germany. This was also reflected in our trading relations with China, which overtook Japan to become our fourth-largest trading partner. Many of our Singapore companies have seen the opportunities in China and ventured forth, not only to set up factories there, but to invest in areas like education, food services and housing development.

7. In Shanghai, you can find Raffles City Shanghai, housing Bee Cheng Hiang and BreadTalk. Some businesses take a cluster approach and go in as a team. In Chengdu, three Singapore companies worked on a township project together - Tianlee International, an SME with years of experience in the city, Keppel Land with its sale and marketing know-how and HDB Corp with its experience in designing and building housing projects.

8. Others are forging partnerships with local companies. Thai Village, which offers a popular sharks' fin soup, has owner-operated and franchisee restaurants in many Chinese cities. I am told that business is so good, one of the franchisees has improved on the original aluminium claypot holders used in Singapore, to invest in gold-plated claypot holders!

9. In India, our companies have gone into ICT development, infrastructure projects, healthcare, banking and logistics. Today, the Bangalore IT Park is a landmark collaboration between Singapore's Ascendas, Tatas and the Government of Karnataka. And the flows of people and capital go both ways - Chinese and Indian companies are also tapping on Singapore as a place to launch their products and services to the rest of the world.

10. Rise of the Knowledge Economy. The second driving force is that the source of competitive advantage among nations, firms, and people has shifted - resources matter less, knowledge matters more. This plays to Singapore's strengths. But we must shift our paradigms and change our mindsets to adapt to and thrive in the new knowledge economy.

11. Be Better - Be Different. The old formula for success was to be cheaper, more productive, more efficient - i.e. to be better doing the same thing. The new formula for success is to create new market space, new value propositions rather than competing on old ones - i.e. to be different, to be better by finding or creating the next new big thing. This is what is called "Blue Ocean" strategy - envisioning and creating new markets rather than competing in existing "Red Ocean" markets.

12. Take the example of [yellow tail], an Australian wine. The average person thinks that wine is rather complex and high-brow. The wine industry reinforces this idea by competing to produce more complex-tasting wines and promoting them to the connoisseurs. [yellow tail] was a completely different product - it was sweeter, easier to drink, had no intimidating jargon and came in bottles with a catchy kangaroo label. This was a wine designed not for the connoisseur, but to the millions of customers who usually go for soft drinks, beer and cocktails. By creating this "Blue Ocean" market instead of competing in the high-end "Red Ocean" market, [yellow tail] has become the fastest growing wine brand in Australia and the top foreign wine sold in the US.

13. Find the Right Answers - Ask the Right Questions. As we shift to Blue Ocean thinking, we can no longer just focus on finding the right answers to long-standing problems and well-identified needs. Instead, if we are going to create "blue oceans" of opportunities, we need to ask the right questions to define new problems.

14. This should not be confused with having the latest cutting-edge technology. Of course the technology helps, but more importantly, it is about having the ideas that spot a need and create a whole new market space. Why do we pay $5 for a Starbucks latte instead of going to a coffee shop for a kopi susu? Starbucks didn't compete with other coffee sellers on price. What it saw was that people were going to hotels to drink rather expensive coffee. Why were they doing that? It wasn't mainly for the quality of the coffee. It was for the atmosphere to enjoy a good conversation, which they couldn't get with a local shop and takeaway coffee. So Starbucks has created an entirely new market, by selling all of us on the idea of buying a coffee for $5, to enjoy a nice atmosphere where you can get together with your friends. Drinking coffee became a life-style choice rather than just something that you drink in the morning to wake you up.

15. Size Matters - Speed Matters. Another paradigm that has shifted is that previously, having a lot of resources mattered - size of market, large companies, economies of scale. Now, increasingly, speed matters - speed to market, being nimble, seizing niches in disintermediated value chains. There will be a premium on countries and companies that are proactive and respond quickly and flexibly to changes.

16. Before Dell came along, computer manufacturers competed on the basis of computers with more speed, more features and more software. Computers were sold through dealers. By cutting o ut the middleman and selling directly to customers, Dell cut costs drastically and passed on the savings to consumers. Their new business model improved delivery times, allowed individuals to customize their own computers, and reduced inventory. This nimbleness has built Dell from a business conducted from a dorm room to the undisputed global market leader in computer sales.

17. Likewise, when Singapore has faced adversity in the past, we have always prided ourselves on being able to respond quickly and thrive. When many countries were putting up trade barriers and trying to achieve economic self-sufficiency in the 1950s and 60s, we responded by reaching out to the rest of the world and created an oasis in Asia with a safe and stable environment for Western investors. When we faced an economic recession in 2001, we responded aggressively by slashing business costs to make sure that we could regain our competitive footing. As the world keeps on changing, we must continue to be able to respond quickly to reshape Singapore as a unique place that has relevance to Singaporeans and other people from all over the world.

