Singapore, China can collaborate to support Asia growth

Heng Swee Keat highlights areas such as enterprise and infrastructure financing

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at China Construction Bank Singapore's 20th anniversary event yesterday.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking at China Construction Bank Singapore's 20th anniversary event yesterday. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has reaffirmed strong economic ties between Singapore and China and outlined three areas in which the two countries can work together to support the region's growth.

Speaking at China Construction Bank Singapore's 20th anniversary event yesterday, Mr Heng noted that Singapore has been China's largest foreign investor for five consecutive years.

"In 2017, when China was already Singapore's largest trading partner, bilateral trade volumes increased further by 17 per cent year on year to $137.1 billion," he said.

The two countries are also negotiating the upgrade of the bilateral free trade agreement.

With Asia being the fastest-growing region in the world, with gross domestic product growth at an average rate of about 6.4 per cent per annum from now till 2023, he said Singapore and China can collaborate to support the region's growth.

First, he said that Singapore offers a strong base to serve the growing capital-raising needs of Asian enterprises which are seeking to expand regionally and globally.

He noted that Singapore is a leading financial centre, with a wide range of financial institutions and a deep liquid bond market.

He added that enterprises - local and foreign - are able to raise Singapore dollar and foreign currency bonds and tap the diversified investor base in Singapore, including fund managers, insurance companies and private banks.

The second area is in financing infrastructure. It has been estimated that to maintain Asia's growth momentum, investments of US$1.7 trillion (S$2.34 trillion) per year till 2030 is needed.

He cited China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), noting that the trade infrastructure project has a "very high potential to enhance connectivity and accelerate infrastructure development across Asia".

Singapore has been an early supporter of the BRI. Nearly a third of China's total outbound investments to BRI countries flows through Singapore; while Singapore's investments in China also account for 85 per cent of total inbound investments from BRI countries.

Mr Heng said Singapore has set up an infrastructure office, called Infrastructure Asia, to partner key stakeholders across the region and catalyse more project opportunities, including the BRI, to meet the region's infrastructure needs.

"It will also work with the Monetary Authority of Singapore to bring together international sources of financing, and channel them towards sound and sustainable projects in the region," he said.

Mr Heng noted that the bank started its operations in Singapore in 1998 during the Asian Financial Crisis and has a presence in 29 countries and cities. He added that China Construction Bank Singapore has been an active infrastructure financier here, and invited it to play an active role in Infrastructure Asia.

The bank has signed memorandums of understanding with companies including Singapore engineering and construction conglomerate Surbana Jurong, and environmental solutions provider Envirotech to identify, pursue and develop business opportunities.

The final area is in enhancing digital financial services, said Mr Heng. He said the rapid expansion of the Asian middle class will spur urbanisation and demand for financial services such as wealth management and insurance. China Construction Bank Singapore can use Singapore to tap growing demand from the region's affluent consumers.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2018, with the headline Singapore, China can collaborate to support Asia growth. Subscribe