Thursday, 12 April 2018

PM Lee Hsien Loong, Chinese President Xi Jinping express support for open global trading order at Boao Forum for Asia 2018

By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2018

BOAO, HAINAN - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping both expressed support for an open global trading order during their meeting on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia on Tuesday (April 10).

The rules-based multilateral trading system has benefited countries big and small.

The two leaders also agreed that any trade dispute should be resolved within the World Trade Organisation framework, said a statement by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Earlier on Tuesday, PM Lee delivered a speech at the Boao conference on trade tensions between China and the United States, and why China should uphold openness and multilateralism.

At the meeting with Mr Xi, the Chinese leader said he welcomed PM Lee's speech.

"PM Lee stressed that if unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalated into trade wars, the multilateral trading system that had brought prosperity to other countries for decades would be severely undermined," said the PMO.

Both leaders reaffirmed the "special and forward-looking relationship between the two countries" based on the foundation laid by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

They also welcomed the success of the three government-to-government projects, namely, the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Mr Xi mentioned his intention to elevate the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City to a state-level project, which was welcomed by PM Lee, said the PMO.

The two leaders reviewed the progress made under the various bilateral platforms, and said they looked forward to the conclusion of the Singapore-China Free Trade Agreement upgrade negotiations this year.

"They also welcomed the improved situation in the South China Sea and reaffirmed the steady progress made in the negotiation of the code of conduct," said the PMO.

PM Lee congratulated Mr Xi on the successful conclusion of China's 19th Party Congress last year and the recent "lianghui", or legislative meetings, which saw Mr Xi reappointed as President.

"You have set directions for China to play a constructive and stabilising role in the region and in the international system," PM Lee said, adding that Mr Xi has laid out a clear vision and long-term goals for China.

Mr Xi thanked PM Lee and said that since their last meeting in September, both countries have "consolidated their longstanding friendship".

"Your visit to China again and attendance at the Boao Forum demonstrates the importance you attach to China-Singapore relations," Mr Xi said. He added he was willing to work with PM Lee to exchange views on bilateral ties and common concerns.

In his opening remarks, PM Lee noted that with a fresh team of leaders at the helm in China, and with Singapore also in a period of leadership transition, this was a "timely meeting for us to take our partnership forward".

"I brought along several of my younger ministers, my younger colleagues, on the trip, in order to establish ties with their counterparts and be able to bring our relations further forward," he said.

PM Lee is on a five-day working visit in China. The ministers accompanying him are Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

The Singapore delegation left Boao on Tuesday evening for Shanghai, the final leg of its visit. It is due to return to Singapore on Thursday.

China's vital role in this testing moment in international relations
The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke on Tuesday on China's growing role in the world and multilateralism at the opening plenary of the annual Boao Forum for Asia on China's southern Hainan Island. Below is the text of his speech.

The theme of this year's Boao Forum, An Open And Innovative Asia For A World Of Greater Prosperity, is appropriate and timely. I thank President Xi (Jinping) for his keynote address and my fellow leaders for their insights and perspectives from each of their different positions on the shared issues that we all face.

Asia has outperformed the global economy because of openness. Individual economies have liberalised and opened up - notably, China with its liberalisation and opening up over 40 years. Others too, like India and the ASEAN countries in South-east Asia, have pursued similar economic policies, and thrived. They have benefited from an open, rules-based international order and a multilateral trading system. This has fostered economic cooperation within the region, and deepened interdependence between the Asian countries, the United States, Europe and the rest of the world.

Asia's economic prospects are good. This year, the World Bank forecasts that East Asia and the Pacific will grow by 6.2 per cent. It is double the expected global growth of 3.1 per cent.

But to sustain Asia's economic dynamism, countries have to remain open and connected to one another, and the multilateral World Trade Organisation (WTO) system must hold up as the basis for global trade and commerce. This cannot be taken for granted.

To keep this international framework in good order, countries will have to adjust with the times. They must bring up to date their policies and international institutions to account for changes in the strategic and economic balance.

Perhaps the most far-reaching change thus far has been the rise of China. Since China joined the WTO in 2001, its weight in the global economy and its share of world trade have grown enormously. This has greatly benefited China itself, and many other countries in the world, including Singapore. China's role in the international economy will grow larger. This has shifted the overall strategic balance. It has also raised expectations from other countries of what China should do - to liberalise its markets further, and contribute to the multilateral trading system.

