Singapore and China are looking to take cooperation to a higher level, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, noting that global changes, such as the anti-globalisation push, have expanded the scope for cooperation in the region.
In an interview with Xinhua news agency published yesterday as he began a week-long visit to China, DPM Heng said the two countries have to build on what is already a "good foundation" to "grow new areas of cooperation that would meet the needs of both China and Singapore".
"With the decline in support for globalisation, with the technological changes that are happening, with the many structural changes that are happening all around the world and particularly in our region, the scope for cooperation has actually been enlarged. So, the challenges are greater but so are the opportunities," he said.
Mr Heng, who is on his first visit to China as deputy prime minister, added that China's growth and development can drive regional growth and the global economy, and he held up the Belt and Road Initiative as a strategic and forward-looking programme.
Noting that Singapore was an early supporter of the BRI - an initiative to build infrastructure linking China to Asia, Africa and Europe - Mr Heng said the initiative is not only about infrastructure but also about enabling the flow of ideas, peoples and capital, which then leads to greater collaboration and understanding between people from all over the world.
The same messages also emerged yesterday in a meeting between Mr Heng and Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.
The Deputy Prime Minister noted that government agencies from both sides have followed up well since last year's Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting in Singapore, delivering results such as the new Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council (SSCCC) - the Republic's eighth business council with a provincial-level area in China.
Both leaders reaffirmed the strong, multi-faceted and longstanding relations between the two countries, and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation under the BRI, such as in financial connectivity and legal and judicial services, Mr Heng's press secretary said.
This is the first year that Mr Heng will co-chair the JCBC, the highest-level forum between the two countries, having taken over Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.
At the meeting, Mr Han said: "I'm very ready to work with you under the framework of the JCBC, as co-chairs of both sides, to move our bilateral cooperation to a higher level."
In the Xinhua interview, Mr Heng was also asked what he felt was the biggest challenge he faces as Singapore's new deputy prime minister.
With the decline in support for globalisation, with the technological changes that are happening, with the many structural changes that are happening all around the world and particularly in our region, the scope for cooperation has actually been enlarged. So, the challenges are greater but so are the opportunities.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT, on the anti-globalisation push.
He said it is maintaining the societal consensus that the country has achieved so far and finding ways to mobilise Singaporeans to solve problems together.
Singapore needs to be able to tackle immediate issues while keeping sight of the long run.
To do so, the Republic has to be able to maintain the societal consensus it was able to achieve in the past 50 or so years of independence on what its short-and long-term challenges are, he said.
Among the challenges facing Singapore is a rapidly ageing population, which entails questions of how to keep Singaporeans productive, living long, healthy lives and to be able to keep doing the things they enjoy.
Another is how to transform the economy by tapping technology and innovation, said Mr Heng.
Even as the Government tackles the immediate challenges, it has to think long term and sometimes "undertake policies that may not be so obvious or of immediate concern to our people", said Mr Heng.
"But if we set ourselves on the right trajectory from the beginning, I think we have a better chance of succeeding," he said.
Mr Heng is scheduled to meet other senior officials, such as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and top diplomat Yang Jiechi today, before travelling to Shanghai to co-chair the inaugural SSCCC meeting with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong and deliver a keynote speech at the 2019 Pujiang Innovation Forum, where Singapore has been designated country of honour.
He will then continue on to Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.