Speech by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister for Law Mr Edwin Tong SC, at Opening of Allen & Gledhill LLP Shanghai Representative Office
Good afternoon, Mr Jerry Koh, Managing Partner of Allen & Gledhill LLP, and my many ex-colleagues and ex-partners from Allen & Gledhill
Ms Liu Weiping, Deputy Party Secretary and First Level Inspector of the Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Justice
Mr Huang Aiwu, Party Secretary and Director of the Judicial Bureau of the Shanghai Pudong New Area
Mr Xiao Jian, Party Secretary and Director of the Lujiazui Administration Bureau of the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone Management Committee
To the many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
- 大家中午好。 I am extremely honoured and very happy to be here, to join my ex-colleagues and ex-partners from A&G in celebrating the opening of this Shanghai representative office today.
Allen & Gledhill’s Shanghai Representative Office
- My delight stems from two fronts – one personal and one professional. On the personal front, I started at A&G about 30 years ago to the day. I had the privilege to work with some of the best and brightest legal minds in the profession, who not only just mentored me, but also gave me opportunities in the legal profession.
- But other than learning the trade from them and other colleagues, more importantly, I learned the values of excellence, of integrity, and of utter dedication and commitment to the client’s interest. These are values which sticks with me throughout my 25 years of practice at A&G, and I have only ever been in practice at A&G; I left in 2018. They stayed with me throughout my time at A&G, and of course, also the last five and a half years or so, my time in government.
- I am very fortunate to witness many of the firm’s milestones in my time at A&G. The firm has grown tremendously in size since I joined the firm – not just the size in the physical sense, but size in terms of standing, influence and reach. I still remember the day when we were first named ‘Singapore Law Firm of the Year’ – that was 24 years ago in 2000 – and ‘Chambers Asia-Pacific Law Firm of the Year’ for the first time in 2011. Since then, A&G has dominated the publications, and I have lost count of the number of other times we were named ‘Law Firm of the Year’.
- It is good to know that the firm is not resting on its laurels, but instead grew from strength to strength, both during my time at A&G, and after I have left. It is important to also expand the clientele base, as well as physical presence beyond Singapore to other parts of the world. And now, A&G has offices in Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, and now Shanghai, China.
- It is really very meaningful for me, to be able to witness yet another milestone, even though I am no longer with the firm. Thank you very much for inviting me to share in this very joyous occasion.
- On the professional front, wearing my MinLaw hat, I also delighted that A&G has expanded overseas. At my Ministry, we constantly look at how we can improve and grow the legal industry, and look at how we can bring in work which would perhaps not otherwise have come to Singapore. We are focused on professionalising the growth in the legal industry, and much like A&G’s motto, to also provide excellent legal services.
- We approached it from two angles.
a. First, it is important for Singapore to continue to keep our economy open. We are a small country with a small economy, and it is important that we keep our trade lines, as well as our relationships, very open. From a legal industry’s perspective, any work that we can do in or from or through Singapore, we are very happy to welcome. Many firms provide both foreign, as well as international, law advice. These are not necessarily work which would have come to Singapore. In fact, we have seen an increasing number of Chinese law firms establishing a presence in Singapore – either on its own, or sometimes in collaboration with a Singapore law firm. This is not surprising with the many Chinese companies, as well as family offices, using Singapore as their base.
b. Second, we also encourage our law firms in Singapore to internationalise – to go outside of Singapore, to consider presence in other jurisdictions. This arises from very basic premise – that law follows business. When there is business, you need legal services. The influx of international businesses into China makes China an attractive proposition for law firms. With Singapore being China’s largest foreign investor every year since 2013, I can see why Singapore law firms naturally follow.
Support from Shanghai Community
- The establishment of a physical office in Shanghai shows not just A&G’s commitment to serve their clients in China better, and to work more effectively with various other law firms and other partners here, but I also see this as a step that is complementary in many ways.
- In as much as Shanghai represents a gateway into Greater China, Singapore also represents a gateway into ASEAN. I think there is a lot of mutual benefit that can come out of this relationship. I believe that the stronger we push on mutual responsibilities, mutual cooperation, the stronger we will be from mutual benefits for Singapore and China.
- Indeed, we are very fortunate that both our legal as well as business communities in Shanghai have been very welcoming of Singapore law firms – generously extending friendship to them, placing their trust in them, and working collaboratively with them.
- Indeed, in Singapore, we do the same for Chinese and also other foreign law firms. We make friends with them. We introduce them to other friends. We welcome them as part of our legal fraternity in Singapore. They are part of our events. Very often, at MinLaw, when we invite feedback from the practitioners and lawyers, we include foreign law practices, because they are a very important part of the legal ecosystem in Singapore.
Singapore-China Legal Cooperation
- As far as Singapore and China are concerned, legal cooperation between our people is also a very important area for my Ministry. That is why legal matters is always one, if not one of the highest items, on the agenda at the Singapore-China Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). JCBC is the highest government-to-government platform between our countries. It is now co-chaired by my Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, as well as the Executive Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang.
- We also have close collaboration with our counterpart at the Ministry of Justice, and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). We co-chair a Legal Cooperation Council meeting at the highest ministerial level once every two years, to look at and explore deeper areas of cooperation between our countries. We also organise a conference with CCPIT every year. We started some years ago and continued through COVID, to share developments, exchange ideas, and perhaps most importantly, provide a platform for lawyers to interact with one another, to get to know one another better. Our respective Chief Justices also meet regularly on organised platform, to exchange ideas, and share developments in the law.