Indeed, China itself recognises that it has been a major beneficiary of globalisation, and it will lose out if the existing multilateral, rules-based order falters. In Davos last year, President Xi Jinping laid out clearly China's approach and policies, upholding openness and multilateralism. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative are two major efforts by China to contribute to the regional structure and regional prosperity. They aim to strengthen trade and investment ties, and enhance integration and interdependence. These are constructive, effective strategies for a growing China to integrate with the regional economy, and engage its neighbours through win-win cooperation. This is why Singapore was a founding member of the AIIB and a strong and early supporter of B&R.

Since the Lianghui, the recent two meetings in Beijing, Chinese leaders and officials have declared China's determination to liberalise further.

Today, I was very glad to hear President Xi reaffirm this, and announce further steps in financial sector reforms, in opening up foreign investment rules, in protecting intellectual property and increasing automobile imports. We look forward to seeing these strategies elaborated, implemented, and bearing fruit.

This is the broader context of the recent trade frictions between the US and China. The US has announced a series of unilateral tariffs on imports, many targeted at China. China has responded correspondingly, as it has to do. China's response has been careful and calibrated. Nevertheless, a serious dispute is now joined. Everyone still hopes that before these tariffs are implemented, the two countries will be able to work out an accommodation and head off further escalation.

Singapore does not believe that imposing unilateral tariffs is the correct solution. Unilateral measures are not compliant with WTO rules. Trade disputes should be resolved within the WTO framework.

More fundamentally, as economists point out, the focus on the bilateral trade imbalance between the US and China is misplaced. What matters to a country is not its bilateral trade balance with a specific trading partner, but its overall trade balance with the rest of the world. Furthermore, the cause of a trade deficit is an imbalance in the domestic economy. In particular, a trade deficit happens when a country consumes more than it produces.

Nevertheless, we have to recognise that there is broad political support in the US for these measures. This is a change in the mood. What is it due to? Trade arrangements and concessions made in the past when China was only 5 per cent of the world's GDP are less readily accepted today, when China makes up 15 per cent of the world's GDP and is expected to grow this share even further. US companies that previously advocated for China when it joined the WTO in 2001, now feel disadvantaged. They perceive that the playing field is not level for all companies, in terms of market access or investment restrictions, especially in technology sectors. These pressures are not new, and have been building for some time.

A trade war between China and the US is still far from inevitable. But if one does happen, it will undermine the multilateral trading system which has underpinned global prosperity. Countries big and small will be affected.

It is reassuring that most Asia-Pacific countries remain committed to multilateral trade and economic cooperation, for example, through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations. These trade initiatives are important, but they will not compensate for the damage from a trade war, which will extend way beyond the economic loss that they cause.

China and the US have the most important bilateral relationship in the world. A trade war must damage these bilateral ties in many areas. Surely it will make it much harder for the two countries to cooperate on climate change, non-proliferation, regional security, and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. None of these issues can be solved without the full participation of both countries. If the disputes escalate and destabilise US-China relations, the consequences for the world could be catastrophic.

There will always be competition between the major powers. But it makes all the difference whether competition takes place within a framework of interdependence, and generally accepted rules of the game. Because what is ultimately at stake is war and peace, the security and stability of the world.

In international affairs, one of China's strengths has always been its ability to take a strategic long-term view. It is in China's fundamental interests to contribute more to strengthening multilateralism, in keeping with its larger weight in the world. It is vital that China does so now, at this testing moment in international relations.

I am confident that China will handle this challenge well, safeguard its own interests, and keep the global system open and inclusive. This will create an international environment that will enable China to attain its two centenary goals, and other countries to grow and prosper in a stable and peaceful world.

Chinese President Xi Jinping vows to further open up economy, protect IP rights
He says China sees economic globalisation as an irreversible trend; words calm markets
By Goh Sui Noi, China Bureau Chief In Boao (Hainan), The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2018

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to open up Chinese markets further, even as his government parries with the United States over trade disagreements.

His conciliatory remarks included the promise of more protection for intellectual property rights and the prospect of lower tariffs. These are among the demands that Washington has been making on Beijing, as it threatens China with heavy tariffs of its own.

Mr Xi, however, indicated that China was taking this route simply because it sees economic globalisation as an "irreversible trend", though his words calmed stock markets spooked by the spectre of a trade war.

