11 July 2019

Your Excellency Vice Minister Liu Xiao Ming, Ministry of Transport
Your Excellency Mr Qiu Dong Yao, Mayor, Ningbo Municipal People’s Government
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

1.    It is a privilege to be here on China Maritime Day to speak on the topic of Connectivity on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

2.    It is a notable privilege for three reasons:

i.  I was told that this is the first time Singapore is invited to speak at the China Maritime Forum;
ii.  I noticed that I am the only speaker not from China; this speaks of the strong friendship shared between China and Singapore; and
iii. I am the only female speaker.

3.    Indeed, it is an honour to be given the opportunity to share Singapore’s thoughts on the topic of connectivity.

4.    It has been about six months since I took on the job as Chief Executive of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.  From Singapore’s perspective as a major transshipment hub and an international maritime centre, I made three observations:

5.    First, the maritime industry is going through uncertain times: complex geopolitics, shifting global trade patterns, tighter ship financing, upcoming regulations (such as the IMO 2020 and greenhouse gas emissions cuts).

6. Second, we expect increasing focus on the digital flows of goods and services.  Not just physical flows.  The maritime industry is undergoing deep transformation because of industrial revolution 4.0.  We see the use of electronic certificates, blockchain technology, harnessing big data, and greater automation in ships.

7.    Third, how fast the industry grows will depend on how good and diverse a talent pool we can attract.  We need more cross-sector talent in data analytics, business, and the sciences.  We need more women!

8.    On this note, I am proud to say that in Singapore, we are walking the talk.  Our maritime industry association, maritime union and the government are headed by women.  We have Ms Mary Liew as the President of our workers’ union (and General Secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union).  Recently, our industry association – the Singapore Shipping Association – voted in a female President (Ms Caroline Yang).  In MPA’s senior management team, more than half are women.  I am very proud of that.

Maritime Singapore – A Key Pillar of Singapore’s Economy

9.    We are therefore expecting times of uncertainty and change in the maritime industry.  It can be a concern, but it can also be turned into opportunities. Let me now share how Singapore plans to continue to play the role of a responsible hub port and an international maritime centre serving the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

10.   Connectivity, technology and talent will be the three pillars Singapore will focus on.

11.   On connectivity. I understand that today – the China Maritime Day, marks a significant event commemorating Admiral Zheng He’s famous maritime voyages.  Archaeological excavations even suggest that trading links between then Temasek and China started as early as the 14th century!

12.   The Maritime Silk Road, evolution of Singapore as a free trade port in 1819, together with the onset of steamships and opening of the Suez Canal spurred shipping and trade between the East and West.

13.   On this, MPA is working with China on a few fronts: one of which is a memorandum of understanding with the China Waterborne Transport Research Institute, which will enhance cooperation in information exchange and research and development between China and Singapore.  We will be signing the MOU later this afternoon.  Separately, we are also working with China MSA on a digitalisation collaboration.

14.   Before I say more, allow me to summarise some of the areas of focus where Singapore thinks the future of maritime should be headed to – with this video.

15.   And since we are in China – allow me to continue my speech in Mandarin.  I will share more of Singapore’s thoughts on two key areas of connectivity – digital connectivity and green connectivity. 

Digital 21st Century Maritime Silk Road

16.   The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road should be a digital and green road of connectivity.

17.   First, digital connectivity.  The maritime industry is still playing catch up compared to other sectors because it is a complex and international industry, but the benefits are clear:

18.   Efficiency gains for businesses: Singapore has moved to the use of electronic certificates on all Singapore-flagged ships.  China MSA and MPA are partnering to encourage the development of electronic certificates at the ASEAN Maritime Transport Working Group.  Imagine this: a China-ASEAN port-to-port express shipping route that uses electronic certificates, rapidly getting port clearances and clearing ship inspections.

19.   Singapore-based PIL successfully piloted a blockchain-based electronic bill of lading to track a shipment of mandarin oranges from China to Singapore for the Lunar New Year celebrations earlier this year. The trial significantly reduced the administrative process of transferring the title deed – from seven days to just one second.

20.   Smarter decision-making: digitalisation paves the way to deploy more advanced tools such as AI and data analytics to gain greater insights of operations.

21.   Singapore’s Next Generation Vessel Traffic Management System Lab will use data analytics to forecast ship arrival timings and potential traffic hotspots within our port waters.  We hope to contribute to safe navigation in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

22.   New business models: digitalisation can create new business or operating models.  Two areas that we have been exploring are 3D printing, which has the potential to disrupt the supply chain of marine parts for ships, and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) with the potential to transform the supply value chain.

23.   There are many digital solutions.  But to reap the benefits of digital connectivity, we need systems to talk to each other, to cooperate, and connect.  We need scale and inter-operability.  China and Singapore can be partners and lead in overcoming these challenges.

Green 21st Century Maritime Silk Road

24.   The second kind of connectivity is “green connectivity”.  As custodians of the planet we live on, many of us have embraced a sustainable maritime industry.

25.   The Shanghai Maritime University houses the IMO’s Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) for the Asia region.  The regional MTCCs – in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific – are linked together in the IMO’s Global MTCC Network to spur adoption of carbon reduction technologies and the move towards low carbon shipping.

26.   Let me give you another one example.

27.   Singapore’s partnership with China to develop the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor connects Western China to Southeast Asia under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI-ILSTC).  It links Chongqing to Singapore by enabling freight to be carried from Chongqing to the Port of Qinzhou by rail (or truck) and then shipped into Southeast Asia via the Beibu Gulf.

28.   With the new corridor and the Beibu Gulf Ports as the sea gateway, cargo can be shipped from Chongqing to Singapore within seven days, while the current route via the Yangtze River can take up to 21 days. That is three times longer!

29.   That is a lot of traveling time cut down, and a lot of emissions reduced.  As we all know, shipping is the most efficient and emission-friendly mode of moving cargo per tonne mile.  I do believe there are even more wins for sustainability that we can find in this project if we put our minds to it.


30.   The maritime and shipping industry is facing uncertain times – a more complex geopolitics, shifting global trading environment and greater disruption from technology.

31.   It is my personal belief that the kind of connectivity on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road that I have touched on today – digital connectivity and green connectivity – will help us become a more interconnected world, which has greater physical, institutional and digital connectivity.

32.   Thank you.  I look forward to continuing our conversations throughout today.