Speech by Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Senior Minister of State at the Asian Arts Mart 2003 at Esplanade Concert Hall



The story of the Singapore economy is that of a hub. Exploiting our location as a key junction, we tap the flows of people, trade, culture and religion to create good jobs for Singaporeans and many foreigners.

Competitive Advantage

Some of the flows through this hub are natural. For example, ships bring in cargoes and airlines fly in international travelers as we lie along their routes.

But some of the flows were man-made. For example, it is not automatic why Singapore should become a major hub for oil refinery and forex exchange, but we did.

That we have made Singapore into a major hub requires us to pay close attention to the market to understand what the customers want. It requires us to anticipate and respond promptly to changing customer needs. Hence, over the years, while hubbing remains our preoccupation, the nature of the flows that go through this hub has changed drastically. And it will continue to change.

From the earlier years of dealing with spices, we have gone on to deal with rubber, oil, forex, semiconductors and electrons. In this globally competitive game, to stay static is to lose relevance and invite definitive decline.

Virus loves to hub

You must be relieved that this event was scheduled for Jun 14 and not May 14 or worse Apr 14. The SARS outbreak nearly killed this event. I appreciate your courage for not canceling this event and your confidence in us. In return, we will make sure you have a productive event and a great time in Singapore.

It is not accidental that SARS's hit list includes major hub cities like Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto. Virus loves to hub. It multiplies fastest in crowded places. It spreads furthest via cities which are most globalised. As hubs, we become naturally vulnerable and not surprisingly form the first wave of victims.

Protect our Hub

Because hubbing is our livelihood, we have to make sure that we are not defeated by SARS or for that matter, any other contagion. That is why we go all out to fight SARS, mobilising the entire country in total defence against it. Our efforts have paid off, but our biggest enemy now is not SARS but complacency. That is why we are subjecting you to temperature checks and many anti-SARS slogans! But provided everyone plays his or her part, we can all continue to hub and carry on with our lives normally.

SARS or no SARS, Singapore will continue to enhance its hub status. The challenge is to look for niches and be of relevance to the world as a valued hub. The story of Singapore is the continuous search for this global role.

Asian Arts Mart

We hope the Asian Arts Mart can add a new niche for us. The objective is to create a platform for international buyers to meet Asian groups with potential to tour.

Asia comprises diverse cultures, religions and languages. The sub-region of Southeast Asia alone spans three time zones. It has experienced centuries of human migration and been influenced by the great religions and civilisations of the East. As a result of western rule followed by independence, Southeast Asia countries are diverse in character - in terms of population, religion, language and history. Exploring this mosaic of cultures can be a fascinating adventure in and of itself.

Although contemporary performing arts is relatively new to Asia, many successful groups have emerged in this short time. They have produced a very exciting fusion of Asian traditions and Western concepts. Unfortunately Asian productions often miss the eyes of international audiences. This is because quality of performance alone is not sufficient. Two other factors come into play. First, the group must have sufficient finances to produce a showcase. Second, the showcase must convince the international investors to take the risk of bringing these productions on tour.

A Vibrant Market

With rapid expansion of the middle-class, Asians are developing a renewed sense of sophistication in their ideas about the world and how they articulate them to international audiences. Asians are beginning to influence regions outside Asia. As more Asians spend money on the arts, and more governments support the development of their arts, groups are more easily able to finance their projects. But the market place for global investors in Asian arts is still under-developed.

The Asian Arts Marts hope to add to the buzz. Arts Mart 2003 builds on the success of Arts Mart 2001. Compared to 11 showcases in 2001, there are 14 showcases this year. More than 100 delegates from 18 countries are participating. This year's event also welcomes participation from Armenia, India, Luxembourg and Pakistan for the first time.

Arts Mart 2001 delivered results. Vietnamese group Rup Tun Cack toured to the US as a result of the Mart. Maya Theatre from Thailand toured to UK and was invited to perform in the Barbican's international theatre series BITE. Singapore Dance Theatre and Wild Rice arts company were invited to Adelaide for the Australian Performing Arts Market on the recommendation of the Asian Arts Mart. We are optimistic that Arts Mart 2003 would be even more successful.


I commend the Esplanade Co. for presenting Asian Arts Mart 2003. I hope that more international arts buyers will be inspired to anchor in this part of the world, so that you can feel the pulse of excitement surrounding Asian arts, every day, instead of every other year.

Meanwhile, I invite all of you to take the opportunity of being here, to sample some of the Asian and international offerings that we have in store for you at the Singapore Arts Festival.

It is my pleasure to declare Asian Arts Mart 2003 open.

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