BEIJING - Ties between Singapore and China stand on a strong foundation, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said on Sunday (April 8) during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
In the 40 years since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore, the two countries have found numerous opportunities to work together and cooperate in a well-aligned way, said Dr Balakrishnan.
"Since then there's been many, many opportunities for us to learn from each other, and China and Singapore have been able to cooperate very effectively at different stages of our development," he said.
Mr Wang agreed, noting that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to China this time is the second in half a year, "which fully reflects the close and friendly contact between the two countries and our top leaders".
Mr Lee is on a five-day visit to China that begins on Sunday.
PM Lee will meet and be hosted to a working dinner on Sunday evening by Premier Li Keqiang. Both leaders will also witness the signing of memorandums of understanding on bilateral cooperation between their two countries
Among the items on Mr Lee's itinerary is his first visit to the Boao Forum in Hainan, where he will meet President Xi Jinping.
Mr Wang said he appreciated the positive role Singapore is playing as the rotating chair for Asean this year, and that Sino-Singapore relations are developing well. Singapore is also country coordinator of Asean-China dialogue until mid 2018.
Both foreign ministers also said they will work together to defend free-trade and multilateralism at a time when protectionist tendencies are on the rise.
Singapore and China are expected to conclude an upgraded bilateral free trade agreement later this year, noted Dr Balakrishnan, which will send a positive message to the world on where the two countries stand on the issue.
"Where the temptation to embark on unilateralism and protectionism unfortunately is rising, it's all the more important that China and Singapore double-down on the importance of free trade and economic liberalisation," he said.
"So our ability to upgrade the China-Singapore free trade agreement this year will send a very positive message."
Dr Balakrishnan also congratulated Mr Wang on his promotion to the post of State Councillor during China's annual parliamentary session last month (March), and said he looks forward to the next Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, which will take place in Singapore later this year.
Beyond that, the two foreign ministers are likely to meet again later this year at various regional fora, such as the Asean Plus Three, East Asia Summit and Asean Regional Forum meetings.
"Last year we met six times, so this is the first of what I hope will be a series of meetings that we will have," said Dr Balakrishnan.
The two foreign ministers last met in November (2017) on the sidelines of the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
Among the issues they discussed at that time were enhancing Singapore's role in the Belt and Road Initiative through the three platforms of connectivity, financial support and trilateral cooperation, and on-going discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The talks start formally this year after Asean and China agreed on a framework for the code last year.
"So we've got a lot to discuss, a lot of details, but I want to say again it's based on a very strong foundation, and this is a relationship that is growing from strength to strength, progressing with the times," said Dr Balakrishnan.