BEIJING: Singapore and China have reaffirmed their strong bilateral relations and the importance of maintaining a rules-based multilateral trading system, as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat kicked off an eight-day visit to China.
On Wednesday (May 22) evening, Mr Heng met and was hosted to dinner by Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
"DPM Heng and Vice Premier Han reaffirmed the strong, multi-faceted and longstanding relations between our two countries," said Mr Heng's press secretary.
Both leaders also noted the good progress of bilateral initiatives since the last Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, held in Singapore last September.
The JCBC is the highest level platform for steering bilateral relations between Singapore and China.
Mr Heng was recently appointed as co-chair and will lead the forum with Mr Han.
The two leaders talked about ways to strengthen cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative - in areas like financial connectivity, as well as legal and judicial services.
New areas of collaboration were also discussed, said Mr Heng's press secretary.
In opening comments, Mr Heng told his Chinese counterpart that one of the reasons for his current visit is to follow up on some of the initiatives that were raised at the last JCBC meeting.
This includes the setting up of the new Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council, which will hold its inaugural meeting in Shanghai this week.
Co-chaired by Mr Heng and Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, this is the eighth business council to be set up between Singapore and China.
Besides being in Beijing and Shanghai, Mr Heng is also set to visit Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
"It will help me to understand the developments in all these new areas, including the Greater Bay Area," said Mr Heng.
On his part, Mr Han said he looked forward to working with Mr Heng as JCBC co-chairs, to move present cooperation to a "higher level".
He invited Mr Heng to visit China again later this year to co-chair the 15th edition of the forum.
Mr Han also pointed to the frequent high-level exchanges between Singapore and Chinese leaders in recent months.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attended the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April, while President Halimah Yacob was at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations last week.
Both met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
"These meetings and discussions between the highest leaders pave the way for further growth of our bilateral relationship," said Mr Han, who noted Singapore and China mark 30 years of diplomatic ties next year.
"The full exchange of views will certainly take our relationship to a higher level in a new era."
The two leaders also exchanged views on broader regional and international developments and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the rules-based multilateral trading system.
On Thursday, Mr Heng will meet Premier Li and be hosted to lunch by director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office Yang Jiechi, who is also a member of the Communist Party of China's politburo.
He will also meet Song Tao, Minister of the Communist Party of China's International Department.