WhyItMatters

Xi Jinping's trip to Singapore will highlight ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping has visited Singapore several times - most recently as vice-president in 2010 - but his trip next month is set to be his most significant.

Besides marking 25 years of diplomatic ties, his visit will also be crucial for launching new bilateral cooperation initiatives that would provide opportunities for both sides, and for signals on how China views Singapore as a friend and partner.

Beijing's rise and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's passing have triggered concerns among some over Singapore's relevance to China. A closer look, though, shows bilateral ties have advanced under Mr Xi since he took power in 2012.

He set a precedent by appointing a Politburo Standing Committee member - Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli - to co-chair the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), a top bilateral body. Mr Xi has also proposed a third joint project in the country's western region, a recognition of Singapore's role in meeting China's developmental needs - seen in the earlier projects the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-City.

But bilateral cooperation still faces its fair share of challenges. The JCBC meeting this week in Singapore was expected to pick a city among three to host the third project, but was believed to be held back by an impasse over whether it should pick more than one. Singapore is keen to focus on one core city to avoid overstretching its resources.

 

Mr Xi's visit, which will also offer a close-up look at China's First Lady Peng Liyuan, could provide breakthroughs on the project and other initiatives.

Mr Xi is known to be an admirer of the Singapore model, having led study trips there from his days as a Fujian official and endorsed production in 2012 of a documentary on Singapore's development.

Hopefully, his visit will set a direction for bilateral ties that balances Singapore's desire to engage China with the need to safeguard its interests.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2015, with the headline 'Xi's trip will highlight ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe