First-rate​, not First World, MPs and govt

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the 3 May 2011 letter by Professor Augustine Tan.

Professor Tan is worried that with competition from China and India, we would rapidly de-industrialise and be reduced to depending on healthcare, financial services, construction and government jobs. Wouldn’t Mr Tan therefore think that it is imperative that we go beyond the boundaries that we have drawn for ourselves and not get trapped in low end competition with China or India? Apple Computers outsource manufacturing to China not to the detriment but to the benefit of the company. What we need is a new entrepreneurial wing that can deliver successful brands and products that the world desires.

Professor Tan feels that we shouldn’t compare ourselves with Hong Kong because the latter has a dependable hinterland. But all of the developed world has set up shop in China, not just Hong Kong. So there is no reason why we can’t do likewise if we are as developed as we would like ourselves to believe. In this globalised age, there is no reason why we should restrict ourselves to our neighbours. Also, relationships with our neighbours have been improving. They are not static.

Professor Tan sadly sidesteps Mr Tan Jee Say’s arguments using other issues not related to industry and economy. He points to bulging healthcare expenditure in the West due to obesity and abuse. Actually, he is far from being fair when he makes these remarks. Firstly, Western nations are on the whole a lot more aged and therefore must spend a lot more on healthcare because it is the aged that requires the most healthcare attention. When we become as aged, we too will spend a lot more on healthcare. Secondly, if Mr George Yeo sends his leukemia stricken son to the US for treatment, doesn’t it show that there is something about the US healthcare that we have not acknowledged so far? They can provide what we can’t provide. You pay for what you get.

Professor Tan lumps the whole of the West as though they are homogenous, they are not. Those of the First World that are mired in sovereign indebtedness are mostly associated with the Mediterranean. This group is quite different from those of Northern Europe, the US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Professor Tan sees America as losing ground to China. Why can’t we see China as gaining ground on America? How can we say that America is losing ground when it continues to dominate the world with products like Apple, Microsoft and Google? It is China that is fast catching up, not just with America but with the rest of the developed world.

Professor Tan points to the example of Germany, which is able to tap on China’s growing demand on luxury goods. That is the example that Singapore should follow. We should not try to be China, producing for others. We should try to be like Germany or the US coming up with products that people all around the world wants. That is the only way for us to stay relevant in the long run. To do that, we need an entrepreneurial Singapore which is precisely what Mr Tan Jee Say’s proposal is all about.


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