TL;DR – China places great importance on bilateral ties with Singapore.
Earlier this year, China held the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Summit. It was a major event for China to rally various countries to its Belt and Road Initiative to the world. Leaders of many nations attended the summit. But PM Lee wasn’t one of those leaders who attended.
At that time, PM Lee’s absence at the OBOR Summit was seen as a big deal. Many people saw that as a sign that Singapore has lost favour with China. One of those people was SDP’s Chee Soon Juan. Chee said:
“Let’s not beat around the bush. PM Lee Hsien Loong’s absence at the New Silk Road summit currently taking place in China is a big deal… the development can only be described as doomy (sic).”
Chee asserted that PM Lee was left out of the summit because China is “peeved that Singapore remains an integral part of the US’ security network in Asia”.
If China’s peeved with us, why did they invite PM Lee to visit?
PM Lee is currently in China on an official visit. That visit came at the invitation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
When the two met, Premier Li said that China places great importance on the ties between China and Singapore. Premier Li also said the relationship between Singapore and China is built on a foundation of mutual respect and is one of equal footing, and this has been to the benefit of both peoples.
That’s right, China’s Premier said that there is mutual respect between China and Singapore, and that our relationship is on an equal footing. Not as a vassal to its lord. That certainly doesn’t sound “doomy” to us. Instead, it sounds like China wishes to continue to build upon the foundation of our relationship.
Signs of a better age
Indeed, as China continues to develop and prosper, the good relationship between China and Singapore bodes well for both countries.
In an interview with Xinhua News before the visit, PM Lee highlighted that he had been visiting China for over thirty years. In that time, he witnessed the development of China. All parts of China today are more developed and prosperous than thirty years ago.
Today, some of China’s companies are the amongst the world leaders in their field. For example Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei lead the world in various technological areas. Beyond these, PM Lee pointed out that the greatest development he saw is the change in the mentality and lifestyle of the Chinese. Many Chinese now are optimistic about the future, are determined to overcome challenges and have the courage to find breakthroughs.
When asked how he thinks China will develop, PM Lee said that while there will certainly be problems, and even though governing a country as large as China is a complicated and difficult task, he’s sure that given the unity and courage of the Chinese, they will be able to overcome all challenges and continue to progress.
And that’s good for Singapore and the rest of the world.
Different ways of cooperation, but friendship stays the same
That’s why Singapore wants to play a part in China’s development.
In the interview with Xinhua News, PM Lee was asked for his views on new ways and formats of economic and trade collaboration there may be between Singapore and China. PM Lee replied that because China is developing so quickly, the way we cooperate needs to progress with the times (与时俱进).
As China moves into different stages of development, we will need to change the focus of our cooperation to cater to the evolving needs. The market will naturally find their way around new markets that yield the most potential and profits.
At the G2G level, PM Lee talked about the earlier key projects of Suzhou and Tianjing, and he also brought up how the focus is now on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI). PM Lee hopes that the CCI can serve as a model for China’s push to develop its western region.
For instance, one project under the CCI is the Southern Transport Corridor, a new trade route between western China and South-east Asia. From South-east Asia, goods from western China can reach the rest of the world.
From all these signs, the friendship between China and Singapore remains strong, and best summed up by remarks from Mr Bai Tian, vice director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asia department:
“We are confident of the deepening ties between China and Singapore, and believe that both countries will work to sustain these relations in the future”
In other words, our relations with China is far from “doomy”, more like we are buddies. And that is great from both China and Singapore.
(Featured image via PM Lee’s Facebook)