Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ties with China multifaceted and strong: Josephine Teo

Members of the Singapore and Chinese delegations at the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meetings in Beijing, China, on Monday. Singapore's suggestions on the Belt and Road initiative were welcomed by the Chinese.
Members of the Singapore and Chinese delegations at the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meetings in Beijing, China, on Monday. Singapore's suggestions on the Belt and Road initiative were welcomed by the Chinese.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MCI

Both sides will forge new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation, she says

The friendship Singapore shares with China is one that has developed over the years, with the foundation laid in the early days by late state leaders Lee Kuan Yew and Deng Xiaoping, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

Successive generations of officials and leaders on both sides continued building on the relationship.

Such strong friendship and goodwill allow both countries to speak candidly with each other, and discuss concretely how the relationship can be elevated, said Mrs Teo, speaking during the debate on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' budget.

This can be seen in the discussion of China's Belt and Road initiative, she said, referring to the programme that promotes infrastructure projects along historical land and sea trade routes.

Singapore has made three suggestions on the programme to China, she added.

One, the Southern Transport Corridor that links Chongqing to the Asean region, through the Beibu Gulf in southern Guangxi, can help to connect the land-based Silk Route Economic Belt with the ocean-going 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Two, greater trade, digital and financial connectivity along the Belt and Road will create investment opportunities and enhance the flow of goods and capital.

Finally, Singapore and China can work together to train officials from countries along the Belt and Road, to develop human capital. This will boost growth and hasten projects under the initiative.

These ideas were welcomed by the Chinese at the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting that ended earlier this week, she said in a speech in Mandarin.

The joint council is a high-level platform for discussing ways to deepen and broaden Singapore-China cooperation.

Mrs Teo spoke at length on the deep ties between the two countries that started even before diplomatic ties were established in 1990.

The two countries now have three government-to-government projects - the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Singapore was one of the earliest supporters of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an international financial institution China initiated that aims to build infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific.

"Our ties with China are in good working order, resilient, and well primed for the future," added Mrs Teo, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport.

She was responding to some MPs who had asked how Singapore should navigate its relationship with China in the current world order.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) said as China continues to rise, it will gather more economic and military clout to impose its will on Asia. Should the United States disengage from South-east Asia, Singapore runs the risk of becoming economically vulnerable to foreign policies shaped by China, he added.

Ms Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) wanted an update on Sino-Singapore relations, saying the rough patch it hit last year seemed to be "behind us".

She also suggested the setting up of more contact points, both formal and informal, between the governments, businesses and people of both countries, to enhance communication and understanding.

Last November, Hong Kong Customs detained nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrex vehicles on their way to Singapore after a military exercise in Taiwan. Earlier, in September, Singapore's ambassador to China Stanley Loh had a public spat with the editor-in-chief, Mr Hu Xijin, of state-run Chinese tabloid Global Times over Singapore's role in the South China Sea dispute.

Mrs Teo said Singapore's relationship with China "has always kept up with the times, taking into account China's changing needs".

Both sides "will forge... new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation", she added.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also described Singapore's relationship with China as one that is high on resilience and strategic trust, owing to the frequent interactions between their senior leaders.

"Even when we have differences over some issues... we must recognise that our shared interests far exceed these differences," he said.

"We must not be distracted from the larger strategic imperatives, or allow incidents to derail the substantive, longstanding, and mutually beneficial cooperation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Ties with China multifaceted and strong: Josephine Teo'. Print Edition | Subscribe