"I want to make clear to everyone that China's doors will not be closed, but will only be opened wider," Mr Xi said to applause from about 2,000 attendees at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia yesterday.

He also took a swipe at US President Donald Trump's protectionist policy, saying "human history shows that openness leads to progress, while seclusion leaves one behind".

"In a world aspiring for peace and development, the Cold War mentality and zero-sum mentality look ever more out of place," he said.

"Putting oneself on a pedestal or trying to immunise oneself from adverse developments will get one nowhere."

Mr Xi went on to list some steps that China would take to open its doors further, to more applause from the audience.

Most of what he said was not new, but he gave more details of what would be done.

He elaborated on the promise to open up the car sector by reducing tariffs considerably this year, and raising the limit on foreign ownership of carmakers "as soon as possible". Premier Li Keqiang had first flagged the reduction of car tariffs last month at the annual parliamentary session.

Mr Xi also said the financial sector would be opened up, and intellectual property rights would be afforded more protection by significantly raising the cost for offenders.

The Chinese leader's remarks soothed markets on both sides of the Pacific. In the US, Nasdaq 100 futures gained 1.6 per cent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 1.2 per cent, reported Bloomberg. In Asia, Singapore's Straits Times Index rose 0.5 per cent, while the Nikkei Stock Average gained 0.54 per cent.

Some observers are cautious in their assessment of the situation.

"They are warming words," World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief economist Robert Koopman said at a session following Mr Xi's speech. He said this was important as China and the US have been exchanging words in the past few months that were not always positive.

However, he said, these are just words, and "we will have to follow the actions". And these could go either way, including a trade war.

Dr Koopman added that it was worrying that the exchange between the two sides was taking place outside the WTO system.

He said the system had an advantage of treating all members equally, whether big or small. Having members talking outside it or taking action that could be inconsistent with their WTO obligations "could undermine this system of equality in global economic relations".

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong weighed in on the issue in his speech at the forum, warning against a trade war that could be damaging to US-China ties and catastrophic for the world.

Singapore will continue to back China's economic efforts: PM Lee
He expresses confidence Beijing will uphold multilateral trade and contribute to global development
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2018

Singapore will continue to support China's efforts in its next stage of opening up and in upholding the multilateral trading system, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday at a meeting with Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan.

PM Lee said the world, including China, is undergoing a period of significant transition, according to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

But he "expressed confidence that China would continue to open up and uphold the multilateral trading system, and contribute to the development and prosperity of the region and the world".

His comments come as protectionist sentiment is rising in the United States. It has threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese imports in recent weeks, stoking fears of a trade war between the two economic giants.

A trade war would severely undermine the multilateral trading system, PM Lee said in an interview published on Sunday by the People's Daily.

PM Lee, who arrived on Sunday for a five-day working visit to China, met Mr Wang in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound.

Mr Wang shared with PM Lee key domestic developments, including the policy and direction of the next stage of China's opening up, which focuses on high-quality development rather than rapid growth.

Mr Wang said that as China is still opening up, there remain "many areas where Singapore's developmental experience would still be relevant for China to take reference from", according to the PMO statement.

PM Lee said there are many areas where Singapore is also learning from China.

Both leaders noted the "deep and broad cooperation" between their countries, particularly on the three successful government-to-government projects - the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-city and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. They said there is potential to take the cooperation to a new level through the Belt and Road Initiative.

PM Lee also congratulated Mr Wang, who was appointed Vice-President during China's annual legislative meetings last month. He said he was happy to visit Beijing and "meet old friends and leaders of China".

Mr Wang, a key ally of President Xi Jinping, was formerly China's anti-corruption czar. He is known to keep a low public profile, but is often described as China's second-most powerful politician.

Mr Wang said Singapore is an "old friend" of China, and he has had many friends there, including founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew who had made important contributions to China's reform and opening up since it began 40 years ago.

"We have known each other for so many years, we are old friends," said Mr Wang as he welcomed PM Lee, Mrs Lee and the Singapore delegation.

The group of Singapore ministers and officials is the second foreign delegation, after one from the Philippines, that Mr Wang has met since his new appointment.

PM Lee last met Mr Wang when he visited Beijing in September last year, before the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress.

