XIAMEN, China: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Sep 21) that bilateral ties between Singapore and China, which faced hiccups last year, are in a good state.
“I think bilateral relations are more than stable, they are in a good state. We had some issues to deal with last year, but this year there have been many exchanges,” Mr Lee told reporters during an interview in Xiamen.
Mr Lee had just come from Beijing where he spoke to President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders in meetings he described as “warm”. The three-day trip, from Sep 19 to 21, came just before China’s 19th Party Congress next month.
Last November, nine armoured military vehicles that were being shipped from Taiwan to Singapore were seized in Hong Kong. The move was widely seen as a sign of Beijing’s disapproval of Singapore’s military exercises in Taiwan. The SAF Terrex vehicles were returned to Singapore in January.
“There will be issues from time to time, it is to be expected. Partly, it is because we are two different countries and never will you see interests perfectly aligned,” he said.
Mr Lee added that officials in Singapore and China have had many exchanges this year, including the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation - the highest-level bilateral forum between Singapore and China.
TIES HAVE TO BE TAKEN FORWARD
Asked for his assessment of the current trip, Mr Lee said that Chinese leaders are “keen on improving relations” and they see Singapore and China as having a “basic alignment” of the two nations’ interests and overall objectives.
He added that the relationship has to be “taken forward from generation to generation”, which is why he brought younger ministers with him on this trip. Mr Lee said that he will also bring non-Chinese ministers on trips to China as it shows Singapore is “different but friendly”.
Singapore has to take advantage of its “cultural affinity” with China and yet “be quite clear that we are multiracial and we are not a Chinese society”, he said.
Mr Lee is accompanied by Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing and Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin.
China has become much more developed and “Singapore needs to be able to continue to add value to China in order for the relationship to be worthwhile for both sides”, he added, citing how government-to-government projects like the Suzhou Industrial Park and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative have evolved.
Mr Lee also said that the building of ties is not restricted to the governments, and he met Singaporean businessmen operating in different parts of China on Wednesday.
“They have become familiar with China … they see the opportunities and I think Singaporeans ought to see the opportunities and take the relationship forward.”
TRIP TO US NEXT MONTH
Mr Lee's trip also comes a month before he's set to meet President Donald Trump in the US.
When asked if there are common issues he intends to raise with both the Chinese and US presidents, he said that there are issues that "concern us all".
"Whichever country we are talking to, we are concerned with economic cooperation, how to deepen our mutual dependence, how to find new areas of win-win," he said.
But the preoccupation with China is the third government-to-government project, he said.
"In Washington, I do not think I will reach that level of detail on our relations with China."
When asked in Mandarin if he felt any “sparks” with the Chinese leaders, he said that there is some chemistry, but no sparks are needed.
As they have met leaders such as President Xi and Mr Wang Qishan on multiple occasions in both formal and informal settings, they have got to know each other and built understanding over time, he said.