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  Today Online 11 Oct 07
Silly stuff that hurts the image
US expert on how S'pore can enhance its global reputation
Zul Othman

DESPITE its many technological and scientific accomplishments, Singapore still suffers from a major image problem, said Mr Peter Schwartz, co-founder and chairman of the Global Business Network.

"People in the industrialised world don't know very much about Singapore other than the trivial and the silly stuff like the banning of chewing gum and your homosexual laws," said Mr Schwartz, 61, a key adviser to businesses and governments around the world.

And yet, this detracted from the profound achievements of Singapore over the last 40 years, he said. Singaporeans were, he observed, more tolerant of gays than what the law allows and the reputation of the country would be hugely enhanced if there was, for example, more room for dissent.

Mr Schwartz was in town yesterday as part of the Singapore International Foundation's (SIF) Distinguished Visitors Programme (DVP), which hosts prominent leaders from the business, political and civil society sectors to better understand the Singapore story and build their network of local contacts.

Yesterday, he met a group of 18 Singaporeans business leaders as well as those in the arts and creative field at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Their subject of discussion: How Singapore can augment itself in fields such as arts and culture, the sciences, philanthropy and humanitarianism.

Mr Schwartz, an aeronautical engineer and futurist who has worked on Hollywood thrillers like 1998's Deep Impact and 1992's Sneakers, said: "I believe Singapore has a great deal to give: Not only is it rich but it has also a lot to offer and can afford the spirit of generosity.

"I think the participants (at the round table) were actually fairly happy with Singapore but they were concerned about the future: Singapore is a relatively mature society, so where do you go from here?" he added.

Yet even as its people are seen to be generous, its government and institutions are seen as the complete opposite.

"During the meeting, I met a young CEO of a company, a Singaporean who went to graduate school in the United States on full scholarship from California," Mr Shwartz said. "The state didn't tell him to work for it for five years after he had taken their money.

"Now, what did we gain from that? Well, this young man says he loves the state of California. That's soft power, money extremely well spent by the state of California."

Soft power describes the ability of a political body to indirectly influence behaviour or interests through cultural or ideological means.

Mr Schwartz believes Singapore could use its strengths to make its mark on the issue of climate change.

Because of its scientific and technological prowess, and its excellent track record in dealing with pollution issues, Singapore is a prime candidate to lead a worldwide environmental protection agency.

Mr Schwartz will meet officials from various organisations, including the Institute of Policy Studies, Genome Institute of Singapore and A*Star, during his three-day stay.

Related articles on Singapore: general environmental issues
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