NANJING - Even as Singapore undergoes leadership renewal and transition, its younger leaders will continue to build on and improve ties with China, visiting Finance Minister Heng Sweet Keat said in China on Monday (June 4).
In an address to 200 students and faculty members from Nanjing University, Mr Heng pointed to current leaders like Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who have, over the years, built a "longstanding and close friendship" between the two countries.
He noted that DPM Teo, who heads the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, has been described by former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli as an "old and good friend".
"It is our hope that as the younger leaders in Singapore step up to the helm, new friends will also become old friends and good friends," said Mr Heng, a member of the fourth-generation (4G) leadership who is seen to be one of the contenders to become prime minister.
The dialogue was moderated by Professor Zhu Feng, director of the university’s Institute of International Studies.
Mr Heng, who is on the fifth day of a nine-day working visit to China, left for Shanghai on Monday.
Besides the Nanjing University dialogue, he also visited the university’s artificial intelligence lab, and met Jiangsu governor Wu Zhenglong on Monday.
On Tuesday, he will travel to Beijing, where he is scheduled to meet Chinese leaders.
During his 40-minute speech, Mr Heng said it was timely to explore how to take the mutually beneficial cooperation between Singapore and China to the next level.
Mr Heng, who co-chairs the Singapore Jiangsu Cooperation Council, one of seven such councils to promote economic exchange and cooperation, said cooperation between the two countries would be based on each dealing with its internal challenges and opportunities and working with each other to advance common interests.
He laid out three of Singapore's important leadership and governance principles.
First, governance and policies must change with the times and remain relevant.
"Our operating environments are always changing. People's aspirations evolve. These changes may become faster and more complex in the future," he said, adding that governments needed to prepare for three major shifts - an ageing population, the emergence of new technologies, and the shift in economic weight towards Asia.
Second, policies must be formulated with depth, breadth and a long-term view.
This requires governments to engage citizens actively, widely and in a multi-faceted manner, said Mr Heng.
Finally, even as governments formulate their domestic policies, they need to actively collaborate with, learn from other countries and maintain good relations, he added.
“Singapore seeks to be a credible and consistent partner, playing constructive roles in international affairs,” he said.
Mr Heng said Singapore seeks to build good relations with other countries, be a friend to many and an enemy of none. “In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected, countries need to collaborate. No country has all the expertise it needs. Collaborations can achieve win-win outcomes,” he said.
He cited China’s reform and opening-up policy, a system of economic reforms started in 1978 by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, and President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as examples.
Earlier in his speech, Mr Heng said the reform and opening-up policy was a key turning point for China, allowing it to achieve remarkable progress. “Reform is necessary for opening up, and, in turn, opening up stimulates more reforms,” he said, calling the BRI the “next phase” of reform and opening up.
The BRI is an ambitious policy to build infrastructure to establish trade routes and boost connectivity from China to Asia, Europe and Africa. It would open up new frontiers of connectivity and areas of cooperation between Singapore and China, said Mr Heng.
“The BRI is very much in line with Singapore’s development priorities... we look forward to more win-win partnerships in future,” he said.
Mr Heng is accompanied on his visit by officials from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Enterprise Singapore, and the National Research Foundation.