Singapore: From China to Singapore, Asia must nurture a culture of innovation if the region is to emerge as a formidable global player, the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia was told on 25 June.
With the Cold War over, nations around the world are now in a race for knowledge, and technology can mean the difference in who remains on top, they said.
“Innovation comes from countries that have the most educated workforce,” Jim Goodnight, chief executive of US-based business intelligence software services firm SAS, told delegates on the final day of the two-day forum.
“I’ve often said that we’re no longer in a Cold War that we once were, where we were in an arms race. Today’s race is a race for minds and whichever country, whichever region can create the greatest set of minds are the ones that will eventually dominate the world.”
While some Asian countries are stamping their mark on the global stage, only two from the region — Singapore and Japan — were in the top 10 of the WEF’s latest international survey on competitiveness, WEF officials have noted.
Speakers at the forum, attended by about 300 delegates from 26 countries, said governments will play an important role in nurturing creativity among their people.
Liu Jiren, chairman and chief executive of Chinese technology firm Neusoft, said China’s challenge is cultivating a culture of innovation among its huge pool of talent that sees 6 million students graduating every year.
While the government has rolled out several projects to support research and development, there was still a lack of direction, and planning remained based on outdated policies, he said.
“Innovation is not only an issue of technology, it is also an issue of mindset, and also we need to find new models,” Liu said.
Countries like China and India need to “shorten the period” of innovation if they are to catch up with the US and those in Europe, he added.
China also needs to free itself from some attitudes shaped by its historical past, Liu said, citing advice he got from his father not to do business with the Japanese, whose country invaded China during World War II.
He has not followed the advice. His company now does business with the Japanese.
Lim Siong Guan, chairman of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, said a key to the tiny city-state’s success is its ability to innovate.
With the cost of labour and land more expensive compared with its neighbours, the natural resources-starved nation had to think of ways to be competitive in attracting foreign investment, he told the forum.
As the government ventured into high-tech research in areas like the biomedical sciences, it also ensured that intellectual property is protected while managing political and economic risks as well as maintaining top quality living standards.
Lim said competition was a “reality of life, so we have to watch out as to what things are happening and what advantage to take.”
With global trade talks in limbo, trade-reliant Singapore also went ahead to forge free trade-agreements with major trading partners — an idea that has caught on across the world.