Singapore and China are set to adopt a new strategic framework aimed at deepening ties and cooperation as they mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.
The Straits Times understands that President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrives today for a state visit, will unveil the framework at a state banquet this evening featuring local favourites such as chilli crab and bak kut teh.
More details of the new framework - likely called "a partnership of all-round cooperation keeping with the times" - are expected to be announced soon. It is believed to be the first of its kind among the 50-plus partnerships of various titles China has with other states.
Other potential outcomes from Mr Xi's two-day visit include an upgrade of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the launch of a third government-led project in China's western region with modern connectivity and modern services as its theme.
Close ties at all levels and an endless quest for new areas of cooperation form the foundation of the bilateral relationship, say Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Xi in separate remarks published today. They also identified what is needed to deepen ties and cooperation.
In an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Mr Lee said regular exchanges among top leaders offer opportunities for them to engage and better understand one another. "At the officials' level, there is also close contact, and among the people too, which all adds to building a good foundation for our bilateral relations," said Mr Lee.
In a penned essay, Mr Xi said the past 25 years have seen "leapfrog development" in bilateral ties. China is now Singapore's biggest trading partner, and bilateral trade last year hit US$79.74 billion (S$112 billion), a 28-fold jump from over two decades ago. He said one reason is that leaders "approached our relationship as one of strategic and long-term importance, and charted the course for its growth".
He proposed close cooperation on regional and international affairs as one of three ways to improve ties. The other two are to "continue to provide leadership guidance" and "deepen and expand practical cooperation".
"Singapore is an important member of Asean, the current country coordinator for China-Asean relations, and an influential actor on the regional and international stage," said Mr Xi, calling for more joint initiatives to boost regional development and integration.
In his interview, Mr Lee noted the two factors that keep Singapore relevant and of value in the bilateral relationship: its continued success and the "Singapore brand".
He said Singapore turned down requests from across China to replicate the flagship Suzhou Industrial Park because it "must be judicious with the 'Singapore brand' and not dilute it, otherwise it will soon lose its value".
Noting that China has changed completely and Singapore is also different, he said "the conditions for a continued partnership are even better than before".
"Whether in culture, tourism, business, economy, or in tertiary education, there are many opportunities for us to continue enhancing our cooperation."
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