After his meeting with Mr Wang, PM Lee also visited Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing.

He left Beijing yesterday for Boao in southern Hainan Island, where he will speak at the annual Boao Forum for Asia and meet President Xi.

Shanghai seeks greater cooperation with Singapore, city's top leader Li Qiang tells PM Lee
It has been learning from Singapore and opening up to attract talent, projects, says party boss
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Shanghai, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

Shanghai, the economic heart of China, wants to learn from Singapore as it continues to reform itself and open up, the city's new party secretary Li Qiang told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Mr Li outlined four areas in which he hoped to see greater cooperation between the two cities as he briefed PM Lee on developments in Shanghai.

These were people-to-people exchanges; education, science and technology, and medical research; urban management; and using Singapore as an international platform for Shanghai businesses.

Both leaders agreed that the two cities could strengthen cooperation in those areas, given their similarities in outlook and openness, said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

Mr Li said in his opening remarks at the meeting that his city has been learning from Singapore and opening itself up to attract talent and business projects from around the world.

"The defining feature of Shanghai is its openness, just like Singapore, which has always been regarded by us as our role model. We want to open our doors to the rest of the world," he said, adding that Shanghai would remain open to the outside world as China marks the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening up.

Mr Li also suggested that Shanghai companies could use Singapore as a platform to support their outward expansion along the Belt and Road, said the PMO.

"We are extremely pleased to welcome you to Shanghai this time, and we hope that your visit will be the strong push to the exchanges and cooperation between Shanghai and Singapore in all areas," Mr Li told PM Lee at the Xijiao State Guesthouse. Singapore was the largest foreign investor in Shanghai, he noted.

Mr Li also updated PM Lee on Shanghai's role in the integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and the development of the YRD Economic Belt, the PMO statement said, adding that Mr Li also affirmed Shanghai's commitment to globalisation and regional cooperation.

Shanghai is the last leg of a five-day working visit for PM Lee, whose last trip here was in 2010.

"I am very happy to be back and see Shanghai has developed, progressed further and with many ambitious opportunities not only to push ahead on its own, but also together with the rest of the Yangtze River Delta and the rest of China and as part of the Belt and Road," he told his host.

He invited Mr Li to visit Singapore again. Mr Li accepted, and said he would do so at a mutually convenient time, according to the PMO.

A native of the eastern Zhejiang province, Mr Li was the secretary-general of the provincial party committee when President Xi Jinping was Zhejiang party secretary from 2002 to 2007.

The 58-year-old, who was appointed Shanghai party boss following the 19th Party Congress in October last year, is tipped to be in the running for a top national leadership post.

Almost all Shanghai party bosses since the early 1990s have gone on to become a member of the powerful decision-making Politburo Standing Committee.

PM Lee yesterday visited the headquarters of smart energy management company Envision, where he was briefed on its operations.

The Chinese firm has a number of collaborations with Singapore companies, including Keppel Urban Solutions and solar energy firm Sunseap, which are exploring ways to manage their assets using Envision's energy management Internet of Things platform.

Singapore-China ties have strong foundation, says Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan
By Lim Yan Liang, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2018

Ties between Singapore and China stand on a strong foundation, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday during a meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

In the 40 years since paramount leader Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore, the two countries have found numerous opportunities to work together and cooperate in a well-aligned way, said Dr Balakrishnan.

"Since then there's been many, many opportunities for us to learn from each other, and China and Singapore have been able to cooperate very effectively at different stages of our development," he said.

Mr Wang agreed, noting that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to China this time is the second in half a year, "which fully reflects the close and friendly contact between the two countries and our top leaders".

Mr Lee is on a five-day visit to China that began yesterday.

Mr Wang said he appreciated the positive role Singapore is playing as the rotating chair for ASEAN this year, and that Sino-Singapore relations are developing well. Singapore is also country coordinator of ASEAN-China dialogue until the middle of this year.

Both foreign ministers also said they will work together to defend free trade and multilateralism at a time when protectionist tendencies are on the rise.

Singapore and China are expected to conclude an upgraded bilateral free trade agreement later this year, noted Dr Balakrishnan, which will send a positive message to the world on where the two countries stand on the issue.

"Where the temptation to embark on unilateralism and protectionism unfortunately is rising, it's all the more important that China and Singapore double-down on the importance of free trade and economic liberalisation," he said.