- I think this mutual acceptance and support is very important in today’s environment. Geopolitical tensions around the world have led increasingly to many countries taking protectionist measures, looking inwards, favouring bilateralism over multilateralism, and all of these damages free trade flows.
- In fact, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that the fragmentation of the global economy in the long run could reduce global GDP by 7%. 7% is about three times of Singapore’s growth last year, and slightly more than China’s growth last year. So, it is a serious problem when we begin to look inwards, and take on more protectionist measures.
- So, in Singapore, we have been a strong proponent and supporter of multilateralism. We strongly believe in working together with other countries for our mutual benefit.
- Indeed, we take the position that it is not possible today, to work in a silo, in today’s globalised world. Many businesses are doing cross-border work, and will require legal services in different jurisdictions. If Singapore and Chinese law firms can work together, they will become stronger than the sum of the parts, and we can better serve these businesses. As the Chinese proverb goes, 三个臭皮匠，顶个诸葛亮, which literally means three cobblers equal one Zhuge Liang, or simply in simple layman’s terms, two heads are better than one.
Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council
- It is this philosophy, and this shared sense of the power of collaboration, that has brought me to Shanghai this week – not just to come today, but to visit Shanghai for a slightly different but related purpose.
- I co-chair the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council (SSCCC), with the Shanghai Mayor Mr Gong Zheng, having taken over from DPM Lawrence Wong last year. I was in fact Vice Chairman for a few years before that, and now I chair it. My Vice Chair is my colleague, MOS Low Yen Ling.
- The objective of the SSCCC itself is also to deepen cooperation in many areas, especially the economic and financial areas, that will deepen not just our business ties, but also our relationship between our two cities.
- We are very focused on areas such as the Belt and Road Initiative, financial services, technology and innovation, how do we ensure that we bring down the barriers to doing business in both our cities, urban governance, as well as people-to-people exchanges.
- MOS Low and myself therefore wanted to be here in Shanghai, to speak to both Singapore as well as Shanghai business community, to understand more deeply about the landscape and ambitions, and also to find ways to draw connections, so that we can develop concrete initiatives that will be beneficial and helpful to both sides. And I strongly believe that there are many opportunities waiting to be tapped.
- As we have heard from Jerry earlier, Singapore and China have upgraded our bilateral relations to an “All Round, High Quality, Future Oriented Partnership” last year. This is very meaningful, because it is not just at the highest level, but it is all around, and it is future oriented.
- This high level of cooperation also signifies the warm and close economic and cultural ties that we share with China. And within China, Shanghai represents a key business centre, very similar in many ways to Singapore. So, the potential for collaboration for both our cities is immense.
- Indeed, we have already seen some positive results, even though the SSCCC is relatively young, having only been established in 2019. One example which many of you will be able to relate to is the Singapore-Shanghai Lawyers Exchange Programme. It is an initiative under the SSCCC, led by my Ministry and our Law Society, together with the Shanghai Justice Bureau and the Shanghai Bar Association.
- Under the Exchange Programme, lawyers will get the opportunity to be attached to law firms in the other city for a period of time. We think this is important, because it not just allows our lawyers to understand the different legal systems, to appreciate the cultural nuances of doing business – how it is that business is done in both our cities may have subtle differences, but important to understand. And perhaps most importantly, to be in the company of fellow lawyers from another city, to foster a strong relationship with one another, so that when there is a need to consult, you can just pick up the phone, and talk to the person on the other side.
- The first batch of Shanghai lawyers has in fact just completed their three-month attachment in Singapore last week. And as a sign of how successful this was, they were able to tell us all the best foods in Singapore, and bring us to them as well. So, I think we have achieved something. Beyond that, I also understand that they found their time at the law firms very meaningful.
- Many of them, in fact, I think all of them, are here with us today. So, when you talk to them over lunch today, you will be able to learn from them how their experience was, gather from them some of the learning points, and they will share their experiences with you.
- So fundamentally, it is important to build strong people-to-people relations, which will help serve the relations of both of our cities for the foreseeable future. It is the bedrock of a future relationship that you build people-to-people ties, that it becomes sustainable, it becomes long-term.
- Finally, let me try and emulate Jerry and say a few words in Chinese. I do not have the privilege of Jerry, who has mastered his language very well, no doubt due to his lovely wife’s assistance. I do not have that benefit, so bear with me. So, I will say a few words in Mandarin.
- I want to add my congratulations as I end to A&G once again on the opening of their Shanghai representative office. It represents another milestone achieved. If you listen to my speech earlier, I am very happy on two counts – the first, as a member of MinLaw looking after the legal industry, I am happy to see Singapore’s interest in Shanghai being deepened by this new office in Shanghai. But as an old boy, I am also very proud of my alma mater, and of my ex-colleagues. I continue to see them pushing the envelope – innovating, developing, and really living through the qualities that you see on each of the lawyers – of excellence, integrity, professionalism, and as I said, complete dedication to their clients’ needs.
- So, I want to add my congratulations to Jerry and his team. Congratulations to all of you, and thank you very much for being here to celebrate this occasion. Thank you.
Last updated on 24 January 2024