As China enters a new phase of economic development, Singapore is well positioned to collaborate with the Chinese in new areas - ranging from smart cities to ageing-related issues - Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday as he wrapped up a six-day visit to the country.
In 1994, the two countries embarked on their first government-to-government (G2G) project, the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which marks its 25th anniversary this year. Other G2G projects have followed.
Mr Teo said that with both countries set to celebrate 30 years of relations next year, the existing base of cooperation stands Singapore in good stead as China shifts away from discrete, city-level development to a more city-cluster, regional development mindset.
The G2G projects and the seven business councils that Singapore has in China are individual projects that grew out of the old framework, but they provide a solid base from which to engage China in its new phase of development, he said.
This is especially so for three of the 19 city clusters that the central government has prioritised for development in the near term: The Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
Tianjin Eco-city, the second G2G project, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, provides Singapore with good connections to play a role in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.
Work with Xiong'an New Area - China's newest special economic zone coming up in Hebei province, which will absorb the non-capital functions of Beijing - has already begun, said Mr Teo.
A feature of our relationship is that we have always been able to find new areas of cooperation, and that comes about because we have very close conversations with them at all levels. Therefore, we are able to work out together some of the things we can do for the future.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN
SIP's success, together with the close ties Singapore has with the Suzhou municipality and Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, puts Singapore in a good spot to cooperate with China on the Yangtze River Delta development, he added.
As for the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - the third G2G project, which was launched in 2015 - it was designed from the outset to develop a wider connectivity network with the entire western region of China, Mr Teo said. "As it turns out, our regional councils and our G2G projects actually fit in quite well with the regional concept."
Despite the vast difference in size, China and Singapore share a range of concerns, such as in economic transformation, managing an ageing population and smart-city development.
Mr Teo noted that as a result of its new phase of economic development, China saw its outgoing foreign direct investment (FDI) exceed incoming FDI for the first time in 2015, which means that it is today a net exporter of capital.
Partly because of the Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure links around the world, China's outbound FDI stock has grown rapidly in recent years and today exceeds US$1.8 trillion (S$2.4 trillion), just behind that of the United States.
Singapore is trying to see how it can work with China to make Chinese investments in third countries good and worthwhile investments, said Mr Teo.
Meanwhile, Singapore and Shanghai are working to launch a Comprehensive Cooperation Council that will see them join hands not only in financial cooperation, but also in infrastructure and social development to build more harmonious and liveable cities.
"China's cities are among the biggest in the world, with high levels of urbanisation, and this is one of the issues which we can constructively and beneficially discuss in our Shanghai bilateral council," said Mr Teo, adding that this is all possible because the two countries' leaders are able to have frank discussions at all levels of government.
"A feature of our relationship is that we have always been able to find new areas of cooperation, and that comes about because we have very close conversations with them at all levels. Therefore, we are able to work out together some of the things we can do for the future."
Why it is vital for officials from both sides to maintain ties
YAN'AN (Shaanxi) • For Singapore to continue to find new and productive areas where it can engage China, relationships between officials from both sides have to be renewed constantly, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
This must go beyond just meeting central officials in Beijing to ensuring that successive generations of leaders build on these ties, he added.
Mr Teo noted that his own engagement with China began in the early 1990s as part of delegations led by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, then President Ong Teng Cheong as well as then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Visits to provinces like Shaanxi and to Communist Party of China cadre training schools, such as in Pudong and Yan'an, provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what China is doing and where it is going, Mr Teo added.
Yesterday, Mr Teo and other Singapore officials toured the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site where Chairman Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders lived when the communists were based in Yan'an from 1938 to 1947. They also visited Liangjiahe village, where President Xi Jinping spent seven years as a sent-down youth between 1969 and 1975 as the Cultural Revolution swept across China.
"If you just go to Beijing and meet officials, you have a very superficial understanding of what China is," he said. In contrast, ground interaction "helps us to work more closely and better with the Chinese", he added.
"Our main focus is really to see how we can work together in the economic field, in social governance and exchanging of views... through our interaction, we influence each other in the direction in which we take society and the region."
China should also be seen not as a snapshot but an ongoing movie, which requires continued focus, said Mr Teo.
"It is... one of the biggest human dramas in the world today: How you raise 800 million people out of poverty over such a short space of time, and where this giant of a country is going in the future."
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing agreed, noting that the just-concluded 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership was possible because of trust built over decades.
"We can talk about issues and share our innermost thinking on why we do certain things in our respective contexts," he said. "This is something that is very hard to replicate, this is something that we must make sure that we pass on from generation to generation."
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said this visit to Shaanxi also captured the depth and spectrum of engagement between Singapore and China.
"It is really eye-opening to see how they interpret the directives from central; it is a very invaluable lesson for me because... nothing beats listening to their interpretation, listening to their explanation and their focus."