"So our ability to upgrade the China-Singapore free trade agreement this year will send a very positive message."

Dr Balakrishnan also congratulated Mr Wang on his promotion to the post of State Councillor during China's annual parliamentary session last month, and said he looks forward to the next Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, which will take place in Singapore later this year.

Beyond that, the two foreign ministers are likely to meet again later this year at various regional forums, such as the ASEAN Plus Three Summit, East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum meetings.

"Last year we met six times, so this is the first of what I hope will be a series of meetings that we will have," said Dr Balakrishnan.

The two foreign ministers last met in November on the sidelines of the 13th Asia-Europe Meeting Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Among the issues they discussed at that time were enhancing Singapore's role in the Belt and Road Initiative through the three platforms of connectivity, financial support and trilateral cooperation, and on-going discussions on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

The talks start formally this year after ASEAN and China agreed on a framework for the code last year.

Han Zheng is new co-chair of joint council for Sino-Singapore ties
Singapore welcomes executive vice-premier's appointment to top body for bilateral relations
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2018

Chinese Executive Vice-Premier Han Zheng will be China's new co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), the top body steering bilateral relations between Singapore and China.

Mr Han, who is also on the elite Politburo Standing Committee, takes over from former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, who had retired from politics after the 19th Party Congress last October.

The appointment of Mr Han to the top post was conveyed to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when both men met in Beijing. PM Lee welcomed the appointment, said the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in a statement.

Singapore's co-chair of the JCBC is Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The JCBC is a high-level platform helmed by a Singapore deputy prime minister and a Chinese vice-premier. Both sides take turns to hold annual meetings to find ways to deepen and broaden Sino-Singapore ties. The first JCBC was held in 2004, with then DPM Lee and then Vice-Premier Wu Yi as co-chairs.

PM Lee arrived in Beijing yesterday for a five-day working visit.

One of the first stops on his itinerary was the leafy Diaoyutai State Guesthouse compound, where he met Premier Li, who later hosted him to a working dinner. Premier Li expressed appreciation to PM Lee for his congratulations on his re-appointment as Premier at the recent legislative meetings.

During their meeting, the two leaders reaffirmed the "close, deep and substantive bilateral relations" and welcomed the frequent high-level exchanges between their countries, PMO said. They reviewed their extensive bilateral cooperation and discussed the potential for mutually beneficial collaboration, such as jointly cooperating in other countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

They also welcomed the progress made in the three government-to-government projects - Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI).

The PMO cited the CCI in particular, noting that the CCI-Southern Transport Corridor had connected Western China to the sea by rail. It effectively linked the overland Silk Road Economic Belt to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the two major trade routes under the BRI, thereby "enhancing multi-modal connectivity from Western China to South-east Asia and beyond".

Yesterday, both leaders also said they looked forward to the conclusion of negotiations on upgrading the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement this year.

On the regional front, both leaders also agreed that ASEAN-China cooperation had made good progress over the last few years, and looked forward to the announcement of a vision statement for 2030 on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership this November.

They also looked forward to the expeditious conclusion of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.

"Premier Li expressed appreciation for Singapore's constructive role as the coordinator of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations since 2015," said the PMO.

And PM Lee welcomed Premier Li's acceptance of his invitation to make an official bilateral visit to Singapore when he attends the ASEAN-related summits in November.

Singapore and China sign deal to boost cooperation on Belt and Road Initiative
MOU signed for closer partnerships between firms of both countries involved in mega project
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2018

Singapore and China have inked a deal that paves the way for closer partnerships between their companies in other countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Under the agreement, Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), China's top economic planning body, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and Enterprise Singapore will identify sectors and markets of mutual interest and organise activities to promote cooperation between companies from both sides.

Both countries will work with other organisations to support businesses' financing and project structuring needs in third countries.

The MOU, signed by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and NDRC vice-chair Zhang Yong, is part of a new push by both countries to deepen bilateral relations through cooperation in the mega project. A second MOU on cultural cooperation was also inked.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang witnessed the signing at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse yesterday, the first day of PM Lee's five-day visit to China. At a bilateral meeting before the signing, both leaders identified their countries' cooperation under the BRI as "a new highlight in our bilateral cooperation", the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

This cooperation includes infrastructural and financial connectivity, and third-country collaboration, including joint training for officials from Belt and Road countries.

