London falls, Singapore rises

JUNE 11 — So sometimes I like to play a game. I like to imagine that I’m some sort of oligarch (doesn’t everyone do this?).

Now I know I should probably be focusing my mind on inner peace or some such lofty ambition but sometimes it is just fun to imagine what you’d do if you were stinking rich, isn’t it?

So, I imagine I’m not counting pennies or battling with by mobile phone provider over $S10 (RM30.8) worth of roaming charges and make believe that the world is in fact at my feet.

I like to picture the nice houses I would buy in various exotic corners of the world or where I’d take my yacht etc.

But recently this game has become harder; even my imaginary options aren’t what they used to be,

My oligarch alter ego’s favourite place, London, is lurching through terrorist attacks and even more devastating political disasters. With Brexit, a wobbling government and the possibility of a strong leftist turn — I really wouldn’t be so keen to park my imaginary capitalist empire’s riches there.

This is a real problem (for the oligarch me). London was the undisputed capital of the global elite — an accommodating financial environment, access to the EU, strong property protection, great food and art — and a magnet for all my other nomadic oligarch friends... but now all of us have to look elsewhere to park our billions.

This photograph taken on June 7, 2017 shows the sunset over the skyline of Singapore.  — Picture from AFP
This photograph taken on June 7, 2017 shows the sunset over the skyline of Singapore. — Picture from AFP

How about New York? Great city but the US tax system is just scary, US Customs and border  protection authorities worry even very rich foreigners and with those America First policies etc. I don’t think that’s where I’d want to be.

Tokyo? Japan’s economy just isn’t what it was, and Shanghai — moving money into in to and out of China is not easy and moving money is what we oligarchs do. Dubai? Too hot, too messy... just not in the ideal region.

So, these days my imaginary game leads me back home to the Little Red Dot... Singapore That’s right, the place for the globalised elite is right here at home.

A world facing city, amazing global flight connections, a stable government, great infrastructure, low taxes and no exchange control. 

This is no accident; for decades our rulers have worked to turn us into a hub for international finance and a playground for the rich. And well it worked, sort of.

Singapore is a major economic centre -- behind only New York and London in terms of the breadth and diversity of the financial services it offers.

You can invest globally, effortlessly from a base in Singapore. Our infrastructure is world class and we throw in marinas, lavish housing and excellent food for good measure.

Above all, we are open to citizens from all over the world, particularly rich ones.

Our prime minister has gone on record saying “if I can get another 10 billionaires to move to Singapore and set up their base here, my Gini co-efficient will get worse but I think Singaporeans will be better off.”

Of course this openness to global citizens has come at a cost to Singaporeans. I have often railed against the ill-effects of turning our country into a hotel for the global elite — high prices, a weaker national identity.

However, the truth is that as much as I love the idea of a cosy little Singapore for Singaporeans, that was never the reality and we’ve moved far beyond that now.

We are the definition of a global city and our shiny new developments, our expanding MRT — they are not just for Singaporeans but for the world.

Looking at the current opportunity presented by London, I’m tempted to take up the challenge; it’s time we make our move. We have a chance now to be not just a global city but THE global city, the defining metropolis of the 21st century.

Everyone else is dropping out of the race. In the US and UK there’s been a clear backlash among people left behind by the global elite. They have begun to look inward but in Singapore this shouldn’t happen. We are a tiny country, there is no inward to look at — out is the only way.

It pains me to say it but courting globalism and global wealth might be a good option right now. To really pull this off though we might have to do what our government has always wanted to do and increase the population.

Of course, Singaporeans are sensitive to the idea of our country being flooded with foreigners and the government needs to balance this. But no matter what, to become the world’s leading global city we will need to leverage on all our tiny space, attract all the talent we can.

We need to ensure our connections to ASEAN, China and India are as smooth as possible and our links to our pseudo-hinterland — Johor and Batam — must be first rate. Oligarchs do not want to sit in the Causeway jam.

Crucially we need to develop our art and cultural scenes because oligarchs like to be associated with the ballet, the opera – our art scene and our cultural offerings  still pale compared to NYC, London and Paris.

We have a long way to go but we could still really make it to No. 1, the pre-eminent global city — after all, no one else seems to want the position.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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