Pledging that electronics should remain a pillar of the economy, a leading Singapore minister has sought to bring to an end a government debate about reliance on hi-tech manufacturing. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, yesterday said: 'We should keep our position in the industry and ride the ups and downs of its cycles as long as we can compete.' Mr Shanmugaratnam also defended moves by chip-making companies to invest billions of dollars in next-generation wafer fab technology as 'the longer-term prospects of the electronics industry are not in doubt'. On Monday, state-linked chip-maker Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing announced a US$626 million rights issue for expansion as the recent upturn in global demand appears to be levelling off. Mr Shanmugaratnam's remarks to an industry conference come after at least one senior cabinet colleague has openly questioned the city-state's extreme reliance on electronics, which account for about 60 per cent of non-oil domestic exports. 'If our manufacturing sector continues to depend largely on electronics to grow, we will have a highly volatile Singapore economy. Instead of steady growth, we will have a see-saw pattern of economic growth,' Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam said last year. Mr Tan added that Singapore 'should therefore remedy this defect in the present economic structure of over-concentration of our manufacturing sector on [the] export of electronic products'. Last year, as hi-tech demand collapsed, Singapore sank into its worst recession in a generation. Yesterday Mr Shanmugaratnam said such downturns might prompt policymakers to 'question if we should reduce our dependency on the industry'. But he insisted that although other industries were being developed, electronics remained central to industrial strategy.