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Singapore and China: Scaling new peaks together

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat is visiting China this week. Here, he shares Singapore's goals and hopes for its bilateral relations and collaboration with China.

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As a financial hub with longstanding relationships with countries in South-east Asia, Singapore can catalyse stronger financial linkages among China, South-east Asia, other Asian regions and beyond.

THIS week, I am in Chongqing to co-chair the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng. We will also be co-chairing the Joint Steering Council (JSC) meetings for the three Singapore-China government-to-government projects, namely, the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city (TEC), and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI).

Since my official visit to China in 1997 with then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, I have returned almost every year. I have witnessed the success of China in developing its economy and in uplifting the lives of millions of people.

This visit is of added significance to me, as I am co-chairing the JCBC for the first time. The JCBC is the apex annual bilateral platform between Singapore and China. It is an opportunity to review the existing areas of cooperation and launch new areas of collaboration. Both countries attach great importance to the JCBC, reflected by the high-level representation and the substantive achievements over the years. This bears testament to our deep and wide-ranging cooperation, as well as our excellent and longstanding bilateral friendship.

The meeting this year takes place at an important juncture. Singapore and China will commemorate our 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year. Both countries are also entering a new phase of development. This is also taking place against the backdrop of a global economy that is facing significant headwinds and uncertainty. The JCBC is an opportunity for both countries to raise our trajectory to strengthen constructive cooperation on a win-win basis.

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I will focus on three themes for this JCBC.

STRENGTHEN OUR FOUNDATIONS

First, to strengthen the foundations of our bilateral relationship. Since the JCBC was established in 2004, successive generations of co-chairmen have built the strong base we enjoy today. I thank former Singapore co-chairs Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, former Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean for forging a strong path forward. I would also like to thank the Chinese co-chairs former Vice Premier Wu Yi, Vice President Wang Qishan and former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli for their strong leadership and spirit of partnership.

I am deeply humbled and honoured to have the opportunity to contribute to the further growth of Singapore-China ties. As the new JCBC co-chair, I look forward to building on these strong foundations and bringing relations to the next level.

This means continually updating our existing cooperation projects to meet evolving needs. For instance, the SIP, which was started 25 years ago, has evolved to become a modern integrated township, replicated in various other Chinese cities. The SIP has the potential to be replicated beyond Chinese shores.

Strengthening our foundations also means paving the way for our next generation of leaders to deepen our bilateral friendship. On this trip, I will be joined by other members of our fourth-generation political leadership, who oversee different aspects of our bilateral cooperation.

Beyond the JCBC, we have also renewed the leadership of our eight Provincial Business Councils to ensure continuity while providing for new ideas and innovation.

SCALE NEW PEAKS

Second, the JCBC should scale new peaks. As Singapore and China embark on our next phase of development, our collaboration will also continue to progress with the times. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels and preserve the status quo. We need to keep up with the times and harness new areas of cooperation for the future.

Both countries have laid out ambitious plans for the future - Singapore has our Future Economy Council, Industry Transformation Maps and Infrastructure Asia, while China has its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Five Year Plans. There is much that Singapore and China can learn from each other. We also look forward to contributing to China's regional development strategies. There are many promising areas that both sides are working on.

Singapore is contributing to China's Western Region Development Plan through the CCI. The CCI strengthens connectivity between Singapore and Chongqing, which in turn links up Western China to South-east Asia and beyond. The CCI-New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor (ILSTC) connects the "Belt" and the "Road", further enhancing trade and investment potential between China and South-east Asia.

In the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Singapore looks forward to the establishment of a Smart City Initiative with Shenzhen. Together with the China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, this will enhance our partnership with China on promoting digital innovation to develop smart, green and liveable cities.

The TEC in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region has developed into a green and liveable eco-city. It could serve as a model for other cities and regions. Sustainable development and environmental protection are increasingly important priorities for Singapore, China and the world. The TEC continues to break new ground with initiatives such as a zero waste pilot project, which will support our vision of a more sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient future.

We can further enhance collaboration with the Yangtze River Delta region - not only through the SIP, but also through our business councils with Jiangsu, Zhejiang and also Shanghai, which I inaugurated this May. I look forward to more partnerships between businesses on both sides.

These are just some of the ways in which Singapore can contribute to China's new cluster regional development strategy.

EXPAND OUR HORIZONS

Third, I believe Singapore and China can expand the horizons of our bilateral cooperation, beyond the shores of our two countries. Our two countries can contribute to develop the infrastructure and economic vibrancy of the region, as well as contribute to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

Singapore is an early supporter of the BRI. As part of the JCBC, both countries have established specific areas to deepen BRI cooperation. Singapore will continue to work with China, the World Bank and like-minded countries to develop sustainable infrastructure to meet the growing needs of the region.

As a financial hub with longstanding relationships with countries in South-east Asia, Singapore can catalyse stronger financial linkages among China, South-east Asia, other Asian regions and beyond, contribute to China's capital market development, and support the growth of Chinese companies in the region. Chinese companies can also benefit from our strong offering of professional services and dispute resolution facilities.

Together with many like-minded countries around the world, Singapore and China are committed to uphold an open and rules-based multilateral trading system. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), covering the economies of the ten member states of Asean, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, will not only facilitate economic integration in our region but also help catalyse further integration of the global economy.

By strengthening our foundations, scaling new peaks and expanding the horizons of our cooperation, we can build a better future for our peoples. I look forward to partnering Vice Premier Han Zheng for a successful JCBC.

  • Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat is visiting Chongqing, Tianjin and Beijing from Oct14-17 at the invitation of China's Vice Premier of the State Council, Han Zheng.
    This article was first published on ThinkChina.

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