Monday, 5 September 2016

Singapore-China Chongqing Initiative could be highlight of cooperation: Xi Jinping

Singapore could also play key role in China's new free trade zones, he tells PM Lee
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Hangzhou, The Straits Times, 3 Sep 2016

China values Singapore's keenness in developing the "One Belt, One Road" initiative and is willing to make the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) the new highlight of bilateral cooperation, President Xi Jinping told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Mr Xi also said both sides should work on raising quality and standards in the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-City, two government-led projects launched in 1994 and 2008 respectively.

Cooperation should also be deepened in areas such as finance, cyberspace, information and communication technology (ICT), social governance, law and order, counter-terrorism, and anti-corruption, Mr Xi added at the meeting held on the sidelines of the Group of 20 leaders' summit.

A Prime Minister's Office (PMO) statement said Mr Xi told Mr Lee that Singapore could play a useful role in China's newly established free trade zones (FTZs), which include Chongqing municipality.

China on Wednesday announced seven new FTZs, bringing the total number to 11. The other six are in Liaoning, Zhejiang, Henan, Hubei, Sichuan and Shaanxi provinces.

The first FTZ was set up in 2013 in Shanghai to test-bed economic reforms such as more relaxed rules towards foreign investment. A second batch of FTZs was set up in late 2014 in Fujian and Guangdong provinces, as well as Tianjin municipality.

The PMO said the two leaders had noted that officials have been working on upgrading the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, after both sides agreed to do so during Mr Xi's visit to Singapore in November.

Mr Lee said two rounds of discussions on the FTA upgrade have been held and a third is being planned, with the aim of concluding talks by this year. The current pact, which was inked in October 2008 and came into effect in January 2009, was the first comprehensive bilateral FTA that China signed with another Asian country.

The two leaders were also pleased with the good progress of the CCI, particularly in the areas of financial services and aviation connectivity, said the PMO.

Giving updates on the CCI on Thursday to Singapore reporters, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the PMO, said deals worth more than US$6 billion (S$8.2 billion) have been inked as of July.

Direct flights between Singapore and Chongqing, which have increased from five to 14 per week, will reach 17 per week this month, added Mr Chan, who is Singapore's point man on the CCI, which was launched last November.

A "digital super highway" that will provide high-speed connectivity between Singapore and Chongqing and help build up the latter's ICT infrastructure and a new digital and sharing economy is also in the pipeline.

PM Lee and President Xi Jinping reaffirm close bilateral ties
Leaders pledge to work together on various fronts, hail progress in Chongqing project
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief In Hangzhou, The Straits Times, 3 Sep 2016

Singapore and China have reaffirmed close ties and pledged to work together on various fronts, including advancing cooperation between Beijing and the Asean bloc amid tensions over the South China Sea territorial disputes.

In their meeting at the West Lake State Guesthouse yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping took note of the close and longstanding friendship between both sides as set out in a partnership framework set up last November.

A Prime Minister's Office (PMO) statement said both leaders were also pleased with the "good progress" made on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), which is the third government-led project between the two countries and is based in the south-western city.

"Referring to the existing bilateral projects between the two countries as of 'strategic importance', they discussed the CCI's role as a key platform to operationalise China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative," it added, referring to the ancient Silk Road revival efforts launched by Mr Xi in 2013 to boost China's links with the region.

The two leaders also exchanged views on Singapore's role as Asean-China dialogue relations coordinator since August last year.

"PM Lee informed President Xi that Singapore would continue to perform its role as the Asean-China dialogue relations coordinator in an objective and transparent manner and work with Asean countries and China to promote closer cooperation between both sides," said the PMO statement.

In the meeting, Mr Xi called for mutual understanding and respect on issues related to the two countries' core interests and major concerns. "Xi expects Singapore, as the coordinator for China-Asean relations, to push forward the healthy and stable development of China- Asean ties," Xinhua news agency reported, quoting a statement on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

"China, Xi added, is ready to enhance communication and coordination with Singapore in regional and international mechanisms."

Mr Xi also said the two countries should maintain high-level exchanges and strengthen communication. Concerns over Singapore-Sino ties arose after recent remarks by China that appeared to be veiled criticism of the Republic's role as Asean-China relations coordinator, particularly over the South China Sea territorial disputes between China and four Asean nations.

Addressing those concerns in his National Day Rally speech last month, Mr Lee explained why Singapore - which does not take sides on specific claims of any country in the dispute - is "doing our best to be an honest broker" as country-coordinator, because it has "a lot at stake".

Mr Lee is on a four-day working visit to China that began yesterday and will include his first trip to Chongqing since the CCI's launch. He will take part in the Group of 20 leaders' summit as one of eight guest nations invited by China. The two- day summit in Hangzhou begins tomorrow and is the first to be hosted by China.

