Singapore is ideal partner to test new tech: Heng Swee Keat

Finance Minister attributes this to Republic's one-layer government system and 'regulatory sandboxes'

Singapore's single-layer system of government means it can be more decisive about testbedding new technology than most other countries, and this makes it an ideal partner for countries to test out innovations, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

And the Republic is keen to grow its collaboration with Japanese agencies and companies, he told Singaporean media at the end of a six-day working visit to Tokyo. He flew to Japan directly from China, where he was on an eight-day visit.

In Japan, Mr Heng visited banks and technology and robotics companies, and also met Japanese politicians, businessmen and financial regulators.

"Because we are one layer of government, we can do it at a systems level - not just one or two projects but actually a whole range of projects that cover particular themes," he said.

"We also have regulatory sandboxes where usual rules do not apply, and that allows for innovation to be tested and tried in a proper setting."

This would allow issues to be identified quickly and for regulators to jump in, though regulation "must not impede development", he stressed. Yet this is necessary in order to "achieve the objective of a safer environment" and also allow for "the growth and development of new and interesting ways of doing things".

Turning to North Korea, Mr Heng said Singapore's stance is that, in line with the international community, the Republic would only extend economic cooperation with North Korea on the precondition that Pyongyang takes concrete steps towards denuclearisation.

Tuesday's summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is "an important first step towards peace on the Korean peninsula, and each of these steps will have to be taken" before sanctions can be lifted.

Singapore had temporarily lifted a blanket suspension of trade with North Korea from June 9 to today, which applied only to delegates importing or exporting goods "for the purpose of the preparations or conduct of the summit meeting".

In November last year, Singapore cut all trade with North Korea in line with toughened sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. As recently as 2015, Singapore was the North's sixth-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching US$29 million.

Meanwhile, Mr Heng also said he discussed with Japanese stakeholders Singapore's newly established Infrastructure Asia Office (IAO), which can bring together local and international players to develop, finance and execute regional projects.

Given the huge demand for projects, he cheered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's announcement on Monday of a new US$50 billion (S$67 billion) infrastructure fund that involves both Japanese public and private sectors to drive infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region.

"We need a mix of public and private sector funding in order to meet the very significant infrastructure needs in the whole region," he said.