SINGAPORE: Singapore and China have pledged deeper co-operation in areas ranging from public health to trade with the signing of a landmark number of 10 agreements at an apex bilateral forum between both countries, beating last year’s count of nine.
The 16th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), held on Tuesday (Dec 8), was co-chaired by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng.
Speaking to local media to wrap up the session, Mr Heng said: “The substantive agenda this year reflects the breadth and depth of our cooperation. This builds on a strong foundation established by leaders on both sides and successive generations of JCBC co-chairs.”
He added that the continued commitment to joint projects and collaboration amid the challenging COVID-19 pandemic was testament to the resilience of ties between the two countries.
This year’s meeting was also of “special significance”, he said, as 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Singapore’s diplomatic relations with China.
It was Mr Heng’s second time co-chairing the council meeting, which was held virtually.
MORE COOPERATION ON HEALTH, BIOMEDICAL, FOOD SAFETY
Among the numerous agreements signed were two memoranda of understanding (MOUs) focused on deepening cooperation in public health – a new pillar of partnership under the JCBC.
Under one MOU, Singapore’s health ministry will work with China’s National Health Commission to strengthen collaboration in areas such as the prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, health promotion and primary health care.
Another MOU on health policy fellowship exchange was renewed, after it was first signed in 2013. With it, both sides will exchange health fellows to work at institutions involved in the areas of disease prevention and control.
The cooperation on public health would include working together on vaccine development, production and distribution, as well as diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19, said Singapore Health Minster Gan Kim Yong, who accompanied Mr Heng along with nine other ministers.
Mr Gan said this collaboration would be useful even beyond COVID-19.
“There will be new pandemics so it’s important to establish this collaboration platform between Singapore and China so we can continue to co-operate and develop capabilities,” he told reporters.
He added that the focus on non-communicable diseases played an equally significant role.
“These are ongoing health concerns. We can’t afford to be distracted by COVID-19 and forget about all the other health issues. Ageing for example is an issue of common interest to us, although our landscapes and environments are quite different,” he said.
Another agreement pledged to strengthen cooperation between biomedical companies from Singapore and the Suzhou Industrial Park in eastern China, in areas such as the commercialisation of products.
The partnership will also facilitate the testing of new concepts in a free trade zone in the Jiangsu province, expanding market opportunities for Singapore’s biomedical firms.
One other agreement involved an enhanced MOU on environmental sustainability, based on a version that was signed in 2018.
The agreement on the joint paper on enhancing cooperation in this area will see Singapore and China "strengthening collective action through multilateral cooperation", according to the Sustainability and Environment Ministry.
“Over the next two years, Singapore and China will co-operate at regional and international platforms such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and also the discussions about the Belt and Road International Green Development,” said Ms Grace Fu, who heads the ministry.
Both sides will also enhance cooperation on zero waste initiatives at the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco City.
In addition, Singapore and China will exchange best practices in carbon pricing and the development of monitoring, reporting and verification requirements.
A separate MOU on customs twinning will see China and Singapore strengthening trade facilitation and security.
Under this, both sides will share best practices on the application of new technologies and enhance risk management by exchanging permit data.
The two countries also committed to more collaboration on dispute resolution, food safety, environmental action and knowledge exchanges between research institutions.
COMMEMORATING MILESTONES IN GOVERNMENT-TO-GOVERNMENT PROJECTS
At the JCBC, both sides also marked key milestones in bilateral projects, such as the 5th anniversary of the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI) and the 10th anniversary of the China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City.
Minister-in-charge of the Chongqing initiative Josephine Teo said there has been “good progress” in the areas it prioritised for collaboration, including financial services and logistics.
The theme of connectivity has also been useful, especially in a pandemic, she said.
“Supply chains have been severely impacted, but looking at the CCI corridor, it has proven to be a viable alternative in serving as a trade route for goods flow.”
Mrs Teo noted that Singapore firms have reported a year-on-year increase in cargo flows in the first three quarters of 2020.
She also said that the project, which covers different aspects of connectivity, has attracted 13 other neighbouring provinces in the Western Chinese region to sign on to become part of the CCI.
MORE AREAS TO IMPROVE ON
In his discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Heng said he noted three areas for further cooperation with China – in connectivity, digitalisation and sustainable development – which would be crucial for a post-COVID world.
They also discussed ideas to further open up borders between the two, including better utilising fast lanes, increasing the frequency of flights and restoring normal people-to-people exchanges “at an appropriate time”.
READ: COVID-19: Singapore to lift border restrictions for visitors from mainland China and Australia's Victoria state from Nov 6
“There is agreement that these are important proposals and we both expressed a willingness to discuss these ideas… These will contribute to the recovery of our economies and our people’s livelihoods,” Mr Heng said.
When asked what conditions constituted “an appropriate time” to reopen borders, transport minister Ong Ye Kung said vaccines are around the corner, but it is important “not to run ahead of ourselves”.
“I do expect things to start looking up, there's a good chance of that. But I don't think it will be a big bang opening ... and suddenly travel becomes normal.”
Ongoing uncertainty about the effectiveness of vaccines also means that restrictions will likely still be in place for a while more and it is crucial “not to rush into it”, he said.
Mr Heng also noted that through the three decades of diplomatic ties and three government-to-government projects, “generations” of people have been brought together, “creating a bond that underpins a deep and long-lasting friendship”.
“Going forward, we must continue to deepen partnerships and enable all segments of society to collaborate, as we meet future challenges such as sustainable development, and climate change,” he said.