PM Lee, Chongqing party chief discuss ways to boost bilateral project
By Pearl Lee, In Chongqing, The Sunday Times, 4 Sep 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday met Chongqing party chief Sun Zhengcai and discussed ways to take forward the newest Singapore-China bilateral project, during his visit to Chongqing.

Ten months after the launch of the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), both leaders spoke about exploring new areas for policy innovation which have a "catalytic effect and can be replicated across China", said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

They noted that the close cooperation between Singapore and the south-western Chinese city has been enhanced by the project.

The CCI also came up for discussion on Friday, when Mr Lee met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hangzhou.

The PMO said Mr Lee and Mr Sun noted the significance and support that Mr Xi has given to the project, the third government-led project between Singapore and China. The other two are the Suzhou Industrial Park, launched in 1994, and the Tianjin Eco-city, launched in 2008.

The CCI is seen as a key part of Mr Xi's "One Belt, One Road" initiative, which aims to revive two ancient trade routes that will connect 65 countries over three continents.

Yesterday, Mr Lee and Mr Sun discussed the project's role as a key platform in operationalising the initiative. They also spoke about ways to boost cooperation between Singapore and Chongqing, which was recently announced as one of seven new free trade zones in China.

Mr Lee, who was on the second day of a four-day working visit to China, also met a Singapore business delegation led by the Singapore Business Federation yesterday. Over lunch with businessmen and SBF chairman Teo Siong Seng, he spoke about the significance of the CCI, as well as opportunities for Singapore companies in Chongqing.

He also visited CapitaLand's Raffles City Chongqing development, and was shown a 3D model of the project. The 24 billion yuan (S$4.9 billion) residential and commercial development is the biggest single investment by a Singapore company in China and is scheduled to be fully completed by 2019.

CapitaLand group chief executive Lim Ming Yan explained the project's construction to Mr Lee, as the development is built on uneven terrain near the water's edge.

Yesterday, Changi Airport Group (CAG) also announced it is now connected via Chongqing to Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, with the launch of a new West Air service four times a week. This new link opens up opportunities for trade and leisure travel between Singapore and cities under China's One Belt, One Road plan, CAG said.

Today, Mr Lee will attend the Group of 20 leaders' summit in Hangzhou, at Mr Xi's invitation.

Singapore-China ties in working shape, says PM

By Kor Kian Beng, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2016

Singapore-China cooperation is progressing on many fronts, which include the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) launched last November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after his visit to China and meetings with top leaders.

Both sides are exploring ways to use the CCI - the third government-led project between Singapore and China - to test bed new policies or development strategies, PM Lee said, as he described bilateral relations to be in "working shape".

On perceived tensions over Singapore's role as China-Asean dialogue relations coordinator due to veiled criticisms by Chinese officials, PM Lee said it is "normal" for two countries to have issues, especially in a very close relationship.

"But when we have different perspectives, I think we have to manage them, accept them, and we should not allow them to affect the overall relationship," he added.

PM Lee, who was also in China to attend the Group of 20 leaders' summit as a guest nation, took part in a discussion yesterday during which he urged leaders to ratify the World Trade Organisation's Trade Facilitation Agreement to help liberalise trade.

The two-day summit, hosted by China for the first time, ended yesterday with a list of 29 outcomes. These include a blueprint for innovative growth and a set of guiding principles on global investment policymaking.

G-20 Summit

Singapore, China collaborating on many fronts: PM Lee
Natural for the two sides to hold different views; key is to manage differences and not let them affect ties, he says
By Kor Kian Beng, China Bureau Chief and Pearl Lee, In Hangzhou, The Straits Times, 6 Sep 2016

While there might be differences of views on some issues, bilateral cooperation between Singapore and China is progressing on many fronts, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Both countries, being different, will naturally have different perspectives on some issues, Mr Lee said yesterday in response to a question on perceived tensions over the Republic's role as country-coordinator for Asean-China relations.

He added the key is to manage and accept the different perspectives and not allow them to affect the overall relationship, which he said was in "working shape".

"We accept that sometimes there will be issues and things may take time. This is normal between any two countries, particularly two with a very close relationship," Mr Lee told Singapore media at the end of a four-day working visit that included meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chongqing party boss Sun Zhengcai.

He pointed out that Mr Xi, in their meeting in Hangzhou last Friday, had urged both sides to respect each other's perspectives and to work towards greater understanding when they disagree.

Mr Lee, in turn, told Mr Xi that Singapore hoped to act as an honest broker in bringing people closer together through its three-year stint as Asean-China relations coordinator, which began in August last year.

Last month, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman urged Singapore to respect China's position on the South China Sea issue and to advance Asean-China relations on the condition of not interfering in the maritime dispute between Beijing and several Asean nations.

The remarks, coming after China rejected an arbitral tribunal ruling on July 12 against its maritime claims in the South China Sea, were seen as a veiled criticism of Singapore's friendship with the United States and support of the US' continued presence in the region.

