Chinese Executive Vice-Premier Han Zheng will be China's new co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), the top body steering bilateral relations between Singapore and China.
Mr Han, who is also on the elite Politburo Standing Committee, takes over from former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, who had retired from politics after the 19th Party Congress last October.
The appointment of Mr Han to the top post was conveyed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when both men met in Beijing. PM Lee welcomed the appointment, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in a statement.
Singapore's co-chair of the JCBC is Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
The JCBC is a high-level platform helmed by a Singapore deputy prime minister and a Chinese vice-premier. Both sides take turns to hold annual meetings to find ways to deepen and broaden Sino-Singapore ties. The first JCBC was held in 2004, with then DPM Lee and then Vice-Premier Wu Yi as co-chairs.
PM Lee arrived in Beijing yesterday for a five-day working visit.
One of the first stops on his itinerary was the leafy Diaoyutai State Guesthouse compound, where he met Premier Li, who later hosted him to a working dinner. Premier Li expressed appreciation to PM Lee for his congratulations on his re-appointment as Premier at the recent legislative meetings.
During their meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed the "close, deep and substantive bilateral relations" and welcomed the frequent high-level exchanges between their countries, PMO said. They reviewed their extensive bilateral cooperation and discussed the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration, such as jointly cooperating in other countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
They also welcomed the progress made in the three government-to-government projects - Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI).
The PMO cited the CCI in particular, noting that the CCI-Southern Transport Corridor had connected Western China to the sea by rail. It effectively linked the overland Silk Road Economic Belt to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the two major trade routes under the BRI, thereby "enhancing multi-modal connectivity from Western China to South-east Asia and beyond".
Yesterday, both leaders also said they looked forward to the conclusion of negotiations on upgrading the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement this year.
On the regional front, both leaders also agreed that Asean-China cooperation had made good progress over the last few years, and looked forward to the announcement of a vision statement for 2030 on the Asean-China Strategic Partnership this November.
They also looked forward to the expeditious conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.
"Premier Li expressed appreciation for Singapore's constructive role as the coordinator of Asean-China Dialogue Relations since 2015," said the PMO.
And PM Lee welcomed Premier Li's acceptance of his invitation to make an official bilateral visit to Singapore when he attends the Asean-related summits in November.