Singapore to deepen cooperation with China on Belt and Road, major economic zones, says DPM Heng

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking to Singapore media in Shenzhen on May 28, 2019, in an interview wrapping up his visit to mainland China. PHOTO: MCI

SHENZHEN - Singapore is looking to deepen cooperation with China in key areas, including the Belt and Road Initiative and on developments in the economic zones of the Yangtze River Delta and the Greater Bay Area (GBA), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said.

Bilateral cooperation was already at a "very high level" but these were some areas where collaboration could be stepped up, said Mr Heng, adding that both sides had discussed how to take this forward in the next five to 10 years.

Speaking to Singapore reporters in Shenzhen on Tuesday (May 28) during an interview to wrap up his visit to mainland China, the Deputy Prime Minister provided an insight into the discussions he had with top Chinese leaders - which will continue when the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meets later this year in China.

The JCBC is the highest-level bilateral platform between Singapore and China, responsible for setting the course for cooperation between both sides. Mr Heng took over as co-chair of the JCBC from Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean last month.

During his trip, his first to China since becoming DPM earlier this month, Mr Heng met top Chinese leaders in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province.

Of those leaders, five were members of the elite 25-member politburo, with two of them - Premier Li Keqiang and Vice-Premier Han Zheng - on the body's apex Standing Committee.

Mr Heng said business as well as political leaders at both the central and regional level "expressed appreciation" for how bilateral cooperation has developed over the years, from which China has been able to "draw useful lessons".

"I think this provides a very good momentum for us to build on... There are many areas of partnership and given the coming developments I think there will be many more areas that we can step up this cooperation and achieve win-win outcomes," he said.

He added that several leaders have recounted how founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew set the foundation for bilateral ties, with his successors in Singapore continuing this effort.

Cooperation at every stage has been mutually beneficial, meeting the needs of both countries, he said.

Pointing to the three government-to-government projects over the years - the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - he said all of them have had a "clear strategic focus".

Moving forward, China's plan to develop the Yangtze River Delta Economic Zone, and the Greater Bay Area - two of its major economic zones - will open up "more opportunities for cooperation".

"One strong characteristic of the Chinese system is that the political leaders, as well as the business leaders think in long terms," he said.

But this means Singapore also needs to take a strategic view of future developments and position itself well - its companies needed to build deep capabilities, and it must have a strong talent pool exposed to developments in China and around the world, he said.

"That is the only way that we can add value, we must raise our capability and continue to be valuable and useful," he said.

During his trip, Mr Heng also co-chaired the inaugural meeting of the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council, the eighth and latest business cooperation platform with a provincial-level region in China.

He also visited Chinese firms including Tencent and insurance giant Ping An Group.

After the interview on Tuesday, Mr Heng travelled to Hong Kong. He is expected to fly to Tokyo on Wednesday (May 29) to attend the 25th Nikkei Conference this week.

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