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Mutual trust key to strong S'pore-China, China-ASEAN relations: DPM Teo

In an op-ed, Mr Teo Chee Hean urged the continued strengthening of Singapore and China's "unique friendship", noting that an expeditiously concluded Code of Conduct in the South China Sea would help pave the way for "another Golden Decade" in ASEAN-China relations.

SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean is currently in China for an official five-day visit until July 31. The following is the full text of his op-ed on Singapore-China relations that was published in China's Cankao News broadsheet on Monday (July 28): 

Next year, Singapore and China will celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations. Our ties are deep and our cooperation is broad. Last year, Singapore became China’s top source of foreign investment with a total investment of US$7.33 billion (S$9.1 billion). China became Singapore’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to US$ 73.1 billion, making Singapore China’s eleventh largest trading partner. These figures are testament to the strength of our economic ties, and demonstrate Singapore’s support for China’s development and confidence in China’s future.

Our bilateral engagement took off from the days of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping. Since then, generations of Singapore and Chinese leaders have built strong friendships and deep understanding of each other. When Mr Deng visited Singapore in 1978, China was in the early stages of reform and opening up; industrialisation and economic development were major priorities. In Singapore, Mr Deng saw a society that focused its energies on tackling these developmental challenges and found our experiences to be a useful reference for China. Singapore was most willing to share our experiences, as we wanted China to succeed.

Thus, by the time formal diplomatic relations were established in 1990, relations were already very strong. Chinese officials were making frequent visits to Singapore to exchange notes with their Singapore counterparts. Realising that mutual learning would be best achieved through direct, hands-on cooperation, Mr Lee Kuan Yew proposed that our two governments undertake a joint project of unprecedented scale and ambition – the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). In the two decades since, the SIP has become a tremendous success. Today, it serves as a useful model of urban and industrial development that has been replicated in other cities across China such as Nantong (Jiangsu), Suqian (Jiangsu), Chuzhou (Anhui) and Korgas (Xinjiang).

In 2008, Singapore and China embarked on a second major project in Tianjin with a focus on sustainable development. The objective of building an Eco-City was to seek out a balanced approach to address social and environmental concerns while supporting economic growth. Alongside the development of high quality infrastructure and hardware, the Tianjin Eco-City (TEC) focuses on software, on the economic, social and environmental policies that make a city sustainable, vibrant and liveable. Our goal is to build a city that fulfils three harmonies: social harmony, economic vibrancy, and environmental sustainability.

The SIP and TEC are two flagship projects undertaken by the Singapore and Chinese governments. In addition, there are a few other major projects established under the “private sector-led and government-supported concept”. These include:

          (i) the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, which aims to be a model and catalyst for economic upgrading and transformation,

          (ii) the Jilin Food Zone, which combines Singapore’s experience in food safety and logistics with China’s fertile natural resources and capabilities in agriculture, and

          (iii) the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park (HTIP), which supports China’s Western Development Policy.

We continue to expand into new areas of economic and financial cooperation. Last year, Singapore became the first country outside Greater China to be designated as an Offshore RMB clearing centre. As a major financial centre, we are pleased to play a role to support China’s efforts to internationalise the RMB. Recently, the People’s Bank of China and Monetary Authority of Singapore reached agreement to introduce a pilot policy package that will facilitate cross border RMB transactions. This will give a boost to China’s RMB internationalisation efforts, while adding a new dimension to our cooperation in the SIP and TEC.

Singapore-China relations go beyond economics. Though we may differ in size and have different political systems, we share a unique friendship founded on deep cultural linkages and strong people-to-people ties. Our two countries highly value the development of our human resources. In line with this common priority, we have embarked on extensive human resource development cooperation. Over the past 20 years, close to 50,000 Chinese officials have visited Singapore to learn about our experiences. The content of these exchange programmes has evolved in step with China’s changing priorities. From the initial focus on economic development, they now address a broad range of new issues such as sustainable development, social governance, anti-corruption and the rule of law. There is also a growing stream of Singapore officials visiting China to learn from China and gain a better understanding of China.

Last year, I co-chaired the 4th Singapore-China Leadership Forum with Central Organization Department Minister Zhao Leji. We had meaningful discussions on the theme of “Fostering Integrity in Government”. Today, I am visiting China to co-chair the second Singapore-China Social Governance Forum with Politburo Member and Politics and Law Commission Secretary Meng Jianzhu. This year, we will discuss “Social Governance and the Rule of Law”.

We have been able to embark on such extensive and multifaceted cooperation because of the mutual respect and trust that we share. We must continue to build on this strong foundation by promoting deeper understanding between the people of our two countries, at all levels.

Apart from bilateral cooperation, Singapore has always been a strong supporter of closer ASEAN-China relations. We have contributed to this in many ways. The Singapore-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) concluded in 2008 paved the way for the subsequent China-ASEAN FTA, which has brought substantial benefits to the region. We are also working closely on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will present opportunities for countries to contribute to more inclusive and equitable economic growth and development. In support of regional cooperation in maintaining financial stability, Singapore hosts the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office. We have worked closely with China to promote and implement the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC).

ASEAN and China share deep relations and multi-faceted interests which transcend any single issue. While there are differences between some ASEAN countries and China over territorial claims, we encourage all parties concerned to manage the differences through dialogue and to resolve the disputes peacefully, in accordance with international law. ASEAN looks forward to working with China to expeditiously conclude a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.  This will help to enhance mutual trust and promote peace and stability in our region, paving the way for another Golden Decade in ASEAN-China relations.

In conclusion, I look forward to working closely with Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, with whom I co-chair the Sino-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, to build on our past achievements and foster a lasting friendship between our two countries that is “substantive and broad, complementary and mutually beneficial, keeping pace with the times, and a beacon to the future”.

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