IT IS important for Singapore's third Government-led project in China to be aligned with Beijing's economic belt initiatives and be given priority under them, said Singapore's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh.
Singapore is still "actively studying" the proposal for the project, whose location has not been decided yet, he revealed in an interview with Global Times. A transcript of the interview was provided by the Singapore embassy yesterday.
Three cities in China's western region shortlisted previously were Chongqing, Chengdu and Xi'an.
Speaking to the English-language daily ahead of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's state visit to China on Monday, Mr Loh cited the proposed bilateral project as an example of ongoing cooperation between the two countries.
This year marks not only the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence but also the 25th anniversary of Singapore-China bilateral relations, he noted.
If it materialises, the third Government-led project, based on the theme "modern connectivity and modern services", will follow in the footsteps of the 1994 Suzhou Industrial Park and the 2008 Tianjin Eco-City.
"We hope that this project can help lower the cost of doing business and enhance connectivity in China's western region," said Mr Loh.
"It is important that the project is closely aligned with China's priorities such as the 'One Belt, One Road', the Western Region Development and the Yangtze River economic belt initiatives. It also needs to be given the status as a priority project under these initiatives."
Other ongoing discussions between Singapore and China include upgrading their bilateral free trade agreement and supporting the internationalisation of the yuan, he added.
Mr Loh pointed out that Singapore's ties with China go back a long way. Before diplomatic relations were established, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited China in 1976, followed by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visiting Singapore in 1978.
"Singaporeans feel comfortable with China and Chinese friends," he said. "We can speak the same language and we are able to appreciate the subtleties of each other's culture. Our strong economic cooperation reflects this mutual comfort."
Despite Singapore's small size, he noted it was the third-largest foreign donor following the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, contributing more than 200 million yuan (S$43 million) to reconstruction efforts.
Given the healthy ties, Mr Loh stressed that Singapore did not wish to take sides between China and the United States, which have had a fractious relationship in recent years over dominance in the Asia-Pacific region.
"It is not a zero-sum game. The region is big enough to accommodate both," he said.
On the South China Sea issue, he said Singapore wished to maintain peace and stability in the region. While Singapore is not a claimant, it hopes territorial disputes can be resolved, or at least "set aside for the time being".
When asked why "many people feel that the two countries are economic partners but emotionally distant", even though 74 per cent of Singapore's residents are of Chinese descent, Mr Loh replied that as an independent country "we have to be guided by Singapore's own interest".
"What is most important is that there are no major problems between our two countries," he said. "The communication channels between our leaders are abundant and smooth. Singapore wants China to succeed."