Singapore DNA can be seen in China's far-west

Residents of Horgos in Xinjiang province at a one-stop government service centre where they can pay bills, apply for business licences and pay their taxes.
Residents of Horgos in Xinjiang province at a one-stop government service centre where they can pay bills, apply for business licences and pay their taxes.ST PHOTO: LIM YAN LIANG

Transfers of development know-how bode well for S'pore businesses: Minister of state

China's far-west region of Xinjiang may be some 5,000km away from Singapore, but if you look carefully, you can spot signs of the Republic's influence.

This could be a single window for government services, for instance, which saves the public the hassle of going to many locations to get approvals and certifications.

Singapore's development DNA has been transferred to Xinjiang via the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which the Republic had played a part in developing, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told The Sunday Times at the end of a six-day trip to the region.

He noted that a tie-up between south-eastern Suzhou and Xinjiang reflected China's policy of pairing a rich coastal region with a developing region. One instance of this partnership is the Horgos Special Economic Development Zone on China's border with Kazakhstan.

At Horgos, a one-stop government centre offers not just business services, but also allows residents to submit marriage/divorce application, or to pay bills as well as taxes under one roof.


And key officials overseeing the Xinjiang project include party secretary Han Jiang of the Horgos Special Economic Zone, who had worked at the SIP at its inception.

"This is where we see some of those DNA which we transferred to the development of Suzhou Industrial Park starting to make inroads into a less-developed area like Horgos and Xinjiang," said Dr Koh.

"Over time, as Horgos develops, as its own relationship with Suzhou Industrial Park deepens, hopefully that will also bring a part of Singapore into its development."

China's willingness to embark on higher-quality development with "software" learnt from Singapore - such as administrative efficiency and urban planning - augurs well for Singapore businesses looking to expand into China's west, said Dr Koh. But he added that such software transfers - as well as the larger project of developing China's western region - will take time.

China's western development plan, first articulated in 1999 by then President Jiang Zemin, did not lead to stellar results as the economies of the coastal cities far outpaced their inland counterparts.

But Beijing has made closing the income disparity a crucial part of its plan to become a moderately prosperous society by 2021.

Under its Belt and Road initiative, it is pumping a record 170 billion yuan (S$34.5 billion) into Xinjiang this year for building roads alone, a sixfold increase from last year.

With more development and rising incomes, there are opportunities for Singapore businesses to venture into Xinjiang, said Minister of State for Communications and Information and Health Chee Hong Tat, who was also on the trip.

Singapore businesses can carve out a niche in areas from food to services such as early childhood education.

"These are areas where the Singapore brand name carries itself well in this region: People trust us, we are seen as a quality brand," he said.

The trip was organised with the aim of helping Singapore enterprises look into business prospects in Xinjiang and Kazakhstan. It is part of the Future China Advanced Leaders Programme.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore DNA can be seen in China's far-west'. Print Edition | Subscribe