Much work was concluded in Beijing of late by Singapore ministers and their Chinese counterparts, related to the bilateral government-to-government projects in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing. The third one was accorded priority, being a demonstration project falling under China's "Belt and Road" initiative, Western Region Development plan and its Yangtze River Economic Belt development. A number of commercial pacts between Singapore and Chongqing companies were inked as part of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative; agreements were signed to improve infrastructure and services in Tianjin Eco-City; and new areas for collaboration in research and innovation were discussed for the Suzhou Industrial Park. There was also a memorandum of understanding on intellectual property signed for the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, which is a private sector-led and government-supported project.
The substantial progress being made in different fields and regions is a result of longstanding bilateral cooperation going back to 1994, when the Suzhou project was backed by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the architect of China's modernity, Mr Deng Xiaoping. Since then, different generations of leaders and officials have tended the relationship and achieved what the Chinese Foreign Ministry described recently as "great synergy between their development strategies and bilateral cooperation". These efforts are continuing, as reflected by the presence of younger ministers such as Mr Chan Chun Sing, who oversees Singapore's involvement in the Chongqing project, and Mr Lawrence Wong, who is in charge of the Tianjin project.
Yet for all that, there is an abiding sense of realism that even old ties are subject to the vicissitudes of geopolitical changes. That was borne out in past months when diplomatic friction surfaced between the two countries. Differences in perspectives are inevitable, given the varied histories, cultures and interests that countries have. The thinking of a new cohort of leaders, changing circumstances and public mood can also give rise to divergent expectations, even among close neighbours and friends.
A small nation's foreign policy, however, cannot afford to blow with the wind. Singapore has to continue to take an independent stance on matters vital to its survival, such as free trade, freedom of navigation, application of international laws and norms to settle disputes, and respect of treaties. In doing so, Singaporeans will have to be prepared for the inevitable ups and downs in foreign relations, and not allow themselves to get too rattled or unsettled when ties take a turn for the worse, nor too euphoric or complacent when relations look rosy. A certain equanimity is called for amid the vagaries of foreign affairs.