XIAMEN - The opening of a reconstructed OCBC building in Xiamen on Thursday (Sept 21) morning was held up as a symbol of the longstanding and enduring ties between Singapore and China by Singapore’s Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat.
Noting that OCBC bank has a long history in China and opening its doors here long before China became a key global investment destination, Mr Heng said: “The China-Singapore relationship is similarly an enduring one that has stood the test of time".
“We have a vibrant economic relationship – China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, while Singapore is the largest foreign direct investor in China. Our financial agencies have worked hard together to strengthen cooperation. We have made good progress and will strive to do better,’’ he said in a speech at a ceremony to unveil the reconstructed OCBC building.
The Singapore minister added that the two countries would strengthen financial ties, with financial institutions from both sides continuing to expand in each other’s markets.
“With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, there will be more avenues for us to deepen our financial and economic cooperation,” he said.
“Singapore will work with China to support the BRI, by promoting greater use of the RMB (renminbi) for regional infrastructure projects; strengthening capital market linkages between Singapore and China, such as in the bond markets; and working together to train officials from BRI countries in the area of finance."
Fujian province, with a population of nearly 39 million people, is expected to take the lead in boosting trade links after being named "the core area" of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The south-eastern coastal province, which is the ancestral home of 12.5 million overseas Chinese in Asean, has been assigned by Beijing to focus on Asean countries.
OCBC Group chief executive Samuel Tsien concurred in his speech, saying: “China’s ambitious One Belt and One Road initiative is bringing about increased trade, capital, people and wealth flows.”
These, he said, “in turn create new economic activities, and, with them, continued social advancement". "Singapore is uniquely qualified to play a conduit role for the Belt and Road flows.”
Xiamen deputy mayor Han Jingyi, in his speech, noted that economic, trade, cultural and other ties have been deepening between Singapore and his city since the Xiamen special economic zone was set up 36 years ago, one of four such zones at the time to drive China's economic development.
He noted that the first foreign company in the zone was a Singapore-funded company INHWA Tiles Products Ltd, "which took a leading role in Xiamen's opening-up drive".
The two sides have maintained stable growth in trade, he added, with trade volume reaching 8.06 billion yuan (S$1.64 billion) in 2016 and 3.32 billion yuan in the first half of this year.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Governor of Fujian province Lee Dejin were at the ceremony on Thursday. The ceremony was also witnessed by CEO of OCBC Wing Hang China, Ms Kng Hwee Tin, around 40 OCBC Bank corporate customers as well as nine senior executives of OCBC Bank and OCBC Wing Hang China.
Mr Tsien said in his speech: “Our heritage in China can be traced to our first branch in Xiamen - opened in 1925 by one of our founding banks, Ho Hong Bank. OCBC Bank was founded by Lee Kong Chian, son-in-law of Tan Kah Kee who was a well-known Chinese businessman and philanthropist.”
In 1932, Ho Hong Bank, Chinese Commercial Bank and Oversea-Chinese Bank merged to form Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).
The former building, which is OCBC’s first major fixed asset investment in China, housed the bank’s Xiamen branch when it was completed in 1947. OCBC has maintained a continuous presence in China for more than 90 years.
The new building retains the modern-classical architectural style of the old; as well as a green canopy above the entrance, a prominent feature of the former building and a holdover from the original design.
It will also be home to Xiamen’s new Qiao Pi Gallery. The gallery, showcasing the city’s rich history, will be located on the ground level of the premises next to the bank’s reception area.