China's top diplomat calls on PM Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Heng Swee Keat during visit

Mr Yang Jiechi (left) called on PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Aug 20, 2020. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS & INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other key Singapore leaders on Thursday (Aug 20), during his three-day visit to Singapore.

They discussed topics such as the bilateral cooperation and the coronavirus situation, and also exchanged views on global and regional developments.

Mr Yang is a member of China's Politburo and heads the Chinese Communist Party's foreign affairs office. During his visit, he called on PM Lee at the Istana and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his office.

"Despite the ongoing pandemic, it's a good feeling to return to some semblance of normalcy," PM Lee said in a Facebook post, adding that he had a "fruitful meeting" with Mr Yang. Singapore and China are commemorating 30 years of formal ties this year.

In a statement, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said PM Lee and Mr Yang affirmed the strong ties between both countries.

They expressed appreciation for the mutual support between Singapore and China during the pandemic, and welcomed the continued good progress in bilateral cooperation in spite of Covid-19, said MFA.

Singapore and China had earlier agreed on a "fast lane" for essential business and official travel between both countries, which covers six Chinese provinces and municipalities so far. "Hopefully this list will grow if the situation stays under control," PM Lee said.

In a separate post, DPM Heng wrote that his meeting with Mr Yang was his first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since the Covid-19 situation escalated. The two last met in China in May 2019.

Mr Heng added that the relationship between Singapore and China is "deep and multifaceted".

Both countries have worked closely to combat the public health and economic impact of the pandemic, he said. They also agreed that both sides should work together - as well as with other countries - to strengthen supply chain and cross-border connectivity to facilitate economic recovery.

Mr Heng said the ideas they talked about can be taken up at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, which is the highest-level bilateral platform between both countries.

It is jointly chaired by DPM Heng and Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng, and it is Singapore's turn to host the meeting later this year.

"As we gradually resume daily activities and re-open our borders, we can look forward to more high-level exchanges, with safe measures in place, as we strengthen our ties with countries around the world," Mr Heng said.

He added that the pandemic has highlighted how interconnected the world is. "We must work in close cooperation with all countries to overcome this pandemic and emerge stronger."

Mr Yang was also hosted to lunch by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, while Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan hosted breakfast.

Mr Teo said the two took a stroll along the Singapore River, visiting the Deng Xiaoping commemorative marker along that stretch, as well as the Tang Shipwreck Exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Both countries need to work together more closely to strengthen cooperation within a rules-based international order, and to secure the well-being, safety and prosperity of their peoples, he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said in a separate post that both leaders had a fruitful discussion on bilateral relations, and discussed regional and global developments in a post-coronavirus world.

They also witnessed a cheque presentation ceremony for a charity project initiated by the Singaporean community in China to help alleviate poverty in Chongqing's Pengshui County.

Mr Yang's trip to Singapore is his first visit to South-east Asia since the pandemic began.

He will travel to Busan on Friday and hold talks with South Korea's new national security adviser, Mr Suh Hoon, on Saturday.

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