The scope for Singapore-China cooperation is growing despite the rise of anti-globalisation sentiment, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said.
Against the backdrop of technological and structural changes, the scope for cooperation between Singapore and China has been enlarged, Heng told ahead of his visit to China, which will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong Province and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
In Shanghai, he will co-chair the inaugural meeting of the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council (SSCCC) the eighth business council between Singapore and China with Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, and deliver a keynote speech at the 2019 Pujiang Innovation Forum.
Noting that the SSCCC serves as a good example of expanded potential, Heng said, “The challenges (today) are greater, but so are the opportunities.”
As Singapore and China look to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relationships in 2020, Heng reaffirmed robust economic relations between the two countries, adding that Singapore will continue to seek new growth opportunities with China, the world’s second largest economy.
The SSCCC will cover six cooperation areas – China-proposed Belt & Road Initiative, financial services, technology and innovation, ease of doing business, urban governance and people-to-people exchanges.
These will be crucial in shaping future growth, improving the quality of people’s livelihood and opening up new collaboration in trade, investments and modern services, which are all needed as “the global supply chain evolves to adapt to structural changes happening all around the world,” said Heng, who is also Singapore’s finance minister.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road Initiative is “a strategic and forward-looking initiative,” which can help to promote connectivity, facilitate flow of goods, capital and services, and enable economic collaboration and deeper understanding among peoples across different parts of the world, Heng said.
“We’ve been a very early supporter of the Belt & Road Initiative because we see the strategic value of this initiative, and how it can be a key enabler for the next stage of regional as well as global economic development,” he added.
Reflecting on the history of long-standing cooperation through the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), Heng said the two countries have been able to find new modalities and areas of cooperation at every stage of its own development and in the global economy.
The JCBC is the top institutionalised platform overseeing cooperation between Singapore and China, which Heng is now co-chairing with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng.
In addition, Singapore has seven existing business councils with China, in the provinces and municipality of Shandong, Sichuan, Liaoning, Zhejiang, Tianjin, Jiangsu and Guangdong – which are crucial to driving different areas of development, said Heng.
East China’s Jiangsu Province is home to the Suzhou Industrial Park, the first government-to-government cooperative project between Singapore and China, which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Since then, the two countries have embarked on two other projects, such as the Tianjin Eco-City and the Chongqing Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity, which has a new trade route the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor significantly cutting the time span and expenses of goods transport between northwest inland Chinese cities and Singapore, and beyond.
Heng said these business councils have helped enhance the knowledge of collaboration potential as well as mutual people-to-people understanding, adding that he “looks forward to seeing how Singapore and Shanghai can cooperate and deepen this collaboration.”
“We will have to think of ways to build on what is already a very good foundation and take it to a higher level (in order to) grow new areas of cooperation that will meet the needs of both China and Singapore (as well as in) the wider ASEAN region.”
China has witnessed “an impressive and spectacular” set of developments since its founding 70 years ago, which “has helped to catalyse developments all around China,” said Heng.
With around 800 million Chinese people lifted out of poverty, they now enjoy a much higher standard of living, while its cities and infrastructure have undergone massive development, which Heng lauded as an “unprecedented” feat in human history.
As China continues to restructure its economy, stimulate domestic consumption, upgrade infrastructure and environment, and try to provide better healthcare, housing and education for its people, Heng believed these are major drivers for China’s continued economic growth.
China’s continued growth “can help to add driving forces to the global economy and certainly to the regional economy.”
China is now Singapore’s largest trading partner. Looking at a broader spectrum, China now stands as the largest trading partner for most ASEAN countries, a 10-member regional bloc which includes Singapore, and also with neighbouring countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea a signal of the significantly growing inter linkages between China and other countries in the region, he added.
Initiatives like the BRI and the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement would continue to drive growth and open up more business opportunities for partners involved in the region.
By keeping Singapore “united, cohesive and forward-looking,” it can then tackle these longer-term challenges, such as an ageing population and economic transformation through technology and innovation, which is rendered harder by shrinking support for globalisation, Heng said.
Despite domestic adverse elements and global uncertainties, Heng remained optimistic about Singapore’s future.
Asia will continue to be among the fastest growing regions in the world and Singapore will benefit as it is situated “in the heart of this vibrant growing region,” he said.
Even though global forces have shaped Singapore’s development, Singaporeans have come together to respond to these challenges and created new opportunities, said Heng.
He opined that Singapore can ride on the tide of the 4th Industrial Revolution by tapping on new developments in science and technology, and search for new business models and innovative ideas in order to address these challenges to help the nation prosper.
Some of the key areas going forward will be building Singapore as “a global Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise,” while strengthening Singapore’s social fabric, said the deputy prime minister.
In addition, Singapore will continue to maintain very constructive relationships with China and other partners in Asia and all around the world.
“I believe that this is important for us to build a more stable and prosperous world in the coming years,” Heng said.