Opening Remarks by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law Mr Edwin Tong SC, at Singapore-China International Commercial Dispute Resolution Conference 2023
20 Oct 2023 Posted in [Speeches]
Dr Yu Jianlong, Vice Chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT)
Honourable Judges present this morning,
Friends from Singapore and China
Our Distinguished Guests
Ladies and gentlemen
1. So happy to see all of you this morning.
2. I would like to echo what Charlene said, and also warmly welcome Dr Yu and your delegation to Singapore.
3. We are so glad that we are able to do this in person now, and host you here in Singapore.
4. We had promised to do this right after the 2019 session in Beijing. But unfortunately, events took over around the world, and we were not able to.
5. Dr Yu and I had a short meeting earlier. It was wonderful to catch up again after so many years.
6. We recounted that we first met in the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA) Distinguished Speaker Series in Singapore, where you were speaking, in October 2018. And subsequently again at the first edition of this conference in 2019 in Beijing.
7. After that, the only time I saw you was on a small little zoom screen.
8. But now that I see you in person, I am glad to say that you still look the same after so many years, unlike me, of course. Your hair is much blacker than mine. But when I grumble about that, people would say that I am lucky I still have hair.
Dr Yu Jianlong’s Previous Suggestions and Recent Collaborations
9. But onto a bit more serious business.
10. I recall our first meeting very much. You made an impression on me. It was in one of the mediation rooms at Maxwell Chambers. We were seated around a small table.
11. You struck me because you gave us very valuable insights on a couple of things – the importance of dispute resolution to businesses, how intertwined they are, and how very much they are part and parcel of doing business.
12. You also outlined Chinese parties’ preferences when it comes to looking at how we resolve disputes, and where we resolve those disputes.
13. You also shared the subtle differences between how Singapore and China approach dispute resolution, that really only a seasoned international arbitrator like you would pick up, and would know.
14. I think that formed the backdrop of many important suggestions that you gave us on how Singapore and China could broaden our collaboration, and what we can do for the legal industry, to our mutual benefits.
15. For example, for our arbitral institutions to promote arbitration in third countries along the Belt and Road; for us to learn about mediation from one other; and also to conduct lectures to Chinese businesses and relevant stakeholders in China.
16. I think all of these suggestions still remain highly relevant and very valid today – five years on.
17. I am also glad to note that we have indeed executed on some of these suggestions – some, not all, because of COVID-19 and its intervening period. But we will endeavour to look at what else we can do, not just on these suggestions, but beyond these as well.
18. Our dispute resolution institutions have been collaborating with each other, on several fronts.
a. From organising joint events to raise awareness about arbitration and mediation amongst our practitioners and businesses alike, to also joint training to equip users with the relevant knowledge and skills – understanding the new dynamics, how courts look at arbitration, and how businesses look at arbitration, sometimes not necessarily the same way.
b. We have also facilitated physical and hybrid hearings in each other’s country, developed joint protocols, such as the med-arb protocol between the Singapore International Mediation Centre (SIMC) and the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration (SCIA).
c. We have also provided advice on each other’s laws to see how we could do better to make ourselves more commercial. Fundamentally, that is what the legal system must do, especially on mercantile and commercial laws. We have to make sure that we are adaptable, responsive, and understand market needs.
19. Our institutions have also frequently visited each other via delegations, including government officials, lawyers, businesses, to precisely share about what matters most – how each of the parties see the system, and what they want to gain from the system.
20. They also have regular exchanges with each other (not just with other stakeholders), to share ideas, learn about best practices, so that all can grow mutually and improve together.
Importance of Deepening Cooperation
21. In my view, these are all very positive developments, not just in terms of advancing the know-how, the knowledge and the experience but really, as a consequence of the deepening relationship that Singapore has with China.
22. Indeed, Asia is growing rapidly, with China leading the charge.
23. Just last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that they expect growth in Asia to accelerate from 3.9% in 2022 to 4.6% this year, contributing to about two-thirds of global growth this year. Next year’s growth is also expected to be higher at 4.2%. This is compared to the projected 3.0% this year, and 2.9% next year globally. So the average rate of growth in Asia is projected to outstrip that of the global rate of growth.
24. You overlay that with what we see today.
25. China is the second largest economy in the world, Japan, third, India, fourth. ASEAN, collectively as a bloc, is somewhere between Japan and India. When you look at that collectively, it gives you an idea of the growth potential that we see in Asia.
26. If you go around Asia, Southeast Asia, other parts of Asia, you will see proliferation or a continuation of many infrastructure projects. The foreign direct investments coming into this part of the world has continued unabated despite COVID-19.
27. When you look at the context that we all share in the legal industry – law following businesses, following growth in economies, I think you will see where this is headed. The growth potential for legal work, whether it is in arbitration, mediation or transactional work, will only grow in this part of the world.
28. Let’s look a little bit further ahead.
29. By 2030 – which is just six years down the road – or maybe even earlier, China is expected to be ranked top economy in the world, India, third, and by that time, ASEAN as a bloc, fourth.
30. I will say, in some ways, the growth trajectory is not surprising.
31. Look at the population growth, the number of new affluence in this area, the very young demographic in Southeast Asia and the very rapid urbanisation, coupled with the economic integration in this region, with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), something that is a foundation and one that is symptomatic of our approach to how we do trade around the world – multilateral, open, rule of law, clear and transparent.
32. Asia is also the only continent where you find a good mix of developed, emerging, and frontier markets.
33. I think that is important, because each of these markets complement one other.
34. If you have a region that has all only developed markets, you get a very different feel and progress sometimes depends on there being differential in the markets between countries. As a consequence of this, the developed hubs can help feed investment, infrastructure, and employment opportunities into the populous and high growth economies close by.