In his National Day Rally speech on Aug 21, Mr Lee outlined Singapore's foreign policy principle of acting independently and in its own national interests, such as ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said Singapore and China are cooperating in many areas that are win-win in nature and it "would be a pity" for both sides if these were to slow down.

He cited how the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) - the third government-led project between both sides - has made progress in its priority sectors in finance, telecommunications, aviation and logistics.

For instance, Mr Lee said both sides are exploring a new logistical route southwards of Chongqing into the Beibu Bay through Guangxi's Qinzhou port city, in anticipation of transportation capacity on the Yangtze River reaching saturation.

Also, both sides are looking at using the CCI, which aims to promote connectivity within China and with other states, to test bed new policies or new emphasis in its development strategies, he added.

Promising ideas can be put up at the upcoming meeting of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, a high-level mechanism overseeing bilateral ties, said Mr Lee, who visited Chongqing last Saturday.

China FTZs: Singapore expertise wanted
Xi says Republic can play a useful role in 7 new free trade zones recently announced
By Chong Koh Ping, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 10 Sep 2016

In a bid to lift growth, China has announced a new batch of free trade zones (FTZs), and it wants Singapore's help to develop them.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Aug 31 unveiled a list of seven new FTZs in the provinces of Liaoning, Zhejiang, Henan, Hubei, Sichuan and Shaanxi as well as Chongqing city, ahead of the Group of 20 summit this week.

This is seen by observers as China signalling to the world its resolve to push forward with reforms and opening up, against a global trend of rising protectionism.

And Singapore could play a useful role in these newly established FTZs, Chinese President Xi Jinping suggested to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during their meeting in Hangzhou last week.

The first FTZ was set up in 2013 in Shanghai to test economic reforms such as more relaxed rules towards foreign investment. Three more were set up in 2014 in Fujian and Guangdong provinces, as well as Tianjin city.

The FTZs are different from the old free trade areas or special economic zones set up in the 1980s and 1990s, said trade law expert Henry Gao from Singapore Management University.

"They are not meant for boosting exports and foreign trade," he said.

Instead, they serve to attract foreign investments and introduce administrative reforms to transform government functions from those of controls and approvals to a more service-oriented role, he said.

"Singapore's experience in attracting foreign investments and its successes in providing social services fit in nicely with the two main objectives of these FTZs," said Associate Professor Gao.

As Singapore has an open economy, it provides a good model for China in its overall economic opening-up strategy, said trade economist Sarah Tong of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Unlike the earlier FTZs, which are all along the eastern coast, the seven new ones include some in central and western China.

"This is more about opening up within China, and cooperation with South-east Asia (for trade and investment) is an important part of this inland opening," said Dr Tong.

Singapore could be a key partner in coordinating cooperation between China's inland regions and South-east Asia, she added.

Singapore business leader Teo Siong Seng, who has three shipping- related firms in the Shanghai FTZ, said that given Singapore's well-established trade and financial sectors, it can help give pointers on developing related industries.

While there have been criticisms of the FTZs already in place that advantages are limited, analysts said the slow progress is a reflection of the difficulties in pushing forward economic reforms following Mr Xi's 2013 announcement of an ambitious blueprint to do so.

Gone are the days of the almost- instant explosion of changes seen in special economic zones such as Shenzhen in the 1990s, Dr Tong noted. Back then, the political atmosphere was different and the system before opening up was rigid, she said. "Today, the economy is more sophisticated and the government is more cautious in rolling out financial reforms for fear of making disastrous mistakes."

Above all, differences between the local authorities running the FTZs and the central government pose the biggest challenge, said Prof Gao. "Singapore will not be able to help with this, but it can play a role on the micro-level, in specific areas such as urban management."

For example, he said, the authorities in the Fujian FTZ were interested to learn from Singapore in things such as TradeNet, an electronic platform for making Customs declarations.

With the FTZs, Singapore can continue to play an "irreplaceable role" in China's development, he said.

Free trade zones in China


• Opened in September 2013

• To be a testbed for economic reforms including freeing up more sectors for foreign investments


• Approved in December 2014

• Guangdong FTZ serves to speed up economic integration with the neighbouring Hong Kong Special Administration Region; Fujian FTZ is focused on Taiwan, across the Taiwan Strait from Fujian province; and the Tianjin FTZ aims to link up the Bohai Bay area, which includes Beijing city and Hebei province


• Announced on Aug 31

• North-eastern Liaoning province's FTZ will focus on market-oriented reforms to improve the competitiveness of the old industrial base

• Coastal Zhejiang's FTZ will explore trade liberalisation of global commodities

• Central Henan's FTZ will tap on its potential in transport and logistics

• Central Hubei's FTZ will build high-tech bases and facilitate the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt

• Chongqing, Sichuan and Shaanxi FTZs in the country's west will help open up the less-developed regions to boost economic vitality

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