BEIJING: The ongoing leadership transition in Singapore will not affect its relationship with China as ties between both countries are “not personal to a few or to particular leaders”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Apr 29).
Having a continued friendship is in the interest of both countries, he told reporters at the end of his five-day visit to Beijing.
On Singapore’s part, preparations have been underway with the fourth-generation ministers, such as Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, being actively involved in various roles across provincial to national-level bilateral projects.
One example is the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) – the highest-level platform to discuss cooperation between Singapore and China.
While Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has been the co-chairman, younger ministers have also served alongside him, Mr Lee said.
With the latest Cabinet reshuffle – which will see Mr Heng becoming the Deputy Prime Minister on May 1 and Mr Teo being appointed as Senior Minister – Mr Heng will also be taking over as the co-chair of JCBC.
“We’ve told the Chinese side … and they have said yes, they welcome this,” said Mr Lee.
“They know him because he has interacted with them on many occasions, including when President Xi (Jinping) and Premier Li (Keqiang) came to visit Singapore. He was the accompanying minister so they have a direct feel of him,” he added.
“I think the Chinese side very much want the relationship and friendship to continue,” he said. “It's in the interest of both countries. It is not personal to a few or to particular leaders.”
BELT AND ROAD
Mr Lee was in Beijing to attend the three-day Belt and Road Forum, where he delivered two speeches.
Mr Lee, in his first speech at a high-level meeting at the Forum last Friday, described the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as being able to play an important role in strengthening the global multilateral system.
In his second speech at a leaders’ roundtable on Saturday, he gave suggestions as to how the China-led mega infrastructure project can maximise long-term benefits in its next phase.
The BRI is an ambitious infrastructure plan initiated by China to rebuild the old Silk Road and connect the world’s biggest economy with other parts of Asia, Europe and Africa.
READ: Belt and Road can go beyond physical infrastructure, take transparent approach in next phase: PM Lee
Mr Lee said: “I gave my take on … what the Belt and Road can do beyond infrastructure or making use of the infrastructure projects in order to develop human resources (and) indigenous capabilities in order to take a sustainable long term approach.
“I hope it will have some influence on the Chinese thinking, as well as the thinking of the individual countries which are participating,” he added.
Mr Lee noted that Chinese President Xi had pledged in his opening speech for the summit to make the BRI clean, green and financially sustainable.
“(They are) the right objectives to aim for. Of course, the critical thing is to see them implement it in the actual projects which come to fruition.”
Earlier on Monday, Mr Lee held separate meetings with Chinese President Xi. He also met and was hosted to lunch by Chinese Premier Li, with whom he witnessed the signing of several new bilateral partnerships.
At these meetings, the leaders reaffirmed the longstanding relations and multi-faceted cooperation between the two countries, said the Prime Minister’s Office.
Among others, they discussed the good progress made in the three government-to-government projects, and affirmed the importance of the annual JCBC to guide the multi-faceted bilateral cooperation.
Chinese President Xi also welcomed Singapore's participation in the Belt and Road Forum, as well as the close and broad-based cooperation between both countries under the BRI.
Mr Lee told reporters that he has always enjoyed his meetings with the Chinese top leader.
"We've had a candid exchange of views. We've had points to raise which are on the agenda ... but we have been able to have a broader discussion on issues China is facing, the world is facing, (as well as) where we would like the bilateral relationship to go and how that would fit into China's broader scheme of things."
He added: “I'm very comfortable working with President Xi and hope to continue this."