Singapore-China ties: 40 years on, progressing with the times

This is an excerpt of a speech by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat at Nanjing University, China, on Monday

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up policy, and the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore. Mr Deng visited Singapore in November 1978 before China made a significant decision in December on reform and opening up. In 1976, Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, visited China for the first time.

This exchange of visits laid the foundation for cooperation between both countries. Mr Deng was impressed by Singapore's development. He saw how an open economy had helped Singapore grow. Mr Lee told Mr Deng that whatever Singapore achieved, China could do better.

Since then, China has steadily opened up its economy and achieved remarkable progress. A significant step was when China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001. China's opening up to world trade was a master stroke in stimulating domestic reforms. China is also plugging into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is investing heavily in technologies.

In the next phase of China's growth, China is "reforming and opening up" even further. China is expanding and deepening external linkages with other countries with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It provides a path for shared development between China and the region. Singapore is an early supporter of the BRI. The BRI opens up new frontiers of connectivity and promotes new areas of cooperation, especially for countries along BRI to advance the lives of our people.

The first area is transport connectivity to promote flow of goods and services and connect people. There is also a significant demand for infrastructure in Asia. The Singapore-China (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI) is a priority demonstration project for the BRI, Western Region Development and Yangtze River Economic Belt strategies. The CCI-Southern Transport Corridor will enhance connectivity from western China to South-east Asia.

Further liberalisation of the China-Singapore Air Services Agreement will better connect the air networks of both countries with the world. China is Singapore's largest trading partner. Singapore is China's largest foreign investor. We look forward to concluding a major upgrade to the China-Singapore free trade agreement (FTA), implementing the Asean-China FTA upgrade and achieving a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement. These are positive steps towards improving trade connectivity, during a period when protectionism is rising in other parts of the world.

Second, we can strengthen financial connectivity to support trade and investments so that our countries can grow and prosper. China's renminbi internationalisation policy is a very significant step in China's development and in the global economy. Singapore has been a strong supporter. Singapore supports China's "going out" strategy, and can help more Chinese companies expand into the Asean region. Singapore and China are also working together in third countries along the Belt and Road.

Third, we can strengthen the flow of people to promote exchange of ideas and meet the evolving needs of our people.

The cooperation of our two countries reflects our longstanding and close friendship. Singapore is undergoing leadership renewal and transiting into "fourth-generation leadership". The younger leaders in Singapore will build on the strong foundation that past and current leaders have built with China over the years.

China's Belt and Road Initiative opens up new frontiers of connectivity and promotes new areas of cooperation, says Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. One of these areas, he adds, is transport connectivity to promote the flow of goods and services and connect people. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli has described Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean 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.


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping have affirmed that Singapore and China shared a demonstrative, strategic and forward-looking relationship. They have aptly characterised our relations as an "all-round cooperative partnership progressing with the times". It is timely to explore how we can take our mutually beneficial cooperation to the next level.

This cooperation will be based on important leadership and governance principles.

First, governance and policies must change with the times and remain relevant. No policy is applicable to all contexts and all times. Our operating environments are always changing. People's aspirations evolve. There are three major shifts that many countries will have to prepare for: shift in global economic weight towards Asia; emergence of new technologies; and ageing populations.

These will interact in different ways, bring new challenges, but also new opportunities. Government policies must adapt to these changes to best serve our people's needs. Governments must be prepared to make bold changes, sometimes even against conventional ways. But, always in a well-thought-through manner, with a devotion to finding what works best for their countries.

Second, to formulate polices with depth, breadth and a long-term view, that are informed through citizen engagement. Good policies must be based on a good understanding of issues and their complex interconnections. This calls for us to mobilise the knowledge and energy of all our stakeholders. Good policies must also take into account the breadth of their potential impact and a long-term view. To achieve these, governments need to engage citizens actively, widely and in a multifaceted way. In this way, we better understand the needs and aspirations of citizens, and foster public consensus. Good policies must have good implementation.

Third, governments need to actively collaborate with and learn from other countries, and maintain good relations. 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.

To facilitate international collaboration, a stable and favourable global environment is key. Developments in or actions by one country can affect other countries. Singapore seeks to build good relations with other countries, and to be a credible and consistent partner, playing constructive roles in international affairs.

The three principles must be focused on one common vision: to build better lives for our people, united by shared values. Shared values engender trust and togetherness in a country. Leaders of a country need to live by these shared values and promote them throughout the society. This unwavering vision is at the heart of every generation of leaders in Singapore. I am sure this is the case in China too.

Since China's reform and opening up, Singapore and China have developed many areas of all-round cooperation. We are enhancing our cooperation further to meet evolving needs, including in the BRI. We have a long friendship that goes back many years, and we look forward to more win-win partnerships in future.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore-China ties: 40 years on, progressing with the times'. Print Edition | Subscribe