NANJING, China: Singapore aims to further improve ties with China even as the former undergoes leadership renewal.
And Singapore hopes its fourth generation or 4G leaders will continue to build on the strong foundation past and current leaders have built with China over the years.
Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat made these remarks during his visit to Nanjing University on Monday (Jun 4), as he reflected on Singapore-China relations, leadership and governance.
Mr Heng, who was speaking to 200 students and faculty members at the university, said former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had once described Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as a “good friend, old friend”.
“It is our hope that as the younger leaders in Singapore step up to the helm, new friends will also become old friends and good friends,” Mr Heng said.
Mr Heng is in China for a series of meetings including attending the first Sino-Singapore Artificial Intelligence forum held last Friday.
Mr Heng said 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and ‘opening up policy’, as well as the 40th anniversary of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore in 1978.
He recalled former Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had made his first visit to China in 1976. Two years later, Singapore welcomed Mr Deng to the city state.
Mr Deng’s visit in 1978 also came shortly before China made a significant decision in December on reform and opening up.
Mr Heng said the exchange of visits had “laid the foundation for cooperation between both countries”.
BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE
Today, the cooperation includes China’s plan to link up with the world through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI initiative - which applies the values of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit - provides a path for shared development between China and the region.
Mr Heng said Singapore is an early supporter of the BRI.
“According to Chinese statistics, Singapore accounted for 85 per cent of total inbound investments to China from Belt and Road countries,” Mr Heng said.
“Nearly one-third of China’s outbound investments to Belt and Road countries flow through Singapore."
Mr Heng also talked about how both countries can take their partnership and friendship to the next level.
“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping have affirmed that Singapore and China shared a demonstrative, strategic and forward-looking relationship," Mr Heng said. “They have aptly characterised our relations as an ‘All-round cooperative partnership progressing with the times’.
“It is timely to explore how we can take our mutually beneficial cooperation to the next level."
Mr Heng added Singapore’s 4G leaders are more involved in improving bilateral ties between Singapore and China.
Today, Singapore has seven Provincial Business Councils with Guangdong, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Shandong, Sichuan, Tianjin and Zhejiang.
These councils - which aim to promote economic exchanges and cooperation between both sides - are co-chaired by the younger Singapore Ministers as well as the vice ministers, governors and vice governors of the respective provinces. Mr Heng himself co-chairs the Singapore-Jiangsu Cooperation Council with Jiangsu governor Wu Zhenglong.
And as both countries move forward, their cooperation will be based on what Mr Heng describes as “important leadership and governance principles”.
“It involves first ensuring that each of us deals with our internal challenges and opportunities. Yet, at the same time, we work closely with one another to advance our common interests,” Mr Heng said.
'THREE MAJOR SHIFTS'
Mr Heng also shared three areas Singapore hopes to do well in. They include ensuring governance and policies change with the times and remaining relevant.
“Looking ahead, there are three major shifts that many countries will have to prepare for: the shift in global economic weight towards Asia, the emergence of new technologies and ageing populations,” Mr Heng said.
“These will interact in different ways, bring new challenges, but also new opportunities. Government policies must adapt to these changes to best serve the people’s needs,” he said.
One example, Mr Heng added, is managing an ageing population - a trend common in Singapore and China.
Mr Heng also said it’s important to formulate policies with depth and breadth which comes with a long-term view.
And this, Mr Heng said, must be done through engaging citizens.
“For example, to further develop Singapore’s economy, we launched the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). Companies, trade associations, unions, and government agencies form partnerships to understand their specific challenges and opportunities.
“This enables industry-specific strategies to be developed,” he said.
Mr Heng also said Singapore seeks to actively collaborate with and learn from other countries, and maintain good relations.
“In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly inter-connected, countries need to collaborate,” Mr Heng said, adding that no country has all the expertise it needs.
Mr Heng said collaborations can achieve win-win outcomes, as reflected in Mr Deng Xiaoping’s policy to reform and open China 40 years ago, and President Xi’s leadership for the BRI.
But to facilitate international collaboration, a stable and favourable global environment is key, as developments or actions by one country can affect its neighbours.
Mr Heng said Singapore - a founding member of regional bloc ASEAN - will continue to build good relations with other countries, and seek to maintain peace and stability in Southeast Asia.
And on top of playing a constructive role to international affairs, Mr Heng said: “Singapore aims to be a friend to many countries and an enemy of none.”