SINGAPORE: Singapore and China need to build on their “good foundation” and develop new areas of cooperation, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency.
Speaking ahead of an eight-day visit to China that began on Wednesday (May 22), Mr Heng said that the two countries have to take their economic cooperation to a “higher level”.
Both countries now have seven business councils and key projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and the International Land-Sea Transport Corridor.
Mr Heng said new areas of cooperation have to be explored and he hopes the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) will provide “new impetus” for this.
The JCBC is the highest-level platform between Singapore and China for steering bilateral relations. It was recently announced that Mr Heng will take over as co-chair from now Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, and lead the forum with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng - something, which Mr Heng said he is looking forward to.
"We will have to look at how we can continue to grow new areas of cooperation that will meet the needs of both China and Singapore,” he said, adding that this will also help to stimulate development in ASEAN and in the broader Asian region.
“Economic growth will enable us to build better lives for our people and to create better jobs, and in this age of technological changes, it is even more critical that we do this … so the challenges are greater but so are the opportunities,” he said.
Calling China’s Belt and Road initiative “a key enabler” for regional and global development, Mr Heng said that it too will open up new areas of collaboration in trade, investment, modern services and the development of people.
“These inter-linkages have grown very significantly across and I believe that the Belt and Road initiative will serve to enhance this inter-connection across the region,” he said.
During his trip, Mr Heng will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
In Shanghai, he will co-chair the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council (SSCCC) meeting with Shanghai mayor Ying Yong. This is the eighth business council between Singapore and China.
More than 50 business representatives from 35 Singapore companies will participate in the inaugural meeting for the council, set up just this year.
Mr Heng highlighted three key areas for SSCCC which relate "very directly" to Singapore's future economic development – the Belt and Road Initiative, financial cooperation, and technology and innovation.
"All these are very important areas for us to work on, for us to cooperate on improving the quality of life ... So I very much look forward to looking at how Singapore and Shanghai can cooperate in these areas, and deepen the collaboration," he said.
In response to a question from Xinhua on what his biggest challenge was as Singapore’s new Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Heng said that it was to keep politics “constructive and forward-looking”.
He highlighted the importance of tackling immediate challenges while considering longer-term developments, which require policies that may not be so obvious or of immediate concern to Singaporeans.
"How do we keep the consensus and how do we mobilise our people to come together to deal with short-term challenges, as well as longer term challenges and opportunities," said Mr Heng. “That I would say is the biggest challenge. Keeping Singapore united, cohesive and forward-looking is critical to our future.”
Singapore also has to tackle issues like an ageing population, and transform its economy at the same time.
“This is going to become more challenging as you see the support for globalisation around the world is coming down,” said Mr Heng. “It is declining because people feel that the benefits of globalisation have not benefited them.”
He pointed out the most immediate indication of this is the trade friction between the United States and China.
“It complicates many, many calculations by many business leaders. It creates great uncertainty among investors everywhere around the world,” said Mr Heng.
To transform its economy, Singapore has to tap into technology and innovation and build relationships with its partners in Asia.
"Building Singapore as a global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise will be a very key part of our work going forward. And at the same time … strengthening our social fabric in Singapore. And then building very constructive relationships with China and with partners in our Asian region and all around the world, because I believe that it is important for us to build a more stable and prosperous world in the coming years.”