China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is anticipated to create demand growth for shipping and Singapore is keen to continue playing an important role in the ambitious development strategy, according to Singapore’s minister for trade and industry Chan Chun Sing.
Chan was speaking as a panellist at the 13th Singapore Maritime Lecture on Monday, held as part of the annual Singapore Maritime Week.
“For China, the Belt and Road Initiative is its way to secure its supply and distribution chains as consumerism increases, and infrastructure is needed to meet this demand. Such developments will create growth opportunities for the shipping industry,” Chan told the lecture audience.
Managing Director of Pacific International Lines (PIL) SS Teo, who is also on the board of China COSCO Shipping and chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, recalled that Singapore was one of the first few countries to respond positively to the BRI when it was first announced in 2013.
“For my company PIL, BRI actually resonates among us as in the very early days, we were the only foreign shipping line carrying personnel and project cargo when China was building the Zambia-Tanzania railway in the 60s. So we took part in the BRI long ago, only that now it is in a different form,” Teo said.
On the role that Singapore can play, Teo said the republic can help to bridge the gap between the Chinese and other countries. Singapore, for example, has set up a new government agency called Infrastructure Asia to help the Chinese BRI projects work together with companies especially those outside Singapore.
Infrastructure Asia can provide project supervision, financing, and even arbitration.
“I’d say BRI is inevitable and it’s not going to be 10-20 years project; it’ll be for over centuries and we should all look at it with a very open mind. The Chinese also have to learn how to better fine-tune the BRI,” Teo said.
Minister Chan weighed in to say that China appreciates Singapore’s role as “we bring in a certain way of doing business whereby we look at the projects objectively from a market and commercial principles.”
Chan said: “They China appreciate our capabilities in the way that we are able to syndicate the loans and provide arbitration services. These are neutral, professional services that can complement the BRI, and increasingly both the Chinese central government and many of their businesses are finding Singapore as an attractive hub to use our capabilities in those areas to complement what they do in the physical mode.”