BEIJING: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has said that Singapore and China can break new ground through cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative.
He was speaking in an interview with the Chinese Xinhua News Agency ahead of a nine-day visit to China which begins on Thursday (Jun 28).
“Singapore and China have enjoyed a strong friendship for more than 40 years, through mutually beneficial cooperation,” said Mr Teo.
He also noted that the relationship has progressed, reflecting new needs and opportunities as both countries developed.
“On this firm foundation, I believe we can break new ground through cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative and take our relations to greater heights,” he added.
SINGAPORE’S ROLE IN THE BELT AND ROAD
China's ambitious Belt and Road project seeks to revive the ancient Silk Road - by building infrastructure like roads, railways and ports in more than 60 countries to promote trade.
Mr Teo, however, was asked about criticism that the programme is causing countries along the route to incur debt burdens.
“I see the Belt and Road Initiative as a constructive initiative to strengthen trade and investment ties, and enhance integration and interdependence,” said Mr Teo.
“This was why Singapore was an early supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Mr Teo added that as an infrastructure development and financing centre, the city-state can play a role in project financing and structuring.
It can also provide supporting professional and dispute resolution services.
Mr Teo pointed out that Singapore is one of the top three offshore Renminbi centres globally and can promote financial connectivity, through its support of China’s RMB internationalisation efforts.
The Republic has accounted for about 85 per cent of total inbound investment to China from Belt and Road countries, and about a quarter of China’s outbound investments to these countries.
A STRONG SIGNAL ON COMMITMENT TO FREE TRADE
Mr Teo was also asked about the progress of negotiations on the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA).
Six rounds of negotiations have taken place so far with the latest in April.
“With trade protectionist sentiments on the rise, both countries understand the importance of sending a strong signal of our joint commitment towards free trade by concluding a forward-looking, substantive and comprehensive upgrade of the CSFTA before the end of this year,” stressed Mr Teo.
He added it is for the same reason that Singapore hopes the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) can be concluded soon.
The trade pact involves the 10 ASEAN member states and their six other partners – China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.
This comes amid a backdrop of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, which also withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact last year.
“The upgraded CSFTA, together with the RCEP, will send a positive signal to the world on our joint commitment to free trade and an open, rules-based, multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organisation,” said Mr Teo.
MEETING NEW LEADERS, CATCHING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS
Mr Teo was last in China in February 2017 and he said his visit this time will be an opportunity to meet newly appointed Chinese leaders and “catch up with old friends”.
In particular, Mr Teo said he is looking forward to meeting Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, who is taking over as the co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) – the highest level forum between Singapore and China.
He succeeds former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who retired after the 19th Party Congress in October last year.
Mr Teo, who is the other co-chair of the forum, said he will be discussing the agenda of the JCBC with Mr Han.
“Both sides are laying the groundwork for a substantive meeting at our upcoming 14th JCBC in Singapore later this year,” he said.
Noting that bilateral cooperation with China has been making good progress, particularly in the last year, Mr Teo said Singapore looks forward to welcoming Chinese Premier Li Keqiang for his first official bilateral visit in November.