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Singapore takes part in WEF to learn from others: Iswaran

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Republic hopes to work with others to seize new opportunities, minister says at World Economic Forum

Seizing opportunities provided by the digital economy and helping shape its future are among the key reasons Singapore is an active participant at the World Economic Forum's annual meetings, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran said yesterday.

The digital economy has implications for business models and jobs, but can position Singapore for a new phase of growth.

"We are an early adopter of technology, we are actively thinking about the issues," he said. "The reason we are here is really to share our experiences, but also to learn from others, and find possibilities to collaborate and partner - whether it is with the private sector or with governments, and essentially, like-minded partners."

Some Singapore companies are also in Davos this week, including DBS Bank and Grab.

Mr Iswaran added: "We are a small, open economy. Connectivity, innovation and trade are our lifeblood."

It was put to him during an interview with CNBC Squawk Box that Singapore was good at adopting new technologies, but these had yet to yield economic benefits. Mr Iswaran replied that while artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies are at an early stage, Singapore had to invest in developing them and apply them to the right areas.

For instance, AI applications are focused on a few areas like financial services, logistics and transportation.

Tapping the power of the digital economy was also a theme at an informal chat Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had on Monday with young business leaders from Asia, including Singapore.

They were in fields such as AI, banking, new media, logistics, real estate and telecommunications, and Mr Lee said in a Facebook post he "was impressed by their drive and desire to change the way business is done, and also to improve lives through their work".

Yesterday, Mr Lee had a roundtable lunch with business leaders. He also met Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

The two leaders reaffirmed the close and friendly relations between Singapore and Hong Kong and exchanged views on regional and international developments, Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said.

"PM Lee wished Hong Kong well, and expressed confidence that the city will overcome its current challenges and find a way forward under the 'one country, two systems' framework," she added.

Mr Iswaran was also asked about the impact of events in Hong Kong on Singapore.

"When we all do well, we all stand to benefit. If there is a problem in any one of our markets in the region, it has a dampening effect on all of us because it affects sentiments - consumer sentiment, investor sentiment and so on. In the case of Hong Kong, what we would like to see is an early and amicable resolution so that we can then go on with the larger issues of creating jobs and opportunities for people in the region," he added.