The China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) has been a path-finder for bilateral cooperation for the past quarter-century, and it must strive to keep playing that role in China's development going forward, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
That the SIP is today a hallmark of bilateral cooperation is the result of the strong sense of purpose and commitment shared by both the Singapore and Chinese governments, Mr Teo said in a speech yesterday at a ceremony here to mark the project's 25th anniversary.
Started in 1994, SIP received the backing of top leaders from both sides. It was the first government-to-government project between the two countries, meant for China to learn from Singapore's industrialisation experiences and to be part of Singapore's strategy to develop an external wing to its economy.
"The story of the SIP is also a story of our close bilateral relations and can be traced back to the friendship and mutual respect between Mr Deng Xiaoping and Mr Lee Kuan Yew," said Mr Teo, referring to China's paramount leader and Singapore's founding prime minister.
At the ceremony, Premier Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory message on behalf of the central government in which he lauded the joint project for being ahead of its time.
"It was very bold in pioneering and absorbing internationally advanced technologies and experiences," he said. "The SIP is proactively driving innovation, realising leapfrog development, and has also contributed to the reciprocal cooperation between China and Singapore."
Despite some early bumps, the SIP is today an unqualified success story. For three consecutive years since 2015, it has been ranked first by China's Commerce Ministry out of more than 200 Economic and Technological Development Zones, and regularly tops developmental indices.
Last year, Singapore-SIP trade grew 20.2 per cent from the previous year to reach US$2.02 billion (S$2.7 billion), said Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry.
The 288 sq km zone has also progressed beyond a traditional industrial park and seen steady growth of emerging high-technology industries such as biomedicine and nanotechnology, Mr Teo said, while noting that SIP's model has since been replicated in several Chinese cities.
"Besides generating good jobs and income, the SIP has been widely acknowledged as an attractive city to live in," he said.
In 2018, Singapore-SIP trade grew 20.2 per cent from the previous year to reach US$2.02 billion, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
"Over the years, many residents from the surrounding areas and beyond have moved to the SIP to enjoy the modern and well-planned facilities and living environment."
The SIP has also provided a platform for the two countries to build mutual trust and understanding. Building on the SIP's model, the two countries went on to launch the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City in 2008 and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity in 2015 to support China's Belt and Road Initiative and other development strategies, noted Mr Teo.
Suzhou party secretary Zhou Naixiang said that looking back, the important lessons China learnt were in the software being transferred from Singapore, such as in innovativeness and a "pioneering and spearheading spirit" when it came to reform.
ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Lye Liang Fook noted in a book to mark 50 years of bilateral ties in 2015 that these ideas and principles, such as the need to have and stick to a masterplan, were initially difficult to accept and caused a deadlock in the early years of the project.
Business China chairman Lee Yi Shyan, who is part of the Singapore delegation in Suzhou, said that officials from both sides soldiered on and achieved consensus after 11/2 years of painstaking negotiations.
Mr Teo said that for the SIP to build on its legacy and successes, the industrial park should stay at the forefront, such as by being a test bed for new policy liberalisation across different sectors and to move up the value chain towards areas such as innovation and start-ups.
The SIP can also serve as the vehicle for both countries to expand cooperation into the region, such as to jointly develop similar high-quality industrial parks in third-party markets, he added.
It should also continue to be a key platform to strengthen people-to-people ties, which are the bedrock of bilateral relations, he said.