Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for Communications - Speech at Signing Ceremony of MOU on Enhanced Telecommunications Connectivity between Singapore and China

Mr Mah Bow Tan, Minister for Communications - Speech at Signing Ceremony of MOU on Enhanced Telecommunications Connectivity between Singapore and China,
Beijing, China, 28 October 1998

1. It is a great pleasure to be back in Beijing again.

2. Today's event has special significance to both Minister Wu and myself. Four and a half years back, in April 1994, we endorsed a bilateral Agreement on co-operation in posts and telecommunications. That Agreement was largely in the context of the traditional telephony and postal services. At that time, we were only beginning to see the emerging technological advances and the convergence of the telecommunications, computing and broadcasting, and its potential impact on the telecommunications industry.

3. Today, the telecommunications market has revolutionised and taken on a much different structure compared with four and a half years ago. The Internet alone has grown tremendously - not just in terms of number of web users, but more importantly, how the Internet has grown in its influence on business activities and individual lifestyles.

4. This is the key motivating factor for today's MoU: to collaborate and realise the full potential of Internet in telecommunications as well as bilateral trade via electronic means. Over the last 7 years, bilateral trade between Singapore and China grew at approximately 8% annually and in 1997, China became our 7th largest trading partner with a trade volume of S$14.5billion 1997 trade statistics from TDB.. Just imagine the potential growth in trade volume between our countries if facilitated via electronic means!

5. Minister Wu and myself first discussed the idea of this enhanced connectivity between our countries in June this year, when Singapore hosted the 3rd APEC Telecommunications Ministers' meeting. Minister Wu and I shared similar visions on the mutual benefits of direct higher speed connectivity between our two countries. Not only would this encourage the sharing of Internet content and move away from the current US-centric Internet connectivity, a direct link will facilitate the enhancement of bilateral trade and e-commerce.

6. A lot has been said about the world moving into an Information Age, and benefits of the new growth opportunities, enhanced consumer choices and improved quality of life. While all these are true, the real challenge is how we can work together to manage the transition into this Information Age, and to maximise the benefits and opportunities while minimising the threats which will be inevitable.

7. The onset of the economic crisis in this region has posed an extra challenge, and governments have to balance the need to manage the crisis, and yet at the same time not lose sight of the longer-term requirements and to invest prudently in infrastructure projects. Singapore will continue to invest in its telecommunications and information infrastructures, in particular the Singapore ONE project.

8. China is also very much advanced in building the national information infrastructure. I understand that you will soon have a high-speed backbone with connections into the regional networks. This is a much larger feat than our Singapore ONE project and I must congratulate you on your advancements.

9. While infrastructure investments are important, it is also crucial that content development is nurtured concurrently. Without compelling content, a state-of-the-art infrastructure would not be able to bring about concrete benefits. Content will be a key determining factor for success of Singapore ONE, and I would go as far as to say that Singapore ONE cannot be truly successful without compelling content.

10. We are thus proactively developing our content development industry to build up a pool of local content, and at the same time, we mirror popular sites from other countries. While most Internet content today is in the English-language, and hosted in the USA, there is much room for regional content development, in Asian languages, reflecting Asian cultures and sited in Asia.

11. In this aspect, the Singapore government is actively promoting the development of an indigenous industry of online Chinese content creation and publishing in Singapore. As our population consists of some 77% ethnic Chinese 1997 ethnic distribution, Department of Statistics, we see Chinese content development as an important requirement.

12. This is an area where I hope that our Internet and content industries can synergise. China is an obvious global hub for Chinese language content, while Singapore is the regional hub of Internet content. Not only can we work together to build up Chinese content, Singapore can be your gateway to reach out into the south-east Asia region, as we already have established links into most regional countries today.

13. This 2Mbps link between our countries is only the start of collaborations in Internet exchange and multimedia co-operation. I look forward to stronger collaborations between our countries in this field.

14. Finally, I would like to thank Minister Wu and his colleagues for hosting my visit today, and I wish you all a pleasant afternoon.

15. Thank you.