PM Lee and Xi express support for open global trading system

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, together with the Singapore ministers and delegation, meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his delegation on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

BOAO (Hainan) • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed support for an open global trading order during their meeting on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday.

They stressed the importance of the rules-based multilateral trading system which has benefited all countries, big and small.

And they affirmed that trade disputes should be resolved within the World Trade Organisation framework, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement.

Earlier yesterday, PM Lee delivered a speech at the Boao conference on trade tensions between China and the United States, and why China should uphold openness and multilateralism.

At their bilateral meeting, Mr Xi said he welcomed PM Lee's speech.

"PM Lee stressed that if unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalated into trade wars, the multilateral trading system that had brought prosperity to other countries for decades would be severely undermined," said the PMO.

Both leaders reaffirmed the "special and forward-looking relationship between the two countries", based on the foundation laid by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. They welcomed the success of the three government-to-government projects - Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - which had progressed and expanded according to evolving needs on both sides.

And Mr Xi mentioned his intention to elevate the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City to a state-level bilateral project, which PM Lee welcomed.

Both leaders also reviewed the good progress made in bilateral cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, in particular on the Southern Transport Corridor, and discussed the great potential in cooperating in third-party markets.

In addition, they looked forward to the conclusion of the Singapore-China Free Trade Agreement upgrade negotiations this year, and hoped for the expeditious conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership deal.

"They also welcomed the improved situation in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the steady progress made in the negotiation of the code of conduct," said the PMO.

PM Lee also congratulated Mr Xi on the successful conclusion of China's 19th Party Congress last year and the recent "Lianghui", or legislative meetings, which saw Mr Xi reappointed as president.

"You have set directions for China to play a constructive and stabilising role in the region and in the international system," he said, adding Mr Xi has laid out a clear vision and long-term goals for China.

Mr Xi thanked PM Lee and said that since their last meeting last September, both countries have "consolidated their longstanding friendship". "Your visit to China again and attendance at the Boao Forum demonstrates the importance you attach to China-Singapore relations," Mr Xi said. He added he was willing to work with PM Lee to exchange views on bilateral ties and common concerns.

PM Lee said that with a fresh team of leaders at the helm in China, and with Singapore also in a period of leadership transition, this was a "timely meeting for us to take our partnership forward". "I brought along several of my younger ministers, my younger colleagues, on the trip, in order to establish ties with their counterparts and be able to bring our relations further forward."

The ministers on PM Lee's five-day trip are Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

Danson Cheong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 11, 2018, with the headline 'PM Lee and Xi express support for open global trading system'. Print Edition | Subscribe