Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday thanked Singapore and its businesses for taking part in China's reform and opening up in the 40 years that have passed since Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's first official visit here in 1978.
"Our countries have stood side by side, through thick and thin, in the face of hardships and difficulties and, going forward, if we continue to do so, we will continue to overcome any kind of difficulty," Mr Li said in a keynote speech, describing being at a dinner hosted for him by the Singapore Business Federation and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a "heartwarming occasion".
"It has been a win-win for both sides," he added.
The event at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre was held in conjunction with Mr Li's first official visit to Singapore as premier, during which he is attending the 33rd Asean Summit and related meetings.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who also attended the dinner, told close to 1,000 business leaders and senior executives from Singapore, China and other regional countries that the agreements signed between the two countries on Monday - there were more than 10 - show that cooperation between both sides "continues to evolve with our developmental needs".
For instance, an upgraded free trade agreementwas inked on Monday between the two countries, providing easier entry into China's legal, maritime and construction service sectors for Singapore businesses, as well as improved rules of origin for certain petrochemical products, among other things.
Mr Heng said that this "signals our joint commitment towards greater economic collaboration and trade liberalisation… (and) allows us to keep abreast of business developments by incorporating commitments in new areas such as e-commerce". He added that Singapore supports China's "going out" policy. "As China's capacity to export capital and expertise to the region and the world increases, Singapore can be a useful springboard for companies to venture into third markets, especially in South-east Asia."
The China-Singapore relationship will continue to move forward, said Mr Li, adding that more agreements are in the pipeline.
Mr Li also lauded China's partnership with Singapore as being "comprehensive and highly innovative", noting that the first character of "Singapore", when rendered in Chinese, symbolises the country's "ceaselessly innovative" nature.
"I think the Chinese have shown their sincerity and goodwill in coming up with the current Chinese translation of Singapore," he quipped, drawing applause from the audience.
China will continue to foster conditions conducive to long-term investment and good business returns, said Mr Li.
"I believe we have bountiful opportunities for cooperation, and these opportunities that we together generate will deliver benefits to people of our two countries."
Mr Li will call on President Halimah Yacob today.