In particular, both leaders noted the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - Southern Transport Corridor has connected the overland Silk Road Economic Belt to the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang said in a separate statement: "Singapore's strength as a key infrastructure, financial and legal hub in the region will add value to Chinese companies expanding along the Belt and Road."

The BRI, mooted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is a plan to build infrastructure such as roads, railways, ports and industrial hubs to link some 65 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa, mirroring historic land and sea trade routes.

During their meeting, Premier Li also informed PM Lee that Executive Vice-Premier Han Zheng would take over from retired vice-premier Zhang Gaoli as Chinese co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), the top body steering bilateral ties between Singapore and China.

Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean is the Singapore co-chair of the JCBC.

Premier Li and PM Lee also reaffirmed the "close, deep and substantive bilateral relations" and welcomed the frequent high-level exchanges between both countries.

They also stressed the importance of maintaining an open and free trading system, and agreed to work towards concluding negotiations on the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade pact.

Singapore is the chair of ASEAN this year, and coordinator of ASEAN-China relations for the first half.

"We hope to make further efforts towards deepening and enhancing our cooperation bilaterally as well as with the region," said PM Lee.

Premier Li, who also hosted PM Lee to a working dinner, said advancing Sino-Singapore ties was "beneficial to both sides, and also the development of China-ASEAN relations".

PM Lee leaves Beijing today for Hainan island, where he will attend the Boao Forum for Asia and meet President Xi Jinping.


People’s Daily Interview with PM Lee Hsien Loong

Trade war will severely undermine global trading system, says PM Lee
He hopes RCEP will be signed soon, and welcomes China and others to join CPTPP
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 8 Apr 2018

If trade tensions between the United States and China escalate into a trade war, the multilateral trading system that has brought prosperity to many countries for decades will be "severely undermined", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

He was responding to a question from the Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper on regional trade arrangements in the Asia-Pacific, when he commented on the tit-for-tat tariff stand-off between the two economic giants that has roiled financial markets amid rising fears of a trade war.

"As a small nation with an open economy, Singapore is heavily dependent on international trade," he said. "There will be no winners in a trade war." The interview is published today, at the start of Mr Lee's five-day working visit to China. It covers topics such as China's relations with Singapore and ASEAN, regional trade and cultural ties.

Mr Lee will meet Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing today, where they will witness the signing of memorandums of understanding on bilateral cooperation between their two countries. Mr Lee will also meet Vice-President Wang Qishan in the Chinese capital, and later Shanghai party boss Li Qiang in China's economic hub.

Mr Lee will also attend the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference on Hainan island, where he will give a speech, and have a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping.

In the interview, a copy of which was given to The Sunday Times by the Prime Minister's Office, Mr Lee said that while globalisation and international trade have underpinned the growth of many countries, the political mood was shifting in some of them. The US, long an advocate of free trade and economic multilateralism, has taken a "radically different approach towards trade". In recent weeks, it has announced tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and threatened to impose further tariffs on Chinese imports to protect its domestic industries and reduce bilateral trade deficits. These measures have put pressure on its relations with China and other countries, said Mr Lee.

He noted that China's decision to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001 was a bold one, and it has committed to abide by multilateral rules, including submitting to WTO dispute settlement mechanism, and benefited from doing this.

"Since 2001, China's economy has developed greatly," he said, adding that its share of global GDP has risen dramatically. "It is therefore natural that other countries expect China to take on more commitments and contribute more to the global system, by further opening market access for trade in goods and services, and liberalising rules for foreign investments into China," he said.

"These steps would better match China's present stage of development. China can do so on a multilateral basis, or through FTAs (free-trade agreements) with regional partners," he added.

Mr Lee welcomed China and others to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which 11 Asia-Pacific nations inked last month, when they are ready.

He also hoped the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - an ASEAN-led regional trade pact of which China is a part - will be signed this year. "If we can sign the RCEP this year, it will, together with the CPTPP, send a clear signal to the world about our commitment to multilateral trade, and our resolve to keep the regional architecture open and inclusive."

Mr Lee last visited China in September. His current visit comes after October's 19th party congress and the just-concluded legislative meetings. He is accompanied by Mrs Lee, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Education (Higher Education and Skills) Minister Ong Ye Kung and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim. In his absence, Deputy PM Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be acting PM.


