President Berdymuhamedov of Turkmenistan visited Singapore, 26-27 August 2019. This was the first visit of a Turkmen president to Singapore and a rare visit of any of the leaders of Central Asia to the Asian Tiger.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union 28 years ago and creation of the independent states in Central Asia, only four visits of the presidential level have taken place to Singapore —– President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan in November 2003, President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan in January 2007, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan in April 2010, and President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov in 2019.
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Singapore, no doubts, is a success story. Its transformation from a fledgling economy to one of the original Asian Tigers in the span of a single generation is astounding. It is world leader in so many areas that it will take the space of at least three A4 size pages just to mention those areas.
The economic data, facts and figures about Singapore are impressive; just about everything about Singapore is impressive.
What we are trying to do here is to look beyond the numbers, actually to bypass the numbers, and search for the answer to a single question: Why and how should Singapore partner Turkmenistan?
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It is a well known fact that the state visits at the highest level don’t just happen. There is, first of all, the need to justify those visits in terms of expected benefits. There has to be a solid base to build the conversation.
Singapore is a powerful economy and an island nation while Turkmenistan is a landlocked country just embarking on its journey to industrialization. If we weave an analysis only around this fact, it would be rather superficial. There is much more to it than meets the eye.
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The theme line of the national anthem of Singapore is – Onward, Singapore.
The opening line of a very popular song, written and composed, and originally sung by President Berdymuhamedov is – Forward, only forward, my dear country Turkmenistan.
Similarity of aspirations, expressed in a similar manner, this is the starting point when trying to imagine a viable model of partnership between Turkmenistan and Singapore.
Keeping in mind the concept of velocity – combination of speed and direction – would be helpful in visualizing a model of partnership between the two countries.
As President Halimah Yacub of Singapore said during the visit, we are both young nations and we can learn from each other.
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Here are some of the elements that are likely to go into the future partnership between Turkmenistan and Singapore. The core point is that the past and the present are not of any great help when putting together a practicable model for the future partnership.
Collaboration rather than competition
The future is in collaboration rather than competition. The most recent example is the partnership between Toyota and Suzuki, two automobile giants of Japan. They have acknowledged that any one company cannot muster the resources and know-how to keep an edge in the future markets where the technology becomes obsolete in no time at all.
These are the times of globalized localization and localized globalization. Singapore and Turkmenistan, because they are on the opposite ends of the technology and industry spectrum, have great scope for collaboration.
Knowledge based nations
We are at the threshold of the era of knowledge based nations. This is the next logical step after the idea of the knowledge based economies.
The essence here is that in the knowledge based nation, every citizen would be simultaneously the user, the maintainer (to whatever extent), and the contributor to the collective knowledge base.
In a knowledge based nation, it would be the second nature for every member of the society to test the limits of the available technology and explore the ways how to take it further ahead. The generation Z, with some help, can be turned into a knowledge based nation.
Open source world
The previous century promised that the world would be a global village. This promise is approaching fruition now.
Tesla makes most of its designs and concepts available to the world because Elon Musk is a strong believer of open source knowledge for common benefit.
China has spent more than USD 50 billion on the development of electric cars and bikes and most of the results are available to anyone who would like to take the cause further.
For every expensive software an open-source alternative is available.
Sharing is not a charity; it is a necessity. Arguable, from now on, we shall rise and fall together.
Turkmenistan and Singapore, because of their very diverse national compositions, are rightly suited for making valuable contribution to an open source world.
Trends without borders
The physical borders are no barriers against the global trends.
From the noble causes to the silly challenges, anything and everything can go viral if it hits the fancy of the smartphone users.
With the availability of the 5G technology, this will be the way of life – trends rising and falling in unison, public opinion in synch with public opinion, hi tech havoc.
In a world where the trends know no borders, the countries will have to stick together to retain the functionality of their societies.
The secret is in learning from each other on real time basis. And, Turkmenistan and Singapore, being majorly different societies, can learn from each other in a broad based partnership.
ASEAN Smart Cities Network
Singapore is one of the founders of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
The ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) was launched in 2018. It is a collaborative platform towards the common goal of smart and sustainable urban development.
The 26 ASCN Pilot Cities are: Bandar Seri Begawan, Battambang, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Makassar, Banyuwangi, DKI Jakarta, Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay, Yangon, Cebu City, Davao City, Manila, Singapore, Bangkok, Chonburi, Phuket, Da Nang, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Turkmenistan is working on the idea of a smart city, which would ultimately be replicated across the country. The partnership with Singapore, and by default with the ASEAN, would be of great help.
Textiles and fashion
Singapore is one of the world leaders in textiles and the latest fashion trends.
Turkmenistan has the cotton that rivals the Egyptian cotton in quality and fiber length.
Recently, Turkmenistan has started privatizing its textile sector and the area for cotton cultivation has been increased.
This is a ready area for partnership and exploring the ideas for joint work.
Singapore treats Afghanistan as part of Central Asia.
Turkmenistan is an important partner of Afghanistan for the development and stability initiatives.
For this reason, there is scope for collaboration between Turkmenistan and Singapore in contributing toward development and strengthening of peace in Afghanistan.
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The official website of the ministry of foreign affairs of Singapore says, “Despite historical, cultural and geographical dissimilarities, Singapore and the Central Asian countries are young nations with a common aspiration to develop our economies and build up our human resources.”
Although Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan already have thriving relations with Singapore, Turkmenistan is better suited for the testing of new ideas and products with joint input.
/// nCa, 2 September 2019