35. I am not giving you an economics lesson. But the main point I am making is that Asia is already a major contributor of the global economy here, now, today. With some of these statistics that we see which are quite a clear path and a clear trajectory, that will be so in the foreseeable future. The outlook, therefore, in my view, is optimistic.
36. What this, in return, means is that there will be more economic activities in this region. Businesses involved in these inter-Asia and intra-Asia trade and investments will require legal advice and oftentimes now, legal advice in different and multiple jurisdictions, sometimes with different systems of law. They will also need a neutral and independent forum to resolve any dispute that may arise.
37. Given the cross-border nature of the transactions, some amount, in fact high amount of collaboration amongst our people will often be useful, so that they will be able to understand each other better, speak the same language, perhaps not actually the language, but speak the same philosophy and share the same ideals and end outcomes, and in doing so, can best serve our international business community.
38. This, of course, includes collaboration between our practitioners – everyone present in the room today – as well as between our practitioners and the businesses that they serve.
39. Indeed, for all these reasons, this is why we have been so proactively establishing platforms for people-to-people exchanges – to facilitate cross-sharing, and cross-learning.
40. Earlier this year, my Ministry announced that we would be introducing a Singapore-Shanghai Lawyers Exchange Programme, together with the Shanghai Justice Bureau, the Shanghai Bar Association, and the Law Society of Singapore.
41. In fact, we have 10 young, promising Shanghai lawyers, who are in Singapore for a three-month attachment, with us today.
42. We warmly welcome you.
43. Before you get carried away with the applause, I must say you will be worked hard, undergoing at least the one-week long orientation programme next week, to understand the system, and to understand the bolts and nuts of how we work here, before being attached to our Singapore law practices. So good luck.
44. Despite me saying that you will be worked hard, I think it will be an experience that you will cherish. Because fundamentally, the thinking behind the people-to-people collaboration and exchanges, it is not just to understand the technicalities of the differences between Singapore and Chinese law or even our different legal systems, but to understand how we think, what are our priorities, and what are some of the cultural and systemic nuances that we might find in our own different jurisdictions, and how this can be harnessed and best martialled to serve our clients.
45. We have carefully selected the host firms based on your areas of practice and interests, as well as their expertise in these particular areas.
46. I understand that the host firms are slightly nervous as well as to what they will be able to do for you, what you can do, who you can meet. And I think the most important part of the agenda is to think through how much time you have so that they can schedule a real gastronomic feast, and show you all parts of Singapore as far as the food is concerned. So, I am confident that you are in good hands.
47. But coming back to this conference, it is another example of what I regard as a foundational driver of the Singapore-China relationship, which is the people-to-people exchange.
48. As Charlene said earlier, it is really to bring our experts together, to explore how Singapore and China can partner each other to resolve common challenges, and facilitate trade and commerce, and perhaps importantly, to bring our practitioners together.
49. Exchanging know-how and information is very important but exchanging contacts, making new friends and reaffirming old ones is perhaps more important.
50. It may just be a one-day event here, but we hope that you will have a chance to make the first connection with someone you might not have known previously, and that sets you up for subsequent exchanges and collaborations.
Suggestions for Future Collaborations
51. As I close, let me go back to the reason behind why we started this series of Singapore-China International Commercial Dispute Resolution Conference in 2019.
52. It started with a premise that there is definitely a lot more we can do together, and this premise remains as we look at the post-COVID-19 environment particularly.
53. As Dr Yu suggested, and which I shared at the outset, we can promote dispute resolution to the Chinese businesses, and in third countries particularly, for example, countries along the Belt and Road.
54. Many Chinese businesses are investing in projects in countries, where the legal systems in those countries will well be less developed. It will be very useful to them, if they know how to navigate the relatively more challenging legal environments in these countries, so that the projects can get afoot and will not stall. We can present a better value proposition to them, if we go in together. This is about providing parties with options, which they can choose from, depending on the particular needs that they might have or for a particular project that exists or takes place in a particular jurisdiction.
55. In this vein, we can also explore secondments between our law firms and businesses, in addition to the secondments between our law firms. Both Singapore and China are home to many internationalising enterprises, as well as law firms who advise and are very close business advisors to these entities. There may be matters which require a certain legal expertise – whether it is Singapore law or Chinese law or international law – for a period of time, and it will make sense to have lawyers be with the businesses during this period.
56. As I wrap up, let me once again underscore and reiterate the points that both me and Charlene have been making.
57. Singapore and China enjoy longstanding and multi-faceted relations. As Dr Yu pointed out to me when we met earlier, both our leaders of our countries have upgraded our relationship to one that is forward-looking, making sure that we are future-proofing our relationship as we move forward ahead, post COVID-19.
58. This has to be underpinned by frequent high-level exchanges, institutionalised platforms, such as this conference, and a deep and substantive cooperation.
59. Legal cooperation between our two countries is a little bit more recent, but in part because of that, it gives us much more headroom to grow.
60. I look forward to strengthening our legal cooperation with China, and in particular, with CCPIT, in the coming years.
61. I will join you for a little period of this conference, but I apologise that I am not able to stay much of today as I got other engagements.
62. I wish all of you a pleasant conference. But do not forget what I said earlier, know-how is good, knowledge is better, but know-who is best.
63. So make sure you spend some time networking, building up relations, and understanding and deepening partnerships. I think this will stand us in good stead for many years to come.
64. Thank you very much.
Last updated on 20 October 2023