Channel NewsAsia

Singapore and China could grow cooperation in legal sector

Wrapping up his Beijing visit, Foreign Minister K Shanmugam told reporters areas that Singapore and China are keen to push for future cooperation in law, urbanisation, science and technology. 

BEIJING: With joint projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park and frequent high-level visits, Singapore and China's ties on the political and economic front are strong. But the countries are looking at new areas of cooperation, and law is one of them.

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has said on more than one occasion during this trip to China that he is keen to grow cooperation between the legal authorities on both sides a point that he raised with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and Supreme People's Court President Zhou Qiang.

He said countries like China and Singapore need not replicate 100 per cent the Western concept of rule of law.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "The West has a model. We in Singapore adopted it and adapted it. We made it work for us. So it's not a precise copy of what you have in the West, though it is quite similar. And likewise, China is now looking at moving ahead with legal restructuring, and what I said is there is a lot we can learn from them because they will be doing this on a massive scale, and at the same time there is something we can share with them based on our experience."

Vice President Li also suggested that Singapore share its experiences on science and technology, as well as urbanisation, Mr Shanmugam told reporters as he wrapped up his visit.

In Beijing, Mr Shanmugam's meetings with Chinese leaders also touched on tensions over the South China Sea, as China and several other ASEAN countries have been locked in a long-running territorial dispute.

He pointed to China's recent statement to the United Nations on the country's dispute with Vietnam over Beijing's deployment of an oil rig in contested waters. In the statement, Beijing said the drilling operation carried out by the oil rig "falls well within China's sovereignty and jurisdiction". 

But it also admitted that as the two countries have not yet conducted delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf in these waters, both sides are entitled to make claims in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Mr Shanmugam described the issuing of the statement as a "positive move", because it acknowledged the importance of international law and that the waters claimed by China and Vietnam were not yet delimited.

"We welcome this philosophy behind this statement. And we think the world has not really taken note of that philosophy yet. I think the world will be wrong to simply say: 'Oh, if China puts forward a claim, that by itself is an aggressive step.'

"That is unfortunately, part of the mood of the times. The zeitgeist of the times is such that whatever China says, there is a tendency immediately to cast it in a negative light." 

The actual merits and demerits of the statement are not for Singapore to comment on, Mr Shanmugam added, but in seeking to make its claims in accordance with international law, China has made an important move.  

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia