Wednesday 2 March 2016

Singapore-China ties: A progressive partnership

By Vivian Balakrishnan, Published The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Last year, Singapore and China commemorated 25 years of diplomatic relations, culminating in the exchange of state visits by Singapore President Tony Tan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. We established an All-Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times.

Singapore and China have had interactions for many centuries. Singapore has always been part of the Maritime Silk Road. The majority of our (Singapore's) citizens have ancestors from China. We enjoy a longstanding, wide-ranging relationship that transcends politics. The landmark visits by Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (1976) and China's former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (1978) laid a strong foundation for the modern phase of our bilateral relations, prior to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties in 1990.

Last year, Singapore and China commemorated 25 years of diplomatic relations, culminating in the exchange of state...
Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Mr Lee Kuan Yew always believed that a strong China that was positively engaged with South-east Asia would strongly benefit the region. That was why he suggested we jointly develop the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994, our first government-to-government project, to promote the exchange of development experiences.

In 2007, when China's focus shifted to sustainable urbanisation, we embarked on our second government-to-government project - the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. We have also launched other "private sector-led, government-supported" projects to respond to different aspects of China's development interests, including the Guangzhou Knowledge City, Sichuan Hi-tech Innovation Park, Nanjing Eco Hi-tech Island and Jilin Food Zone.

Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi launched our third government- to-government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), during President Xi's state visit to Singapore. The CCI supports China's key development strategies and will draw upon the comparative advantages of Singapore and China to prototype policy innovations and enhance connectivity in the areas of finance, aviation, transport and logistics, and infocommunication technology.

Singapore-China relations have been a pathfinder for China's engagement of the region. We are the first Asian country to conclude a free trade agreement (FTA) with China. Singapore was China's largest foreign investor from 2013 to 2015, and China is our largest trading partner. To support our growing economic ties, we aim to upgrade the FTA by the end of 2016.

Human resource development remains a key pillar of our cooperation. Since the mid-1990s, we have received more than 50,000 Chinese officials and cadres on training and visit programmes. These exchanges facilitate mutual learning and the fostering of friendships. Bilateral cooperation has also broadened to include financial services, social governance and environmental protection, among others.

As China develops, its role in the regional and global system also evolves. Singapore remains a strong proponent of China's integration into the international community. We welcome and support China's new initiatives, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative.

Singapore and China also work closely to promote regional cooperation. This year marks the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations. Over the years, ASEAN-China relations have grown rapidly, based on the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation and ASEAN centrality. ASEAN-China cooperation is substantive and broad-based.

We just upgraded the ASEAN-China FTA and will have a commemorative summit this year. We also designated 2016 as the year of ASEAN-China educational cooperation. Both ASEAN and China have a strategic interest in maintaining a peaceful, stable and thriving neighbourhood.

As the current ASEAN-China dialogue relations coordinator, Singapore will work objectively with all parties to promote positive and forward-looking ASEAN-China relations. This includes sensibly managing the territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea between China and some ASEAN member states.

As a non-claimant state, Singapore does not take positions on the claims. We encourage the claimants to exercise self-restraint and resolve their differences peacefully in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The South China Sea is a vital lifeline for the region's survival. All countries whose trade passes through the South China Sea, or whose ships or aircraft use the South China Sea, have a legitimate interest in upholding the right of freedom of navigation and overflight, and international law. As directed by our leaders, ASEAN and China should fully abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and expeditiously conclude a Code of Conduct.

Singapore-China relations have come a long way. We are old friends, and China knows that Singapore will always remain steadfast to our old friends. Singapore consistently adheres to our "one-China" policy. The historic meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore last year reflects the strong foundation of mutual trust that underpins our bilateral relations, and Singapore's hope to help foster the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.

We have many high-level exchanges that will further strengthen our close ties. Prime Minister Lee has visited China almost every year since becoming prime minister.

I look forward to working with our Chinese friends to build on our special friendship, which is based on mutual trust, respect and understanding established by generations of leaders, and to take our partnership to greater heights.

The writer is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. This article was first published in China Daily yesterday.

China, ASEAN agree to examine Singapore proposal on South China Sea
Expanded code would include coast guard ships to help avoid conflicts in disputed waters
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 2 Mar 2016

China and ASEAN have agreed to explore Singapore's proposal of an expanded Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) that includes coast guard ships to help prevent untoward clashes in the South China Sea, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has said.

The key now is to introduce the code quick enough to make the sea safer and build confidence while China and ASEAN speed up talks for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea, he told the Singapore media yesterday.

He said the proposal was made as part of Singapore's role as country coordinator for China-ASEAN relations for a three-year term that started from last August.

"We're in the situation of not being a claimant-state, which is good because it allows us to play a neutral role as we don't make any claims," added Dr Balakrishnan.

"We don't have to make any judgment as to the merits of competing arguments. Our objective is to promote peace and stability, focus on peaceful resolution of differences or conflicts, and to be an honest broker."

Dr Balakrishnan was on a two-day trip to China, his first since becoming Foreign Minister last October and right after attending an ASEAN foreign ministers' retreat in Laos last weekend.

He met Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday.

Yesterday, he met State Councillor Yang Jiechi, the Communist Party's international relations department head Song Tao, and Cyberspace Administration head Lu Wei.

Dr Balakrishnan had told reporters after his meeting with Mr Wang that they discussed exploratory ideas of a CUES but did not provide details.

Yesterday, he revealed the scope of the proposed CUES that builds on a code signed in 2014 by 21 members of the Western Pacific Naval Symposium that covers naval vessels and aircraft.

The symposium is biennial and discusses naval issues. It includes China and eight ASEAN states. There have been growing calls for a CUES in the South China Sea - where there are rival territorial claims by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia - that includes coast guard vessels and even civilian ships.

Fears of conflict have risen amid China's construction of military facilities and deployment of missile systems on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, and amid freedom of navigation and overflight missions by the United States.

Dr Balakrishnan said it is important to get buy-in and commitment from ASEAN and China on Singapore's proposal before considering the inclusion of civilian ships.

Asked about perceptions of China dragging its feet on formulating the COC, Dr Balakrishnan said Mr Wang had pledged to speed up talks and that negotiators are meeting this month.

"But I don't want to underestimate the challenges. When disputes involve national sovereignty, don't underestimate the complexity of the negotiations involved," he said.

Singapore, China looking at reducing risk of unplanned sea encounters
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Beijing, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2016

Singapore and China are working on some exploratory ideas to minimise the risk of unplanned encounters at sea, amid increased fears of potential clashes between Chinese and foreign militaries in the contentious South China Sea.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he discussed the ideas with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at their meeting yesterday, and that both sides would work on them in the coming months.

Speaking to reporters later without taking questions, Dr Balakrishnan said both sides had "very frank, useful and constructive" discussions on the South China Sea disputes and that Singapore, though not a claimant state, has to fulfil its role as country coordinator of China-ASEAN relations.

"We reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability and freedom of navigation and overflight. This is an essential lifeline for China and all ASEAN countries because so much of our trade and energy flow through this area.

"So we all have a big stake in ensuring peace and stability," said Dr Balakrishnan, who is making his first visit to China since becoming Foreign Minister on Oct 1 last year.

He added that both also discussed the importance of complying with the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and speeding up negotiations on formulating a Code of Conduct.

The South China Sea faces competing territorial claims from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Tensions have risen of late as Beijing builds new islands and deploys military equipment, while US Navy vessels and planes conduct freedom of navigation and overflight missions.

In an op-ed article published in the China Daily yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore "will work objectively with all parties to promote positive and forward-looking ASEAN-China relations" by "sensibly managing" the disputes.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Dr Balakrishnan also conveyed the concerns expressed by ASEAN foreign ministers at their retreat last Saturday as well as "the importance of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of activities to lower the temperature and prevent incidents in the South China Sea".

Mr Wang told reporters he believes Singapore could play a positive and constructive role though he stressed that it is not an issue between China and ASEAN.

"Also, some ASEAN members oppose 'specific forces' from stirring up the issue," said Mr Wang, as he advocated China's dual-track policy of conducting direct negotiations with claimant states and working with ASEAN members on maintaining peace and stability.

Dr Balakrishnan stressed that the areas of convergence and opportunities for collaboration between China and ASEAN "are far, far greater" than the areas of differences as both sides mark 25 years of relations this year through activities including a commemorative summit in Vientiane, Laos, in September.

Sino-Singapore cooperation, such as progress on the upgrade of the bilateral free trade pact and also the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, which is the third government-led project between both sides, also figured in Dr Balakrishnan's meetings with Mr Wang and Vice-President Li Yuanchao yesterday.

He is due to meet State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Cyberspace Administration head Lu Wei today before ending his trip.

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