The Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce unites over 90 Czech companies with business interests in Singapore and south-east Asia. At the same time, it is a platform for the meeting of important personalities from the highest business circles in the Czech Republic and Singapore.
The city-state of Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is located on the island of the same name and has 63 adjacent isles near the southern section of the Malay Peninsula. It has a total area of 729 sq km and a population of almost 5.7 million, which represents the third highest population density in the world. The official languages are English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The name Singapore comes from Sanskrit and means Lion City. This predisposes it to a certain extent to the position of leader in the introduction of modern technologies, dynamic construction and smart city.
We asked the President of the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce, Marcel Bednář, about current relations and trade activities between the two countries.
To begin with, I must ask about the post-covid situation. How did its effects show up in Singapore?
This is a rather difficult question to begin with. Following the spread of the virus in China, many foreign companies, including German, British and Dutch, vacated the playing field. Other countries in south-east Asia have also left Singapore. The Singaporeans imposed a hard lockdown that lasted many long months.
And how did this unusual situation affect the inhabitants?
The Singaporeans are very happy to meet, either after work or for lunch. They live a much richer social life, which is more connected with work and business life, than we are used to in the Czech Republic. So, the Singaporeans were far more affected with regards to this personal level. But given the proliferation of digital and mobile technologies, as many companies in Singapore operate on this basis, this was not such a big problem for them. If they have a personal or friendly relationship with a foreign business partner from the past, distance communication works fine.
What lifestyle do Singaporeans actually promote?
They are not used to spending a lot of time at home. Most of them live in apartments, whether public or private – often in condominiums, which are complexes of luxury apartment buildings. Their housing and/or homes are not designed for them to spend time in from morning to evening, nor are they used to preparing food at home. Whether it’s lunch or dinner – they don’t cook at home. They solve this by eating in bistros, restaurants or shopping centres. There are food courts, which are covered spaces with one bistro next to another – under very strict hygienic control, so everything is fine in this respect. Therefore, they have the opportunity to eat in this way within the immediate vicinity of their homes. It is very cheap and they can choose from an inexhaustible number of stands – where quality and hygiene are guaranteed. This is their usual lifestyle. With the arrival of covid, they had to lock themselves in their homes and their lives changed dramatically.
The issue of housing and its availability has recently been dramatized in the Czech Republic. What is the situation in Singapore?
The housing situation in Singapore is divided into about 80% of state-owned apartments and 20% of private apartments. The Singaporean government invests huge sums of money in the construction of state housing and housing support. This is actually a historical matter because, in times of the ‘founding father’ Lee Kuan Yew, who was the head of the People’s Action Party (PAP), it was decided in the past that Singapore’s perspective lies in the middle class with guaranteed quality housing, which is the basis for future economic success and prosperity. They have invested heavily through the statutory board, the Housing & Development Board (HDB), in the construction of state-owned housing for which Singaporeans may qualify under certain conditions. The 20% of private apartments is another matter, which is often dealt with in the form of condominiums.
What is life in a Singapore condominium like?
This variant of housing is of a very high level, where you have several high-rise buildings, such as twelve-storey ones, and there are several residential units on each floor. Five such high-rise buildings, for instance, form an enclosed complex with security service and building management, which takes very good care of the area. Each time you enter the building, you need to identify yourself with a chip card. Inhabitants are provided with a full service there, in fact they are taken care as in a five-star hotel. The basic principle is that everyone who lives in these apartments feels like being in a hotel or on holiday. You do not only have an apartment there but it also includes a shared swimming pool, a terrace with barbecue facilities and spaces where social events are regularly held with programmes for both adults and children. Sports activities are provided by tennis and squash courts, table tennis tables, a gym – all this is part of the housing and a matter of course. Condominiums also deal with parking. There are large garages in the underground so that cars do not park on the street.
A recently released information states that there are new apartments to be built in the Tengah district of Singapore.
But this is a slightly different type of housing than the aforementioned condominiums. The Tengah project is being implemented by the state agency HDB through which the Singapore government supports construction of state housing. And as for the Tengah district, it is a prime example of a smart city, or let’s say a smart district in Singapore, of which there are currently several. For instance, it is the Punggol District and the campus of the National Technology University of Singapore. These are actually three smart cities in the middle of Singapore. In fact, two smart cities and one smart university campus, which also ranks among smart cities.
What will make the Tengah district unique?
Tengah is to be a model smart city with the construction of 42,000 apartments, where not only waste collection will be integrated with new digital technologies with the Internet of Things, such as smart bins, which will respond not only to waste filling, but also in case of fire, will be automatically extinguished. At the same time, sensors in the smart district will also respond to odours that irritate the neighbourhood. Information is passed through the application to the appropriate employees who are closest, so that they can resolve the situation immediately. However, Tengah is not just about waste management, but about a number of digital elements that are implemented in residents’ lives.
