China's cities are rising and developing rapidly, and Singapore can prosper with them - but only if it continues to move forward with the region.
Speaking to reporters at the end of a week-long trip to southern China yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted how cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen have transformed and caught up with Singapore since his last visit almost a decade ago. And in Hong Kong, which he visited this week after 13 years, he saw that its planners are positioning the city "for the next 30 years", he added.
"We have to be part of this. And our attitude must be that, it is good that the region is prospering, so long as we are also moving with it," he said.
Asked if China's fast-rising second-tier cities are a threat to Singapore, he said: "If you don't move, of course it is a threat. But if you continue to move, then we prosper with them."
New York, London and Paris are not threats to Singapore but mutually complementary parts of a globalised world, he said. Just as Singaporeans live and work in other cities, foreigners come to Singapore for opportunities.
"That is the way talent moves in the world, and that is what we have to accept if we want to prosper," he said.
In relatively unexplored parts of China such as the Guangxi region, opportunities abound for Singaporean businessmen, he said. The Singapore brand name is well-regarded and opens doors in China.
During his visit, all the Chinese leaders Mr Lee met, including Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, suggested ideas for collaboration with Singapore.
But on Beijing's proposal for a third government-to-government project in its western region, Mr Lee stressed that the Singapore Government has not yet committed to the idea, which would stretch its resources considerably.
There are two existing Sino- Singapore government-level pro- jects - the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-City.
Both involved not just commercial objectives but also policy goals, which Mr Lee defined as something beyond the commercial viability of a project.
"What are the new systems you want to try out? What are the new initiatives you want to launch? What examples do you want to prove so that other parts of the country can pick up useful ideas and implement them?"
In Suzhou, the novelty at the time was "in bringing all the pieces of the software together to see how you can run a city, in China, using some of the ideas of how we have done it in Singapore".
In Tianjin, the policy objective was to answer the question: How do you develop with a heavy focus on an environmentally friendly approach?
Singapore will proceed with the third project only if it similarly fulfils this double objective of being commercially viable and breaking new policy ground, Mr Lee said.
He did reveal that if the project does go ahead, it will be in the area of connectivity and modern services. China's vast, western region needs to be linked up not just physically, but through IT, financial, telecommunications, logistics and aviation services, he said.
PM Lee had discussed this with Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli when they met earlier this week. It will be on the agenda at the next meeting of the Sino-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation in Suzhou later this year.
But Mr Lee said it would be too ambitious to expect an agreement on the project, and its location, by then.