* Greater danger from a trade war is in souring of Sino-US ties, impact on Asia: PM Lee Hsien Loong
US-China trade war will affect global security; PM Lee says region must be prepared for uncertainty as soured ties will hit cooperation on key issues
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Shanghai, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

The greater danger from a US-China trade war is not just in higher tariffs or damage to trade, but the souring of Sino-American ties more broadly, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Singapore and the region have to be prepared for this possibility, he added, saying that it "would make it very difficult for all the countries in Asia who are trying very hard to become friends with both, or stay friends with both".

Speaking to Singapore reporters at the end of his five-day visit to China, PM Lee said the numerical impact of such a conflict in terms of trade volume, tariffs, trade diversion and investment projects that become aborted can be estimated and "probably is not enormous".

But the region would be affected "in terms of the impact on the overall bilateral relationship between China and America, the difficulty they will have cooperating in many different areas where the world depends on them cooperating, and the awkwardness and the sourness in the relationship".

A trade war will have an impact on Singapore and global security, he said. "We can't quantify the impact on us, we know that it means we are in for a more uncertain time. It means we have to be prepared psychologically."

He added: "We have had 50 years of peace; the next 50 years, we pray, will be peaceful."

PM Lee had stressed the importance of openness and multilateralism - as opposed to unilateral actions - in his meetings with Chinese leaders this week.

At the DBS Asian Insights Conference in Shanghai yesterday, he said a trade war could damage trust between the US and China as well as their cooperation on global issues such as climate change, extremist terrorism and North Korea - thereby affecting global security.

The fact that some of China's manufacturing might move to South-east Asia in the event of a Sino-American trade dispute is "consolation crumbs that do not make good the loss to all of us", he said.

The US has threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, and China has responded with a list of US imports it plans to impose tariffs on, roiling global markets and stoking fears of a trade war. PM Lee said while the Americans have taken certain unilateral moves, the Chinese have responded in a cautious and very carefully considered manner.

He later told Singapore media that Chinese leaders are "trying their best to think through how this can be resolved, trying to protect their position because it is not possible for any country to be in this situation and not have any response whatsoever".

"They have to respond. But at the same time, they do not want to escalate and they hope that something can be worked out which will diffuse the issues," he said.

Asked about the role Singapore could play, PM Lee said Singapore was not a bridge between the two powers, who have their own links and "do not lack for contact". But what both sides need to do is to establish trust and have a direct, candid discussion on their concerns and problems, he added. "Those are things which have to happen between the participants themselves. Singapore has no role in this, what we can do is express our views. Where it is helpful, we can tell how things are as we see them, and we hope that our perceptions will be taken as being given in good faith and will be found to be helpful."

On Singapore-China ties, he said: "Our relations are in good order. Cooperation is progressing well and we have reaffirmed what we are doing and committed ourselves to taking our relationship forward."

"There is a meeting of minds over what we can do together bilaterally," he added. "With the Chinese announcement that they will continue to open up and liberalise decisively, I hope that there will be further opportunities for our entities and our companies."

Singapore's 4G leadership not just about who will be next PM, but about a capable team: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Ability to work together will be key for 4G leaders; PM Lee says there has been progress on issue of who will be next PM, but it is not time to go public yet
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent In Shanghai, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

The issue of who will be Singapore's next prime minister goes beyond finding the person most suited for the post. More important is having a capable team that can work well together, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Many qualities are needed for national leadership, and to find a single candidate with the qualities and able to "do it all" would be unrealistic and impossible, he said.

"What is important is the team. If among the team's members they have enough of these qualities, are able to cooperate and together, drive Singapore forward, lead the country - this is the most crucial," he added.

Mr Lee, 66, who has made clear that he intends to hand over to a successor by the time he turns 70 in 2022, added: "We have to find a competent team that can work closely together, win the confidence of the people, lead them, meet and solve challenges together, carve out a new path, and make Singaporeans proud."

He was speaking in Mandarin at DBS Asian Insights Conference's Leadership Dialogue in Shanghai, moderated by Mr Robin Hu, head of Temasek's sustainability and stewardship group. Mr Hu had asked him what was the most important quality Singapore's future leader needed.

He also asked whether there was now a clear choice for Singapore's next prime minister.

Mr Lee said there was continuous progress in this area, but it was still not time to go public on who he was.

