Opening Address and Keynote Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service at the 8th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership

29 October 2021

Main Theme: “Risk Management and the Strategic Role of Leadership”

Your Excellency Jiang Xinzhi  
Executive Vice Minister of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee
Distinguished guests and colleagues

1. Good afternoon. It is our pleasure to host our Chinese friends and counterparts for the 8th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership. The conduct of this Forum despite the COVID-19 pandemic shows our determination to progress our bilateral ties.

2. Singapore and China have a longstanding and multifaceted relationship based on mutual understanding and deep trust, anchored by regular and frequent exchanges between our officials, businesses and people. Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping laid a firm foundation for our strong ties from the 1970s.  Through the years and generations of leaders, both countries have since continuously sought to broaden and deepen our cooperation on the bilateral and multilateral fronts, even in the toughest of times. This spirit of close cooperation has continued till today under the leadership of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping. 
a. During the phone call between PM Lee and President Xi two weeks ago, both leaders reaffirmed the strong ties. They also welcomed cooperation in emerging areas such as the green economy and the digital economy. 
b. At the national level, we have various key platforms for cooperation, such as the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, this Singapore-China Forum on Leadership, the Social Governance Forum and the Singapore-China Legal and Judicial Roundtable.
c.  Besides our three Government-to-Government projects – China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI), we are also collaborating on the CCI-New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, the China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City and the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative. 
d. We also have eight provincial business and economic councils with Guangdong, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Sichuan, Shandong, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhejiang. 
e.  Since 1996, more than 55,000 Chinese officials and cadres have attended training programmes in Singapore. With the strong support of the Central Organisation Department, a pilot virtual training programme for prefecture-level leaders in China was successfully held for the first time recently, in place of the usual study visit to Singapore.
f. We have also established the Youth Interns Exchange Scheme, which is the first that China has with any Asian country.

3. As I take over the Co-Chairmanship of this forum, I am reminded of our deep responsibility to continue deepening and broadening this close relationship, from generation to generation. This is a signature forum to exchange ideas and perspectives on how we overcome our common challenges from leadership development, governance, to human resource development. Despite our differences in size, population and history, we face various similar challenges and have learnt much from each other through the deep and wide-ranging discussions over the past forums. 

4. The theme of today’s Forum, ‘Risk Management and the Strategic Role of Leadership’, is important and timely. 
a. We operate in an increasingly uncertain world, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
b. We cannot predict every change and pre-empt every problem. However, we can prepare ourselves to seize opportunities and overcome the challenges. 
c. We do so by constantly evolving our governance approaches to pre-empt or forestall emerging risks where possible. We also refresh our leadership development approach to nurture leaders who can both achieve excellence today, and secure a brighter future tomorrow.

2. Three Challenges 

5. Let me start by sharing three key challenges. 

6. First, challenges brought about by a more interconnected world, where shocks are transmitted across borders swiftly, and the impact is more extensive. 

7. COVID-19 has brought to the fore our interconnectedness and amplified disruptions across our inter-dependencies. 
a. The pandemic is evolving and impacting the world in new waves as we battle to keep new variants under control. 
b. COVID will not be the last pandemic and the predicted emergence of Disease X is, but a matter of time.
c. We need a whole new global architecture on sensing and responding to effectively address this risk in a timely manner. 

8. COVID-19 has also severely disrupted global supply chains and whole industries. 
a. The prolonged shutting of borders risks reversing the decades of gains from greater connectivity through international trade, which has uplifted millions from poverty. 
b. Sectors such as aviation and tourism have been hit badly, while others such as technology and biopharmaceuticals have boomed. 
c. Amidst this crisis, who will emerge stronger will be defined by those who can seize the new opportunities by leveraging technologies and new business models. 

9. At the same time, exposure to ideologies and movements that originated from other parts of the world, with different contexts and values systems, has also impacted our society. 
a. Some segments of our population may be influenced by such external forces without a full and critical appreciation of our local context or history.
b. This has ignited the contestation of ideas and ideologies in society, resulting in more and deeper divides among the citizenry. 
c. To protect its cohesion and unity, every society needs to define its own identity and be able to refresh its social consensus on values and viewpoints as these evolve.

10. Second, as the country progresses, the fruits of growth might not always be shared equally.  Our lower wage workers and those who are less productive may be left behind, whether absolutely or relatively.
a. Economic forces widen income and wealth inequalities, as evident in many parts of the world.
b. In a more interconnected world, those with skills in global demand will earn a competitive global wage. Those who are less skilled, will be at risk of structural unemployment and wage stagnation. 
c. A widening income and social divide will erode the credibility of our current way of ordering our society and economy. Dissonance and dissent from a growing social underclass could result in social unrest and efforts to challenge and undermine the current governance system. 

11. Third, challenges brought about by the rising demand for responsiveness to the needs and aspirations of our people. 
a. There are rising expectations of the government to do more, do better and do faster, while meeting the differing aspirations and needs of the population. 
b. With successful public policies and better public services, societies have become more affluent and better educated. Coupled with a greater awareness of developments elsewhere in the world, there is keener and more incessant comparisons. 
c. This presents the challenge of trying to meet the needs of the people today, while planning for tomorrow and beyond.  

