Singapore cannot afford to rest on our laurels. If we are content to just be above average in the league of cities, or just as good as our neighvours, we will fail.
Lining up to eat our lunch
A little while back this quietly happened down south.
A 25-year contract has been awarded to top South Korean airport operator, Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) and two Indonesian state airport operators to construct, expand and operate Batam Hang Nadim Airport.
The consortium partners take over operations of airport on 29th June 2022.
The plan is to elevate Batam’s Hang Nadim Airport to regional prominence – not just domestic – with a stated goal of 20 million passenger counts a year, concurrent with a push towards establishing an air logistics hub, leveraging on Batam’s status as a free trade zone. Nearly half a billion US dollars have been earmarked for this project.
Not only that, there are also ambitious plan and investments made in Batam in recent years to turn Batam into a serious competitor to Singapore for the aircraft MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Operations) business, with GMF Garuda and Lion air putting down money for large aircraft maintenance facilities at Hang Nadim Airport.
They have picked a strong partner as well.
Incheon airport is one of Changi’s fiercest competitors in the international airport rankings, often playing musical chairs with Changi for the top spots.
World class ‘software’ has quietly arrived at Singapore’s doorsteps.
Stiff competition for PSA
There have been ambitious plans too for a string of sea ports which would be serious competition to the PSA around the region as well, most notably at Kuala Tanjung, a short sailing distance away from Singapore, which has attracted massive investments from heavy weight port operators like DP World (Dubai) and Port of Rotterdam.
The first phase of Kuala Tanjung Port has already been completed.
Once the different phases are realised, Kuala Tanjung would be Indonesia’s largest transhipment port, basically a mega port city, with a huge industrial zone to support native growth, including a massive refinery and petrochemical complex (watch out Jurong Island) and the second busiest port in Indonesia after Tanjong Priok in Jakarta.
Together with other nearby ports such as Malacca, Klang and PTP, all they are all serious competition to PSA in the future.
Changi Airport Terminal 5 and Tuas Mega Port
At the 2022 National Day Rally, PM Lee announced the design update and resumption of work on Changi Airport’s terminal 5, and shared an update on the progress of Tuas’ mega port. These are key strategic infrastructure projects that will cement Singapore’s competitive edge in the key aviation and maritime sectors.
Unfortunately, these important bits were overshadowed by the announcement of the repeal of 377A.
The PM does not say things lightly. It would be a great pity if our people do not catch onto the import of these other announcements made by the PM.
Hard truths to keep Singapore going
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said, that Singapore must always be exceptional just to survive.
For bigger countries, with much bigger land area, population and natural resources, being exceptional in the Singapore sense of the word is not a necessity, possibly even a frivolity. With the scale of their domestic markets and natural resources, they could easily thrive and prosper by just getting into the same ballpark as Singapore alone. They can also afford to get things wrong. A good outcome, a win for any of the above projects would be just to shave off Singapore’s market share in the competing sectors.
But we are a tiny red dot with a comparatively negligible domestic market, no resources and a small population pool. The stakes are vastly different for us.
There is no reason for airlines to transit at Changi if we are only as good as other regional airports. There is no compelling reason to transship from PSA if we are only as efficient as other regional ports. There is no reason for any businesses to invest in Singapore if we are only as competitive or as attractive as other other regional countries. There is no reason to conduct business in Singapore if others around us could offer the same as we could. Other countries have a lot more natural advantages that we could not offer. Being only as good as others would never be enough for us to have our lunch.
In other words, for Singapore, not only are there no prizes for being second best, but we might well be eliminated from the race altogether if we ever get things wrong.
Remembering Singapore’s fundamentals
The PAP government, from the time of Lee Kuan Yew, has always emphasised certain unchanging truths that are fundamental to Singapore’s survival and prosperity: a good, clean and competent government, an industrious and committed people, a never ending pursuit of excellence. There are certain constancies that would never change for Singapore.
Half past six, insular opposition characters have often accused the PAP of scare mongering. But as we have seen in recent days in Sri Lanka, the fortunes of small countries can turn very rapidly if they ever get things wrong.
Our geography, our geo-political realities is our karma, for better or worse. The competition out there, the queue of people hungrier than we are, waiting to have our lunch, is very real, regardless of how we feel.
Complacency is fatal, and the world owes us nothing. We as a people need to have this sense of crisis, this ‘危机感’, etched onto our psyche. The prosperity of today’s Singapore was not by accident or even geography, and there is absolutely no guarantee of our continued prosperity, or even survival, whatsoever.
If we ever allow ourselves to forget these harsh, unchanging truths, then someone else would soon be eating our lunch.
And that, would be our collective karma too ….