Channel NewsAsia

Singapore-China relationship much closer than before: PM Lee

At the FutureChina Global Forum, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that China became Singapore's top trading partner for the first time last year.

SINGAPORE: The relationship between China and Singapore is much closer than before, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This is especially so for areas like economic cooperation, trade and tourism. He made this point at a dialogue at the FutureChina Global Forum on Thursday evening (July 17). This is the fifth time the event is being organised.

Prime Minister Lee pointed out that China became Singapore's top trading partner for the first time last year, surpassing Malaysia and the European Union. Mr Lee said both China and Singapore got off to a "more than good start" in the last 20 years. He added that both countries will continue to work to improve their bilateral relations so that businessmen can be confident that they are doing business within a stable and positive framework.

"We will continue to work through the Joint Council for Business Bilateral Co-operation, to find new areas where we can cooperate together," he said. "One of the possible areas, of course, is social management, because this is one area which China is focusing on now - how to manage a society that is rapidly changing and rapidly urbanising. And we are also in the process of change and we are highly urbanised, so I think there are areas (where) we can learn from one another."

Separately, Mr Lee said he hoped to see Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks conclude by the end of this year. In response to a question, he described the TPP as a second-best solution in the absence of an all-encompassing global free trade deal. 

"We have to have a second-best solution - regional FTAs (free-trade agreements), and we hope that the patchwork knits together comprehensively, and without any gaps and without any contradictions. And the TPP is an important part of this, as one step towards the long-term ideal, which is a free trade ideal in the Asia Pacific, and ideally, in the world."

Singapore is one of the innovators of the TPP, which has expanded to 12 countries, including the United States, South Korea and Japan. China is not currently involved in the talks, but Mr Lee said he was quite sure the country was looking at the TPP carefully and that it has not ruled out any options about involvement in the free-trade pact.

Mr Lee also gave his view on how the US is responding to China's rise on the international stage. He said the relationship between the two superpowers cannot be one where one side takes on the role that the other used to play.

"It cannot be one where you're dividing the world into a G2. I think neither side feels comfortable with the term 'G2', and it also doesn't want to be the one where you're skirmishing over issues all of the time, but one where China is engaged, the US is engaged, you have good bilateral relations, and you have a situation where third countries like Singapore can be friends with both. And so far, we have managed to be friends with both."

Mr Lee noted that there were important shared interests between the US and China, in areas like trade, links between people, and financial investments. These shared interests are powerful incentives for the two countries to work together in a constructive manner, he said.

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