12. These three challenges pose a higher demand on leadership development. 
a. A more interconnected world and a growing economy bring greater diversity of options to the talented. 
b. At the same time, the demands of a more assertive public test the resilience and sense of mission of those who serve in the public sector. 
c. Governments therefore face the constant challenge of getting our fair share of talent, both for national leadership roles and for the public sector.

3. Three Equilibria 

13. To better address these challenges, we need to relook our governance approaches and how we achieve three equilibria amidst competing demands. 

14. First, how do we balance between preserving our current achievements and being willing to take risk to innovate, so that current success is not the albatross around our necks that prevents us from evolving? 
a. Success breeds confidence but may also lead to complacency, arrogance and worse, the “perfection of irrelevance”. 
b. Systems, processes and mindsets may also ossify in the absence of continuing efforts to refresh. This is especially if officials are comfortable with following established processes without understanding their higher intent, and if they do not question and rethink their relevance as circumstances change. 

15. To drive innovation and transformation, we can consider the following. 
a. How do we develop leadership teams that are vigilant against group think and blind spots? How do we remain nimble and alive to the emerging challenges? 
i. We need diversity in the leadership collective, with a comprehensive range of experience and competencies to manage risks and operate effectively in a more complex and volatile world.
b. How do we nurture leaders who have an agile mindset and are able to harness the innovative ideas of our enterprises and community?
i. We need to balance between our traditional role of regulating to protect public interests, and regulating to facilitate innovation.
ii. We also need to develop leaders with the mindsets and competencies to achieve this balance. 
c. How do we better design and align incentives to encourage innovation and risk taking, while maintaining a high performing system? 
i. We need to enable experimentation while balancing the risks of implementing new ideas, and help entrepreneurs remove regulatory barriers so that they can accelerate the implementation of their business ideas.

16. Second, how do we balance between governing responsively and governing responsibly? 
a. We need to move responsively to meet the needs of our people today while we plan for the demands of tomorrow, use resources responsibly and stay firm to our values. 
b. We need to be mindful of being populist, offering simplistic sound-bites and solutions, which may be appealing and even work in the short-term, but do not address the root cause of issues and are not sustainable for the long term. 
c. In a time of crisis, I am sure all of us will agree that it is even more important to have leaders with sound values, foresight and the drive to forge unity and shared prosperity. 

17. Third, how do we balance between focusing on domestic stability and prosperity, while also contributing to regional and global stability and prosperity? 
a. The bedrock of the government’s legitimacy is stability, prosperity and unity, at home.
b. We must first get our own house in order to have the leadership bandwidth to be successful internationally. 
c. At the same time, we need to lead our societies to contribute our part to the pressing global challenges of our time, such as climate change and pandemic control, because our security and prosperity are intimately linked in a global world. 

4. Three Foci for Leadership Development 

18. Effective governance and leadership go hand in hand. Let me now share briefly on three focal areas for our leadership development.

19. First, fostering greater diversity in our leadership collective to build resilience. 
a. The collective strength of our team matters more in an uncertain world. 
b. We need to develop resilient leadership teams with a good mix of skills, traits, competencies, experiences, and personal networks.
c. In the Singapore Public Service, we expose our leaders to different domains, such as policy, operations, and mobilisation and communications. Beyond rotating them to different agencies, we also expose them to the private and people sectors to gain knowledge and build networks. 

20. Second, moving beyond doing for our people, to doing with our people, because only so can we do more and do better together, while managing the heightened expectations.
a. We consult the public and solicit views, allowing the government to be more responsive to citizen needs. 
b. This also allows us to benefit from alternative ideas and suggestions as we co-create and co-deliver services with businesses and the community.
c. As the role of the government becomes more complex, we will need to align and tap on the wider collective, across public, people, private sectors, to develop more sustainable and holistic policies and approaches. 

21. Third, developing highly capable leaders, anchored on core values. Just like our Chinese counterparts, we strongly believe that values and their role in shaping governance cannot be overstated.
a. Selecting and developing not just the most capable, but also the most committed individuals for leadership, remains the topmost priority. 
b. As our experience with managing the pandemic shows, it is not just about the technical accuracy of our response, but whether the people trust their Government to do what it takes to protect the public good, even in the midst of uncertainty. Therefore, leaders must be anchored on core values, such as meritocracy and incorruptibility. 
c. In an uncertain world, values become even more important, because leadership effectiveness depends on trust. These values do not change. These are the values we look out for when selecting our leaders and leadership teams, and we continue to reinforce them along their leadership journey. 

5. Conclusion 

22. Minister Josephine Teo will later share how the Singapore leadership is evolving our governance approach, as well as the development of our leaders, to pre-empt and manage risks that can undermine our economic system, focusing on helping our lower wage workers. 

23. Minister Desmond Lee will then focus on how Singapore has evolved its governance approaches and systems to pre-empt and manage risks to our socio-economic system, with a focus on supporting our ageing population.

24. To conclude, leaders across the world are faced with a highly complex and volatile world. Many of these challenges are similar, but our responses will have to be situated within the unique context of our countries. As we innovate to pre-empt and address these risks, we can shorten our learning curve and be much more effective, by sharing best practices with one another.

25. I look forward to hearing the views and ideas of our Chinese friends and a lively discussion. 

26. Thank you.