For Youths
12 Jun 2020

BCYC Knowledge Exchange Collective - “China: From Copycat to Technology Powerhouse”

Business China Youth Chapter (BCYC) kickstarted its first BCYC Knowledge Exchange Collective on 28 May 2020 and attracted 35 members for the online discussion. The BCYC Knowledge Exchange Collective (KEC) seeks to bring BCYC members to share and discuss topics or trends in relation to Singapore and China. In BCYC’s first KEC, Alvona Loh Zi Hui, a junior doctor and the vice president of BCYC shared her views on the technological advancements in China and its relevance to Singapore.

China’s Technology Transformation

Alvona shared how China’s technology advancements were fast and wide-ranging, where technology transformations were experienced across various sectors from the financial industry, the real estate and even to the entertainment industry. She highlighted how the size of mobile cashless payments for example, accelerated from 2.31 trillion yuan in 2012 to 277.39 trillion yuan in 2018.

Under China’s ‘Made in China 2025’ blueprint, a plan laid out in 2015, the country aims to make giant technological strides, to move into producing higher-value products and services. China’s commitment to this cause can be seen from the burgeoning research & development expenditure over the past decade, with a 1.76 trillion yuan spend in 2017, accounting for 2.1% of its GDP, a year-on-year increase of 14% and an increase of 70.9% from 2012[1].

Alvona encouraged the audience to think about the factors that have contributed to China’s technological advancements to date and how Singapore could learn from China.

[1] https://www.21ic.com/news/semi/201802/753100.htm

Singapore’s Digitalisation Efforts

Alvona also delved into Singapore’s own plan of becoming a smart nation, organised into three pillars: Digital Government, Digital Economy and Digital Society. She shared some of the key milestones laid out by the Smart Nation & Digital Government Group (SNDGG) and drew recent examples of how Singapore has been leveraging on technology in its fight against COVID-19.

In employing the use of technology however, Alvona pointed out that many countries are facing challenges finding a balance between technology and personal data privacy in this digitalised world. She encouraged BCYC members to think further and left this as a food for thought for the audience.

Singapore’s Hurdles to Becoming a Smart Nation

BCYC members exchanged their insights in relation to the topic and raised several potential hurdles to Singapore’s goal of becoming a smart nation.

One notable hurdle is that people and businesses may not readily adopt new technologies. In China, where the environment is ever-changing and where the use of AI is prevalent in everyday life, people may find it easier to adapt. In Singapore however, new technologies may be perceived as foreign and disruptive. Combined with the fear of having their jobs automated, Singaporeans may resist the idea of having technology more intertwined in their lives. Businesses may also view technology to be a pricey investment with no promises of having a good return.

Moving forward, one strategy to overcome this hurdle could involve an incremental approach. Integrating small technological changes in everyday lives across multiple touchpoints for example, may help to increase awareness and raise digital familiarity. Embarking on small-scale technological projects may offer businesses a taste of improved efficiency and yet not break the bank.

China’s impressive digital infrastructure and economy is a story of commercial success. Interconnected cyber-physical systems, from e-commerce, to e-payments and logistics, for example, have made it simple and convenient for users to adopt and integrate in everyday lives. In comparison, digital infrastructures for e-payment systems in Singapore are still very much decentralised and implemented in silos, thus making it difficult to encourage user take-ups.

Resources in terms of having skilled engineering talents, technology know-how and the bedrock of technology – data, are paramount to Singapore’s goal of becoming a smart nation. The necessary skilled manpower to clean and process data, for example, are preconditions to data analyses. Singapore’s small population of about 5.7 million people may present constraints in producing sufficient skilled engineering talents.

A holistic and long-term strategy encompassing areas like education, research and foreign manpower are required. The cultivation of interest in the engineering field, the anchoring of global technology firms for innovation and knowledge transfer and the careful balance of having skilled foreign manpower, for example, are crucial parts of the bigger solution for  Singapore to truly become a smart nation. Moving forward, Singapore could seize opportunities in areas like innovation, integration and internationalisation.

About Business China Youth Chapter

Business China Youth Chapter (BCYC) is a voluntary group of youths that envisions to be the leading Singapore-based community that inspires youths to be China-savvy and facilitate their connections with China. Supported by Business China, BCYC has a vibrant calendar of activities which serve the needs of the BCYC community.

To join Business China Youth Chapter, please email bcyc@businesschina.org.sg.

This article is contributed by Business China Youth Chapter Member Ng Jia Wen.