How Singapore-China ties have kept up with the times

China is undergoing a big rejuvenation as its tech-based businesses lead the world. A successful China is good for Singapore and the world, says PM Lee. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is on an official visit to China which started yesterday and ends tomorrow. These are highlights from an interview in Mandarin he gave to Xinhuanet last Saturday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being interviewed by Xinhuanet at the Istana last Saturday. He shared his observations on how Singapore-China ties have evolved over the years, what Singapore can learn from China as it goes through rapid development in
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being interviewed by Xinhuanet at the Istana last Saturday. He shared his observations on how Singapore-China ties have evolved over the years, what Singapore can learn from China as it goes through rapid development in many areas, and his views on the future.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Q For past China-Singapore economic and trade cooperation, not only was it strong from a wide point of view, there were many pragmatic projects. There are several industrial parks at the national and provincial levels. When we talk about China-Singapore cooperation, the cooperation in industrial parks is very conspicuous, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, the flagship project between both nations. In today's economic and trade relations, there are changes in the regional economies, and there are also changes in the industrial economy. What do you think are the new ways and formats to further promote the trade and economic cooperation between China and Singapore?

A Bilateral cooperation must advance with the times - 与时俱进.

As China is developing very fast, its needs are different at every stage of the development, so the focus of bilateral cooperation must also match correspondingly.

In response to the bilateral cooperation, people are also cooperating very quickly, so they will naturally find the most favourable market which will allow them to play the biggest role.

Country to country, the first important project between China and Singapore was the Suzhou Industrial Park which began in the early 1990s. At that time, China was developing different development zones, attracting investment and wooing foreign investments, so we developed the Suzhou Industrial Park. It was (mainly) the transfer of software - transferring the software of some industrial park management and attracting investments. The industrial park can now be said to be mature, successful, and may even have a chance to be listed one day. This can be said to be the first flagship project.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong being interviewed by Xinhuanet at the Istana last Saturday. He shared his observations on how Singapore-China ties have evolved over the years, what Singapore can learn from China as it goes through rapid development in many areas, and his views on the future. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

The second flagship project was the Tianjin Eco-City which we did 10 years ago. At that time, China was concerned about sustainable development and environmental protection, so the eco-city focused on these two themes. (However) the eco-city was not limited to these two themes in the last 10 years. We are now talking about some issues of the smart cities, and have also held some projects on healthcare training. This is also related to issues of social management and social policy.

The third project is in Chongqing, the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity. This is the latest project; it is, of course, still at the initial stage, at the starting point.

We hope it can provide a demonstration for China's western development drive, as the theme of this project is connectivity and modern service industry. The service industry covers finance, banking and logistics, so this is not just hardware, or not just some investment in construction and factories, but the facilitation and simplification of the system, operation and services, so that companies can develop their potential as far as possible.

For example, for the Chongqing project, we are now discussing a proposal for the Southern Transport Corridor. The Southern Transport Corridor concerns the railway from Gansu to Chongqing, and all the way to the Qinzhou Port in Guangxi Beibu Gulf.

The railway is already there, but the problem is that we need to simplify the procedures, reduce the time, reduce costs, so that companies can use this logistical line and export goods more conveniently.

The western part of China may have rich resources and a vast territory with a big population, but it faces a big problem of too great a distance, so it is not so convenient to reach the international market, as there is a distance of thousands of kilometres from the Yangtze River down to Shanghai.

It will be more convenient and faster if we use the Southern Transport Corridor to reach Beibu Gulf. It will also be faster from Beibu Gulf to Singapore, and also very convenient to reach South-east Asia. From South-east Asia, you can immediately use the international shipping to go to all the countries in the world.

These are the specific cooperation projects, and we choose key areas which are meaningful to China, able to match China's policy focus and developments. We do it together when both sides feel it is meaningful and there is value in them.

Q On the basis of economic and trade cooperation, both countries cannot avoid cooperation in areas like social governance, sustainable development and cultural exchanges. On the basis of trade and economic ties, what do you think are other areas of cooperation between Singapore and China?

A In fact, many Chinese officials have come to Singapore for training, and many officials from Singapore have visited China, too, for observation tours, so both of us learn from each other and exchange experiences.

This is very valuable. We also have some formal cooperation projects. For example, we have held the Forum on Leadership with the Organisation Department, and also a high-level Social Governance Forum with the Political and Legal Affairs Commission.

These forums provide a platform for our officials and cadres to have the opportunity to interact, learn from each other, and absorb each other's experiences. This is a two-way exchange, and not only a one-way exchange.

We face some similar problems, and even though our national conditions are different, we can look at how others are solving problems, get some inspiration, and be more flexible and more effective in dealing with our own problems.

Q In 2015, Singapore launched the smart nation vision for 2025, and this is Singapore's national policy. You have mentioned recently the convenience of mobile payment in China. Why do you raise China as an example for electronic payment?

A Because you have moved at the fastest pace in this area, and may be the most advanced and most widespread in the world.

I have not experienced China's electronic payments personally, but my friends told me that cash is no longer used in China, and payments are made via Alipay or WeChat. So when people go out, they say they do not fear not having money in the pockets, but fear that the batteries run flat in their mobile phones, so this is a very convenient payment system for the residents.

We have not reached this level, we are still trying. But to see China reaching that level, I want to inspire Singaporeans that if China can do it, we should learn from them, learn from their experience, and we should also be able to do it. In fact, in Singapore, some merchants are also offering the Alipay service, including some taxis. You can use Alipay to pay if you board the taxis, so it will be a convenience for tourists from China, making them feel at home.

Q The Chinese Communist Party will convene the 19th party congress on Oct 18. I would like to ask you for your evaluation of China's overall development in the next five or 10 years.

A I have visited China for more than 30 years, and over the past 30 years, I have witnessed a huge change in China. All the cities and all the provinces are much more prosperous than before, and have grown many times. Not all the cities are like Shanghai or Beijing, but all the cities have made huge progress compared to 10 or 20 years ago.

This is a national change, and there are also huge changes in the areas of infrastructure, for example airports, highways, high-speed rail, communications and telecommunication networks. One can go online immediately in every place and in every city in China. Life is very convenient today; this was unthinkable 30 years ago.

China's companies, including telecommunication companies and various technology companies, are in fact among the best on the international platform, or on the global platform. Taobao, WeChat, Huawei - these are not only big companies, but companies with very advanced leading technology.

Therefore, China has made a lot of progress in many areas. Our deepest impression is that the thinking of the Chinese people has changed, and their way of life is different; their expectations of the future, their determination to solve problems, their courage to seek new breakthroughs, all this does not come by easily.

Everyone feels that the people of China have stood up. From the Opium Wars more than 160 years ago to the present, China is going through a great rejuvenation -大复兴 - and it wants to boost its own capability with this courage and this determination.

I think there will certainly be challenges in the next five to 10 years. China is a big and complex country, and running China is never a simple matter. But with such courage and unity, China will certainly overcome the difficulties, continue to develop and move forward.

From Singapore's point of view, we think this is a very good thing, because a successful China, one which is prosperous and self-confident, a China with peaceful and mutually beneficial ties with neighbouring countries and other countries is not only a blessing for China, but also a good thing for the world.

  • Translated by Lim Ruey Yan
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline 'How Singapore-China ties have kept up with the times'. Subscribe