His comments come just as a Cabinet reshuffle is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, before Parliament opens on May 7, to give younger ministers more exposure and responsibilities.

Mr Lee was in China for a five-day working visit, where he met President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, Vice-President Wang Qishan and Shanghai party secretary Li Qiang, among other leaders.

At an interview with Singapore reporters yesterday, Mr Lee pointed out that Singapore's younger ministers were already leading the country's engagement with China in many Chinese provinces, and will do more at the national level.

He cited how bilateral engagements in provinces like Zhejiang, Guangdong and Jiangsu, as well as on the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI), were being led by younger ministers. Business councils between Singapore and these provinces, and the CCI, are led respectively by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann; Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung; Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat; and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing.

On this week's visit to China, Mr Lee was accompanied by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Mr Ong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Mr Chan was also on a separate working visit to Chongqing, where he met Chongqing party boss Chen Min'er and Mayor Tang Liangzhi.

Mr Lee told reporters that it will take time for the fourth-generation leadership to establish contact and build ties with their Chinese counterparts.

China, too, is going through a period of leadership transition, with a fresh team of leaders at the helm after after the country's just concluded annual legislative meetings and the 19th party congress last year, he noted.

There will be further changes, he noted, adding that "we have to keep on maintaining the relationship".

So far, the younger ministers are managing well and engaging their Chinese counterparts, he said. "When we have the opportunity like on this trip, I bring the younger ministers along, and they meet their counterparts and they get to know one another, and progressively get a feel for the relationship," he said.

"Most importantly, the other side gets a feel for our younger leaders, what they are like, and how they can do business together one day."

DBS Asian Insights Conference 2018 in Shanghai

China has to come up with its own model of development, and world is watching closely: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Danson Cheong, China Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

SHANGHAI • As China becomes stronger, with bigger global ambitions and aspirations, the world is watching it closely to see what sort of country a modern China would be, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

But how it will eventually turn out for the world to see hinges on the way it reacts to and deals with crises and opportunities, and how it cooperates and deals with conflicts with other countries, added PM Lee.

Meanwhile, China's unique circumstances require it to come up with its own model for giving its people a stable and peaceful life over the years, he noted. It has to feel its way forward "because there is no precedent in the world for 1.3 billion people to live stably and peacefully, in a way which can be sustained, from one generation of leaders and population to the next generation", he said.

The Prime Minister highlighted the challenge facing China at DBS Asian Insights Conference's Leadership Dialogue. Moderator Robin Hu, head of Temasek's sustainability and stewardship group, had asked whether there was a universal standard of development or political system for countries.

PM Lee pointed to China's imperial history to show the hurdles it has to overcome to build a model of development and political system that, like Singapore's, is different from that of the West.

Ancient China had a huangdi (or emperor), and dynasties would be in power for a few hundred years before "the system breaks down and you start a new dynasty". "But that doesn't work any more, so you have to find your own way forward, and that is what they are trying to do. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the challenge," he said.

There is no universal system, and every country has its own difficulties, he added, citing the polarising situation in the United States where there are deep divisions, and in Europe, where populist sentiment is against immigration and openness.

The US, however, expects China to become more like America, PM Lee said. If it does not, the Americans worry whether the Chinese will become unfriendly and non-cooperative.

But, he added: "Why should China become more like America?... The Chinese don't expect America to become more like China, so there is not a symmetry in this expectation."

Mr Lee hoped this would change as more Chinese study and travel abroad, and with more exchanges between academics and leaders of both countries.

He noted Chinese President Xi Jinping envisioning China to be a "great modern socialist country" by 2050.

The Chinese term for great power, qiang guo, can also be translated in English to "great country", which the Prime Minister said was a gentler interpretation.

China has signalled that it intends to be a country that would defend its interests, accommodate the interests of others, and be a constructive player in the global economy.

But how it will eventually turn out, said PM Lee, will be seen only through how it reacts and deals with crises and opportunities, and cooperates and deals with conflicts with other countries.

"Then you will know what sort of China will it be and how it will work out in the 21st century," he said.

PM Lee Hsien Loong's written interview with the People's Daily newspaper from China -8 April 2018
PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Boao Forum for Asia 2018 Opening Plenary
PM Lee Hsien Loong at the DBS Insights Conference China Dialogue 2018
Dialogue with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the DBS Asian Insights Conference 2018

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