What is actually the vision of a smart city in Singapore?
The vision is that the surface will be pure green. That means buildings, greenery and pedestrian zones. In other words, only people will move on the earth’s surface. Car traffic will be one floor below the surface, including buses, and the underground below all that. All traffic will be underground only, which is also demonstrated on the visualization of Tengah. This vision is promoted not only by HDB, but many Singaporean companies that are also involved in the project, such as ST Engineering, which participate in the smart transport system.
Is it possible to compare the duration of the project realization in our country and in Singapore?
I can’t compare it totally but Singapore is experiencing a huge construction boom. Something is always being built there and everything is moving forward very quickly. What is common is that a skyscraper is functionally and energetically obsolete and outdated after 30–35 years, so, they tear it down and then build a new one in its place. That shows that, compared to us, they are not afraid to take radical steps. Of course, it also has a darker side. That is why Singapore is a city of skyscrapers and, with few exceptions, beautiful historic buildings, which you can find in abundance in the Czech Republic, are missing here. So, as we Czechs like to go for what we don’t have at home, i.e., somewhere under a palm tree to the seaside, the Singaporeans like to come and see castles, chateaus and historic buildings. So, state-of-the-art skyscrapers cannot be considered an unconditional advantage.
What future does the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce plan?
Our goal is to reach the level of trade and investment with Czech-Japanese or Czech-Korean relations, for example. We are not at that level yet, so there is room for improvement. These are our ambitions. And I hope that the reopening of the Czech Embassy in Singapore will help us to do just that. The embassy in Singapore will be opened during September by Ambassador Michaela Froňková, who, thanks to her experience in demanding territories, belongs to the top branch of the Czech diplomatic service. What we expect from the establishment of the embassy is a new era of Czech-Singaporean relations and we hope that this will, with regards to Singaporean companies and partners, also represent yet another positive signal, which will revive trade relations even more.
That is one of the goals. What are the others?
It would be nice if the Republic of Singapore opened an embassy in Prague. This can represent another big step that would be very helpful to Czech business.
Is it possible to specifically present the successes of Czech companies in Singapore?
There are things that are visible to Singaporeans. An example can be found at Singapore’s Changi Airport: beautiful design installations from Lasvit, which are passed daily by a large number of people. Another company works on the desalination of seawater and thus helps local water management – their activities are highly appreciated on the Singaporean side. Similarly prestigious are smart sensors from a Czech company, which are installed on the Singapore Formula 1 circuit. Another Czech company successfully supplies smart medical beds to Singapore hospitals and medical facilities. So, the range of fields is wide, not to mention traditional brands such as Baťa. And as the Singaporeans associate Bata with childhood or adolescence, every Singaporean who is now 50+ wore Baťa shoes. A bit of a problem is that they think it is an Indonesian or Indian brand and there is no longer a direct link to the Czech Republic. It is similar with Škoda cars, because in their opinion it is a German car. Unfortunately, they often have no idea that it is manufactured in our country. And that is actually work for Czech institutions and the Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce to make this connection in the minds of the Singaporeans. And to show that the Czech Republic can offer not only these traditional brands, but that there are also other companies that can offer interesting technologies or products to use or for trade.
In which fields do you see opportunities?
There are many of them. We mentioned, for instance, smart cities and the Internet of Things, which are industries in which Singaporeans invest a large amount of money and where the Singapore government very generously supports domestic companies and their further expansion. Then there is fintech. Singapore is an Asian financial centre that provides facilities for fintech companies and banks, so business with finance and the application of technology in finance is large. Then there are various health and medical technologies, biotechnologies, i.e., fields in which Czech companies have great opportunities. And also, IT and the digital industry including progressive segments such as robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. Singaporeans are looking for prime solutions in these fields and I am convinced that they can find them in many Czech companies.
The chamber was active in the field of education, seminars and conferences. Will you continue this trend?
We certainly want to continue educational events for the benefit of Czech companies and to do so in the form of business and entrepreneurial conferences. Our aim is to pass on information about interesting business opportunities in Singapore to Czech companies, ideally with the participation of guests from the fields of politics and business. Furthermore, we want to organize networking events for the members of the chamber, because we perceive that social life has been subdued for several months, so, we want to make it up to them. The Czech-Singapore Chamber of Commerce is not only about a bilateral trade relationship, but we also try to be a management club in which participants can share not only their experiences, contacts and information, but also negotiate deals with each other. Such social forcefulness of the chamber is very important to us.
Arnošt Wagner / Photo: archive, depositphotos and pixabay