A Singapore To Be Proud Of - How We Can Make a Difference

18. You have more opportunities to make a difference to Singapore than my generation did. But to do this in the Singapore of tomorrow, you must blaze your own trail, accept diversity, celebrate our own heroes, and care for our fellow citizens.

19. Blaze Your Own Trail. You must dare to dream and pursue your passions, and take pride in what you do. Let me tell a short story that illustrates this. A man was walking and he passed by three workers who were working on the same project. He asked the first man what he was doing. The first man grumbled "laying bricks". He then asked the second man, who said "putting up a wall." Finally, he came to the last man, who said with quiet pride, "I am building a cathedral".

20. Your generation has more new ways of engaging the world. You travel more, see more of the world, and more of you will study or work overseas. You have more avenues to express yourself - you can set up your own blog and if you get really successful at it, you can influence the thinking and opinions of millions around the world.

21. Let us broaden our definitions of success, so that every Singaporean can be the best that he can be in his chosen field, whatever that may be. Some people discover their specialty at the first try; others have to try several times. This means ensuring all should be given more choices about what they want to do, opportunity to try again, and ensuring these options are real. Doors should thus be kept open wider and longer so that people are not shut out prematurely from maximising their potential. Yes, this approach means that we may not be as efficient as we are used to but in exchange we give hope to all Singaporeans and greater opportunities for Singaporeans to achieve peaks of excellence rather than be satisfied with high averages. This is not the responsibility of just the government or the teachers and principals but society as a whole. This transformation will not happen overnight or even completely in 5 years. But over time, there have been changes.

22. In the education field, we are opening up new avenues for youths to develop their interests in diverse fields. We are committed to this as we recognise what many of you have told us, that there is great social pressure on you today to forgo passion for pragmatism and stay in mainstream academic paths and jobs just to "earn your keep." Instead, going ahead, there should be many roads to success and that academic excellence is not the only determinant of this. That is why we have set up the Sports School and the Arts School. New sports are being introduced, such as golf. I hear that we have many young people aspiring to be the next Tiger Woods. Some are making a name for themselves, like ten-year-old Shearn Chua, who practices four days a week and has won the last four golf tournaments he competed in.

23. There are also many young entrepreneurs who are pursuing their passions through starting their own businesses. People like Ken Poh, May Soon and Justin, who were inspired by First Person Shooting games to start their own company specializing in new gaming tools for the community. Or Siti Ong and Shuhaila, who set up Wayan Retreat as the first Balinese day spa in Singapore to cater to those who truly value age-old, all-natural traditional treatments. There's also Andy Zhao of Sportiv, who believes that good foot health starts with properly-fitted customized shoes, so he's developed a whole range of footwear for students, soldiers and sportsmen. Of course, there are many more examples, but this just gives you a flavour of the different ways for you to blaze your own trail.

24. Accepting Diversity. Today, we are already very accepting of race and religion, and we take pride in our multi-cultural society that has produced unique food, a way of speaking, and perhaps even a way of living. But if Singapore is to become truly creative and innovative, Singaporeans must be able to pursue their dreams, and our society must be able to accept diversity in ideas and choices. It is this intellectual diversity rather than just cultural diversity that is the foundation of a creative society.

25. Take the debate on the casino. The way we approach the issue is important. If we want an open, creative society, then we must accept that some ideas may be avant garde and controversial. We may disagree with these ideas but we must accept that others may think differently.

26. Soon, all of you will be making your choices of what subjects you want to study in university. You may have friends who tell you that they want to study an unusual combination of subjects. What is your reaction? Do you dissuade them from it or do you think it's great that they have chosen to venture off the beaten track? Your reaction goes towards shaping the kind of society that we are.

27. Celebrate Our Own Heroes. Let us celebrate our own heroes. Be proud of what Singaporeans have achieved, because they will inspire even more Singaporeans to pursue their own dreams and reinforce the idea that we are a society that accepts different kinds of successes. This is not being insular and thinking that your team is the best. In fact, we must continue to go out and learn from the best.

28. Although both Clay Aiken and Taufik are very good singers, I think there will be a difference in your hearts when you cheer at a Clay Aiken concert and at a Taufik concert. Likewise, when you buy a Stephanie Sun album versus a Britney Spears album. Because it is our heroes that give all Singaporeans hope, hope that even though our island is small, we can create heroes that are big.

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