Trade war? There are always business opportunities to be found

The editorial team from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) interviewed its president and veteran entrepreneur Roland Ng on business opportunities in a growing Chinese market. Mr Ng is the CEO and managing director of homegrown crane rental company Tat Hong.
Raffles City Chongqing. The China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity will facilitate joint ventures between companies in Singapore and China. (Capitaland)
Raffles City Chongqing. The China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity will facilitate joint ventures between companies in Singapore and China. (Capitaland)

After decades of reform and opening-up, the development of China’s economy has provided Singapore enterprises with excellent opportunities. What is your view on its prospects?

The development of the Chinese economy has entered a new phase. There is now a stronger emphasis on the quality of economic investments, as well as in areas such as environmental protection, people's general livelihood and digital technology.

As Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have undergone rapid development in the last two decades, the gaps between individual Chinese cities have widened. Continuing with the old model of development will only worsen the disparities. China is aware of its problems and is striving to narrow the gaps. Hence I believe the second- and third-tier cities will get a boost. This means, among other things, improving the infrastructures and public services in remote areas. 

Along with rapid economic and population growth come problems like the over-consumption of resources, worsening pollution and ecological destruction. In order to achieve sustainable development, China will have to put a lot of effort into developing clean energy and ensuring environmental protection.

China is also beginning to face the problem of an ageing population. Young people are dwindling in numbers, and the demographic percentage of the old is increasing. Health-related demands will rise. Businesspeople should look into how they can help China deal with these challenges, and find business opportunities here.

Spooked by the current China-US trade war, many investors worry that the Chinese economy will slow down. How will the trade war impact investors from Singapore and beyond? 

The China-US trade war brings us uncertainty. All the different industries are watching the situation with a cautious attitude; but the impact of trade disputes varies from one industry to another. I am still confident about investing in China. After all, opportunities are there only for those who are prepared. To businesspeople, there are always business opportunities to be found, no matter how good or bad the economic environment is. 

Chinese enterprises are not only actively attracting investments from outside, they also strive to extend their business influence outwards. Singapore companies are experienced in internationalization. We are familiar with international laws and norms, and have a better understanding of our region. We can work with Chinese companies, and establish a base in Singapore from which we may help them expand their business into third-party countries. 

What are the new trends of investing in China for Singaporean enterprises? As Chinese industries are being upgraded, in which sectors do our companies have a competitive advantage? 

In the past, we had to rely on guanxi to do business in China. However, the Chinese government is now more and more business-friendly, giving importance to official rules, regulations and systems, as shown for example, in the passing of the Foreign Investment Law. Foreign enterprises are increasingly better protected.

Looking ahead, this Asian giant will only continue to open up, and further connect with international set-ups. The advantage of Singaporean companies lies in refinement, especially in the aspect of management. We can share our experience with Chinese businesses. Another possible direction is increased collaboration with China in technological R&D. After all, they have an enormous market, which is what Singapore lacks. 

roland ng
SCCCI President Roland Ng. (SCCCI)

Chinese technologies have made huge progress over the years. Not only does China wow the world in the fields of the Internet and artificial intelligence, it is also the frontrunner in areas such as modern infrastructure, aerospace, military industries, the life sciences and new energy. As an entrepreneur, what is your take on the rise of Chinese technologies?

We have to make good use of technology. It has to be utilized adequately. Take for instance the facial recognition technology that has gradually come into its own in China. This is beginning to be applied widely across various sectors, such as security, traffic, education and medicine. 

Technological R&D requires a great deal of resources and time. After a new technology has been developed, much time is needed for testing, and to arrive at viable commercial applications. Although Singapore values technological innovation highly, we do not necessarily possess the capabilities to develop leading-edge technologies on our own, nor do we have a big market to support R&D. The artificial intelligence industry that is currently developing rapidly in China requires the collection of a tremendous amount of data for analysis. This is something that is difficult for Singapore to do, given that we have a population of only 5.6 million.

Nevertheless, we can pay more attention to the development of such technologies in China, and consider how they can be utilized for our own businesses.  

How well has the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity been pushing forward since it was kick-started?

For this Initiative, the key areas of collaboration will be financial services, aviation, transport logistics and information communication technology. The cross-border roads, railways and harbours to be built as planned for the Southbound Passage will cut down the logistic transportation time between China and Southeast Asian countries significantly. The mega-project is currently still at a nascent stage, with custom and border issues yet to be worked through. Nevertheless, looking ahead, the Initiative will lead to more closely knit logistics between China and Southeast Asia, facilitating joint ventures between companies in Singapore and China for expanding into our region, and even further up into the markets of countries along the Belt and Road Initiative.

What role does the SCCCI play in facilitating trade and businesses between Singapore and China? What are its plans for the future?

The SCCCI provides multiple platforms for exchanges, whereby our member businesses may share resources and business opportunities. We have organized many overseas market workshops and field trips to China, visiting government bodies, chambers of commerce and businesspeople, as well as infrastructure and investment projects. This allows our companies to gain a deeper appreciation of what it is like to run a business in the country, as well as expand their network of contacts.  

We have also set up a Singapore Enterprise Centre (SEC) in Shanghai, Chengdu and Chongqing respectively. These centres provide corporate services such as business advisory, market information and business matching. SECs also assist businesses in completing official procedures and documents, so as to lighten the burden on Singaporean enterprises newly anchored in China. 

We will also be setting up a Singapore section at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Import Commodity Exhibition and Trading Centre, to provide our companies with a platform for showcasing their products. I believe this will help to raise the profile of Singaporean brands in China, and encourage our local brands to expand into the Chinese market.