S'pore-China ties: 'Don't lose sight of the big picture'

Common interests, mutual benefits outweigh occasional differences, says Lee Boon Yang

Singapore and China have forged a strong and mutually beneficial relationship over the years, but even the best of friends do not always see eye to eye on every issue, said Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) chairman Lee Boon Yang yesterday.

When the two countries disagree, leaders and thought leaders from both sides have to work harder to achieve a better understanding of each other's position, he said in a speech at the inaugural Lianhe Zaobao Singapore-China forum.

"Even if we cannot achieve a full consensus or reach a resolution on a specific issue, we must not lose sight of the big picture. Our common interests and mutual benefits clearly outweigh such occasional differences," said Dr Lee, who was a Cabinet minister from 1991 to 2009.

At the closed-door forum organised by SPH's Chinese daily broadsheet Lianhe Zaobao, 35 academics, diplomats and international relations watchers discussed how to strengthen Sino-Singapore ties.

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In his speech, Dr Lee traced the cultural and diplomatic ties between Singapore and China.

He also highlighted the three mega projects which the two governments have cooperated on: the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

These projects show how the Singapore-China relationship has evolved but stayed mutually beneficial, even as China takes giant steps in economic and technological development, said Dr Lee.

Going forward, both countries can focus on economic cooperation and strengthening the ties between their people, he said.

For instance, as Singapore works with China to implement its Belt and Road Initiative, economic and financial ties between both countries will grow, said Dr Lee.

Workers, consumers and businesses of both countries can benefit from these closer ties, he added.

Organising cultural activities is another way to promote deeper understanding and forge cultural connections between the Chinese and Singaporeans.

Dr Lee cited the Singapore-China Youth Arts Festival, in which youth performing groups from both countries took to the stage for three weekends this month.

The festival was jointly organised by SPH's Chinese language student paper, the China Cultural Centre and China Children's Art Theatre.

The two countries can also work together in regional cooperation.

Next year is a good opportunity for both countries to bring Asean and China closer, as Singapore will be both the country coordinator for Asean-China dialogue relations and the Asean chair, Dr Lee noted.

Such regional cooperation will bring about stability, which is key to Asean and China's continued development and progress, he added.

"Our common interests and mutual benefits in these areas far outweigh any differences and they will ensure that our relationship can withstand the test of time," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore-China ties: 'Don't lose sight of the big picture''. Print Edition | Subscribe