DPM Heng Swee Keat in Chongqing with 4G leaders to meet top Chinese officials

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat with Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng (left) and Chongqing party boss Chen Min'er on board a river cruise in Chongqing on Oct 14, 2019. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

CHONGQING - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was treated to a dinner cruise along the mighty Yangtze River on Monday (Oct 14) after he arrived in the southwestern city of Chongqing to attend Singapore's highest-level bilateral meeting with China.

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.

On Tuesday (Oct 15), 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.

Both countries are expected to sign a few deals after their talks, just as in previous meetings.

But what is significant this year is the number of fourth-generation ministers accompanying Mr Heng on the trip.

Six full ministers are in tow: 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.

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.

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.

On Monday, Mr Heng and 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 latter is a joint venture between Singapore and China that is now developing a physical hub to plan, develop, manage and optimise multimodal 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.

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