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Singapore-China Bilateral Relations: 30 Years On

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Singapore’s president Halimah Yacob, and prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang respectively last weekend in commemoration of three decades of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Close ties in spite of COVID-19 pandemic

In her congratulatory message to President Xi, Madam Halimah said that she was “heartened” that Singapore has continued to maintain “close and frequent exchanges at all levels” despite the challenges brought about the pandemic.

Prime Minister Lee also echoed similar sentiments in his letter to Premier Li, stating that Singapore and China have “continued to support each other through the COVID-19 outbreak, and identified new areas of cooperation to propel our relationship forward”.

In response, President Xi remarked that China and Singapore have understood each other and kept pace with the times to promote the development of bilateral relations.

Good momentum in development of bilateral relations

Since the beginning of Singapore’s diplomatic ties with China in the 1980s, the two countries have collaborated to create multiple successful projects.

One of these is the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, a trade and logistics passage jointly built by Chinese provincial regions and Singapore under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative Strategic Connectivity, or Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI).

As of end-June this year, the land-sea freight route has linked 234 ports in 92 countries, with a total of 1,966 trips since its opening in September 2017. Goods transported along this route comprise more than 350 categories, including automobiles and auto parts, chemical raw materials, pharmaceutical products, as well as fresh and frozen goods.

China has been Singapore’s largest trading partner, and Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor since 2013.

Singapore has also actively collaborated with China to improve digital connectivity to boost the digital economy – an area that has become more pertinent since the onset of the pandemic.

In June, the first Joint Implementation Committee meeting of the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative was held online. Eight MOUs were signed during the meeting.

This initiative is believed to facilitate the digital collaboration between Southeast Asia and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area in South China. Additionally, Singapore and Chongqing also co-hosted the Smart China Expo (SCE) Online in September.

At the SCE, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo noted that Singapore and Chongqing have a shared commitment to be at the forefront of digital connectivity, and digital connectivity is a key pillar of the CCI.

Thirdly, China and Singapore have also been making concerted efforts to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, officials from both countries have been meeting regularly. A fast lane connecting six Chinese provinces and municipalities with Singapore was also established in June to facilitate essential business and official travel.

Notably, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee visited Singapore in August, and met with Prime Minister Lee, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and other senior officials.

Singapore’s Asian Civilisation Museum and the Shanghai Museum will also jointly host an exhibition on shipwreck treasures from the Tang Dynasty, which dates from 617 to 907 AD. This will mark the latter’s first international collaborative exhibition after its reopening this year. At a preluding seminar to the exhibition, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said that the show is particularly significant as the collection is a tangible demonstration of the long-standing historical links between China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, which continue to flourish today.

Hopes for future development of bilateral relations

In their exchange, all three leaders expressed their hopes for the further development of bilateral relations between Singapore and China.

In view of the thriving bilateral cooperation between the two countries in spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19, Madam Halimah expressed “confidence” that they would bring the bilateral relations between Singapore and China to even greater heights.

Prime Minister Lee also affirmed the cooperative efforts between Singapore and China during the pandemic, saying he is looking forward to “working with [China] to strengthen the multilateral infrastructure that binds our world today, and to bring [Singapore and China’s] bilateral relationship to greater heights.

In response, President Xi stressed that China and Singapore have understood and supported each other and kept pace with the times to promote the development of bilateral relations.

He also added that he attaches great importance to the development of China-Singapore relations, and is ready to join efforts with Singapore to continue to uphold multilateralism and free trade, as well as push for greater progress of bilateral relations.

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