Singapore, China chart road map for next stage of bilateral ties

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (left) called on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday in Dalian, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (left) called on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday in Dalian, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos meeting. PHOTO: XINHUA
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on June 27 in Dalian, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Summer Davos meeting.
Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam called on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on June 27 in Dalian, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum Summer Davos meeting. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Top leaders identify Belt and Road initiative, bilateral free trade deal and RCEP trade pact as key priorities

Singapore and China's top leaders have identified three priority areas to focus on for the next stage of bilateral relations.

In a sign that ties are on the mend, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang have agreed to deepen cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative and push for greater economic integration of the two countries by the timely conclusion of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade agreement covering 16 nations.

The two sides are also looking at ways to build Asean-China ties, such as by teaming up on the training of third-country officials.

Yesterday's announcement by the Prime Minister's Office came after Mr Tharman called on Mr Li on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum's Summer Davos meeting here.

The agreement builds both on the work done when Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met his counterpart Wang Yi a fortnight ago, and when Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean met China's Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli in February for the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting, said Mr Stanley Loh, Singapore's Ambassador to China.

In particular, Singapore's participation in the Belt and Road initiative - China's plan to rejuvenate the ancient Silk Road trade routes linking it with much of the world - is both substantial and has much potential for further deepening, said Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies.

 

He noted in an interview with the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper yesterday that the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) - the third government- to-government project between Singapore and China - has been designated a priority demonstration project under the Belt and Road initiative, and that the two governments had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Belt and Road cooperation at its inaugural summit in Beijing last month.

The Chongqing project will link the overland Silk Road Economic Belt with the sea-based Maritime Silk Road, and has drawn kudos from China as it will boost connectivity while helping develop its interior and western regions.

"We can join each other's strengths, to promote the integration of the Asian region and facilitate a new phase in regional growth," said Mr Tharman, who also noted that Singapore alone accounts for 85 per cent of total inbound investments from Belt and Road countries.

When completed, the upgraded CSFTA will include new areas such as competition, e-commerce and the environment, said Mr Tharman, while the scope of existing areas such as investment provisions, trade facilitation and remediation, and market access will likely also be widened.

The CSFTA was signed in 2008, and the upgrade was launched during President Xi Jinping's state visit to Singapore in November 2015.

During Dr Balakrishnan's recent visit to China, the two countries agreed to build three platforms to deepen Belt and Road cooperation, namely connectivity cooperation, financial cooperation and third- party collaboration.

Ambassador Loh, who was present at yesterday's meeting, said it augurs well that "the three platforms have now been endorsed by Premier Li".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore, China chart road map for next stage of bilateral ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe