Bilateral cooperation with China progressing on many fronts: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, on Sept 4, 2016 PHOTO: MCI

HANGZHOU - The broad relationship between Singapore and China is in "working shape", with bilateral cooperation progressing on many fronts including a new government-led project in Chongqing, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Sept 5).

He listed how the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), which was launched last November, has made progress in its four priority sectors of financial, aviation, logistics, and information, communications and technology.

The Chongqing Connectivity Initiative is the third government-led project between Singapore and China after the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994 and the Tianjin Eco-city in 2008. The project is to promote connectivity and services within China or with other countries.

Now, both sides are looking at using the project for China to test new policies or new emphasis in its development strategies, Mr Lee told Singapore media, as he summed up his four-day working visit to China. During his visit, he met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai.

"And if we can identify these areas which are promising, we can put it up to the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation next time Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean meets (Chinese) Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli," said Mr Lee, who is also attending the Group of Twenty (G-20) leaders' summit in Hangzhou as one of China's guests.

The Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation is the highest-level mechanism which manages Singapore-Sino ties and cooperation. It meets once a year.

In response to a question on perceived tensions between both sides over Singapore's role as coordinator for Asean-China relations since August last year, Mr Lee said that both countries are different and will naturally have different perspectives of some issues.

"But when we have different perspectives, I think we have to manage them, accept them, and we should not allow them to affect the overall relationship," he added.

He said that Singapore and China are co-operating in many areas which are basically win-win in nature and "it would be a pity for both countries" if they were to slow down.

"But we accept that yes, sometimes there will be issues and things may take time. This is normal between any two countries, particularly two with a very close relationship," he added.

Mr Lee said he told Mr Xi at their meeting on Friday in Hangzhou that the Republic hoped to act as an honest broker through its coordinator role to bring people closer together and that the Chinese leader had said both countries should respect each other's perspectives and work towards greater understanding when they disagree.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has made what appeared to be veiled criticisms of the city-state's coordinator role amid the South China Sea territorial dispute between Beijing and several Asean nations. China has dismissed an international tribunal ruling against its claims to most of the South China Sea.

The criticism also stemmed from a sense of frustration in China over Singapore's friendship with the United States and its support of a continued American presence in the region.

At the National Day Rally two weeks ago, Mr Lee outlined Singapore's foreign policy principle of acting independently and in its own national interests. Singapore and other countries have stressed the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.