DPM Heng Swee Keat, 4G ministers in China for high-level meeting

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with (from left) Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, Chongqing party boss Chen Min'er and Chongqing Mayor Tang Liangzhi yesterday on board a cruise down the Yangtze River. Singapore and China are expected to sign a fe
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with (from left) Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, Chongqing party boss Chen Min’er and Chongqing Mayor Tang Liangzhi yesterday on board a cruise down the Yangtze River. Singapore and China are expected to sign a few deals after their annual high-level talks this week. PHOTO: MCI
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with (from left) Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, Chongqing party boss Chen Min'er and Chongqing Mayor Tang Liangzhi yesterday on board a cruise down the Yangtze River. Singapore and China are expected to sign a fe
Deputy PM Heng at the Multi-Modal Distribution and Connectivity Centre gallery with ministers Ong Ye Kung and Masagos Zulkifli and Minister of State Sam Tan in Chongqing yesterday.PHOTO: HENG SWEE KEAT/FACEBOOK

Heng to co-chair Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting for the first time

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was treated to a dinner cruise along the mighty Yangtze River yesterday after he arrived in the southwestern city of Chongqing to attend Singapore's highest-level bilateral meeting with China.

Both countries are expected to sign a few deals after their annual talks, just as in previous meetings. But what is significant this year is the number of fourth-generation ministers on the trip.

Mr Heng will be co-chair of the meeting for the first time.

His hosts on the cruise were Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng and Chongqing party boss Chen Min'er, who was in Singapore last month, where he met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other leaders.

Today, Mr Heng and Mr Han will lead top officials to discuss existing and future collaborative projects at the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, the apex annual bilateral platform between the two countries.

These will include updates on the three inter-governmental projects: the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. A fourth project, the Guangzhou Knowledge City, previously an initiative led by the private sector, was elevated to a state-level project last year.

For the past few years, the Singapore Government has, as part of an effort to promote political continuity, been steadily exposing its fourth-generation, or "4G", ministers to the Chinese leadership.

These ministers also chair the myriad business councils that Singapore and various Chinese provinces have established.

Six full ministers are in tow this year: Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran; Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing; Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli; Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung; Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo; and Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.

 
 
 
 

Also in the delegation are Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann; Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong; and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Development Sam Tan.

The JCBC meeting is taking place for the first time in Chongqing, where Singapore is actively plugging into China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative with a long-term project that will connect the less-developed western region of China to the rest of the world.

It is providing modern services in the areas of logistics, financial services, aviation, and information and communications technology.

The two countries are also working on a trade corridor that will integrate western China with South-east Asia by connecting Chongqing to Qinzhou, in Guangxi province, by rail, and to Singapore and beyond by sea.

China's Belt and Road Initiative is a signature project by President Xi Jinping, whose vision is to create a 21st century Silk Road of overland corridors and shipping lanes.

In a Facebook post last night, Mr Heng said there is great potential for Singapore and Chongqing to work together under the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. One project is the trade corridor, known as the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.

"Moving forward, Singapore and Chongqing will be mutual hubs to strengthen business and trade ties between Singapore and Chongqing and the rest of the world," he wrote.

On a lighter note, Mr Heng said: "When I last met Chen Min'er in September, I showed him our Singapore skyline. Glad to be able to enjoy Chongqing's beautiful night cityscape this time!"

Yesterday, the delegation also visited Guoyuan Port, a national logistics hub; Feixiang IIOT, a joint venture between Alibaba Cloud and Chongqing's Nan'an District; and the Multi-Modal Distribution and Connectivity Centre gallery.

The Multi-Modal Distribution and Connectivity Centre is a joint venture between Singapore and China that is now developing a physical hub to plan, develop, manage and optimise multi-modal operations across road, rail, river and air.

Singapore and China take turns to host the annual JCBC meeting, which has been going on since 2004.

Only once, in 2016, did the meeting not take place. Relations between the two countries took a hit that year, after Beijing took offence with Singapore's position on the disputed South China Sea.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2019, with the headline 'DPM Heng, 4G ministers in China for high-level meeting'. Print Edition | Subscribe