YAN’AN, Shaanxi: Despite their vast difference in size, Singapore and China have common issues to tackle, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Monday (Apr 15) as he hailed the good bilateral ties between the two countries.
These issues cover areas like economic transformation, skills retraining and managing an ageing population.
Speaking to Singapore media at the end of his six-day trip to China, Mr Teo said the visit was a good opportunity to meet old friends, build new relationships and look for new opportunities to cooperate.
One such opportunity is a new bilateral council which will be set up in Shanghai to broaden engagement between the two cities.
Singapore and China are also looking to see how they can take the experience from current projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park to third countries.
During his trip, Mr Teo marked the 25th anniversary of the Suzhou Industrial Park - the first government-to-government project between Singapore and China.
Mr Teo said that while both countries mark 30 years of formal relations next year, there have been “excellent relations” for about 40 years, since China’s reform and opening up.
“We have been able to work as partners in keeping with the times,” Mr Teo said.
“China's needs and requirements change, its economic and social situation change, and so too in Singapore and in the world – technology and global markets and so on," he added.
"What is a feature of our relationship is that we have always been able to find new areas of cooperation and that comes about because we have very close conversations with them at all levels.”
NEXT PHASE OF BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP
As for the next phase of the bilateral relationship, Mr Teo said the current regional councils and government-to-government projects are well placed, as China looks to develop regional clusters like the Greater Bay Area and the Yangtze River Delta region.
Mr Teo added that the trip provided Singapore's new generation leaders an opportunity to meet Chinese leaders.
Traveling with Mr Teo are ministers Chan Chun Sing and Grace Fu, Senior Ministers of State Janil Puthucheary and Edwin Tong, as well as Senior Parliamentary Secretaries Sun Xueling and Tan Wu Meng.
Mr Teo recalled he had benefited from such official visits, under the leadership of then prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, as well as former President Ong Teng Cheong.
“When you visit you say you take a picture and it’s a snapshot, it’s a still picture, but to see China as an ongoing movie - it's a drama that's unfolding,” said Mr Teo.
“It’s one of the biggest human dramas in the world today. How do you raise 800 million people out of poverty in such a short space of time and where this giant of a country is going in the future? It is a great human drama and to see it unfolding is a great opportunity. So I benefited from the opportunities that Mr Lee and Mr Goh and President Ong provided for me and I see it as my responsibility to pass this on to the next generation of leaders.”
Mr Chan, who is minister-in-charge of the civil service and vice chair of the Singapore-China leadership forum, added that to ensure Singapore's relevance, a deep understanding of China on the central and provincial level is needed.
This is why Singapore leaders have had interactions in various provinces across the country.
“Without a keen sense of what is happening on the ground at the central level and the provincial level, it would be impossible for us to boost areas of cooperation that are relevant to them and for us to do this, we need to not only have the institutional links between respective ministries and organisations, we need to have personal ties,” said Mr Chan.
Mr Teo ended his trip - which took him through Beijing, Suzhou and Shanghai - in the cradle of the Communist Party of China - Yan’an.
On Monday, he visited symbolic sites like the former headquarters of the Communist Party's Central Committee at Yangjialing village and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s former cave home at Liangjiahe, where he spent years as a young cadre.
Mr Teo said such visits give Singapore leaders a deeper and more nuanced understanding of China and where it is going, enabling both sides to work better and more closely with each other.