This story was updated on June 26, 2017.
Nearly nine years after construction began for Tianjin Eco-City (TEC), saltpans and barren land inhospitable to both cultivation and industry have been transformed into a city of high rises and green spaces.
The 2.6 sq km Jing Lake, once deemed a wastewater pond as industrial sludge was discharged into it for four decades, is today a vibrant eco- system teeming with marine life.
The eco-city project - a collaboration between the Singapore and Chinese governments - has today reached "an inflection point" where demand for homes now exceeds supply, especially with a light-rail system linking the township to Tianjin city slated to start operating in 2020, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told reporters yesterday.
Officials from Xiongan New Area, a new special economic zone in Hebei province announced by Beijing in April, had also visited the TEC recently to study its various aspects, said Mr Tharman, who is on a five-day visit to China.
"The authorities view Tianjin Eco-City as a role model in several regards for Xiongan, which is the new area that is being planned to serve Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province," he told reporters. "And indeed, there are lessons, particularly in the eco-sphere, that they are seeking to borrow for Xiongan."
While he said it is "very early days" to identify what Singapore can contribute to Xiongan, Mr Tharman noted that China is interested in various aspects of water management and conservation, such as national water agency PUB's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) waterways restoration programme.
The lack of clean water remains a major challenge for China. A State Council report last year said the national average water shortage exceeds 50 billion cubic m, while two-thirds of its cities face varying degrees of water shortage.
The authorities view Tianjin Eco-City as a role model in several regards for Xiongan, which is the new area that is being planned to serve Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER THARMAN SHANMUGARATNAM
Yesterday, Mr Tharman also officiated at the opening of a new water reclamation centre in the TEC that can treat 100,000 cubic m of wastewater and produce 21,000 cubic m of recycled water every day. The new facility, a joint venture between Keppel Infrastructure and its Chinese partner, treats effluent to meet China's most stringent standards for wastewater, while boosting the city's non-conventional water supply.
"This marks another sustainability milestone in the eco-city," said Keppel Corporation chairman Lee Boon Yang, adding that the centre will enable water recycling for non-potable uses.
Besides Singapore's experience in the area of water recycling, the island's DNA was also evident in other parts of Tianjin Mr Tharman visited.
It could be seen in the No. 3 community centre in the TEC, which brings together a supermarket, library, polyclinic and sports facilities. And it was also present at the Binhai New Area, where Singapore frozen food company Tee Yih Jia Group opened the second phase of its 90,000 sq m cold chain logistics park yesterday.
Mr Tharman also met Tianjin Party Secretary Li Hongzhong yesterday. The two leaders reaffirmed the excellent relations between Singapore and Tianjin, marked by strong and growing cooperation including through the TEC.
Both leaders commended the significant progress made by Eco-City, and expressed support for its future development as a model for innovation and green development in keeping with the progressive development of Singapore-China bilateral relations. Mr Li also hosted dinner for Mr Tharman.
Predictions in the TEC's early years, that it would be one of a growing number of ghost cities, have been proven wrong: Today, the 30 sq km township has a 70,000-strong population, and over 27,000, or 90 per cent, of its apartments have been sold, said chief executive Tay Lim Heng of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco- City Investment and Development.
With the TEC turning 10 next year, Mr Tharman said both governments have begun planning the next phase. Ideas in the works include turning the eco-city into a sensor-rich smart city, building a Sino-Singapore friendship park modelled after Gardens by the Bay and coming up with a city-scale training space for Singapore and Chinese officials.
"Training is an extremely important part of our relationship, and Tianjin, which is already a site for some specialised areas of training on a national basis, has potential to grow," he said.
"It's not far from Beijing, and it can be a way in which we consolidate training in particular fields, and impart our experience but also learn together."