SINGAPORE: Singapore is an “early and strong supporter” of China’s Belt and Road initiative, and the two countries can work together to “add value” to the plan, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said.
The Belt and Road initiative is China’s multitrillion-dollar plan to link Asia to Europe through a massive infrastructure network.
In an interview with China Daily published on Monday (Jun 12), Dr Balakrishnan – who is in China for an official visit – said the two countries can jointly provide training to government officials from the Belt and Road countries, and encourage think-tanks to conduct research on topics related to the initiative.
In fact, the two countries are already working on the initiative through the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI), he said.
Both countries are also working on establishing a Southern Trade Corridor to reduce the cost and enhance the flow of trade between Southeast Asia and Western China, he said, adding that the CCI will be a key node linking the “Belt” – the Silk Road Economic Belt – and the “Road” – the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road.
According to China’s commerce ministry, Singapore accounted for one-third of China’s outward investment in Belt and Road countries last year.
"Singapore will continue to support Chinese companies as more venture abroad," Dr Balakrishnan said.
CHINESE COMPANIES WELCOME TO BID FOR HSR
In the interview, Dr Balakrishnan also said Singapore recognises China’s experience and expertise, and welcomed Chinese companies to put in a bid for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project.
The joint tender for the rail system is expected to open in the fourth quarter of this year, and the tender awarded by end of 2018. Japan and China are among the parties that have shown interest in bidding for the project.
Singapore has always believed in China’s growth prospects, he added. It was the first Asian country to sign a comprehensive free trade agreement with China, which became a “pathfinder” for the subsequent ASEAN-China FTA, Dr Balakrishnan said.
“Both sides are now negotiating an upgrade of our bilateral FTA, to ensure that it keeps up with the expanding nature of our economic relations,” he said.
He also said Singapore will continue to advance ASEAN-China relations in the remaining year of its ASEAN-China coordinatorship, and has designated 2017 as the ASEAN-China Year of Tourism Cooperation.
SOUTH CHINA SEA ISSUE MUST BE RESOLVED BY CLAIMANT STATES
Singapore and China share a “close and longstanding friendship”, and while the two countries have their own national interests, there are no fundamental strategic disagreements, Dr Balakrishnan noted.
"We both need regional peace and stability. We both depend on free and open trade," he told China Daily. “We both support a fair and just international system that enables all countries, big or small, developed or developing, to fulfil the aspirations of our people in our own unique ways.”
Dr Balakrishnan said that the South China Sea situation has been calm and there have been no major disruptions in the past year. The issue must be resolved by the claimant states themselves, he said.
“The non-claimant states hope that the South China Sea, which is a vital channel for trade and a major sea lane of communication, will be kept peaceful, stable, free and open,” he said.
“All parties must continue to exercise self-restraint, maintain channels of communication, and work on practical measures that will help to manage potential incidents, even as we work towards the long-term peaceful resolution of differences.”
Dr Balakrishnan also said he welcomes the progress made in finalising the framework for the Code of Conduct (COC) for South China Sea at a meeting in Guiyang city last month.
“Officials from Singapore and China cooperated effectively and constructively as co-chairs of the meeting to achieve this outcome ahead of the mid-2017 target. I am looking forward to the endorsement of the COC framework when we meet at the ASEAN-China Post-Ministerial Conference in the Philippines in August,” he said.