Friday, 21 September 2018

Singapore-China ties: Breaking new ground

New areas of cooperation such as the Belt and Road Initiative and infrastructure financing are being forged in a relationship based on strong foundations
By Teo Chee Hean, Published The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

2018 marks an important milestone in Singapore-China relations. It is the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore in November 1978, just a month before China adopted the policy of reform and opening up.

Coming two years after then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's first visit to China in 1976, this exchange of visits between Mr Lee and Mr Deng planted the seeds of friendship between our countries and laid the foundation for the deep personal ties between successive generations of leaders and our peoples.

Many high-level exchanges were made over the years. Last September, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited China, just before the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress and met President Xi Jinping and senior Chinese leaders. In April this year, he visited China again for the Bo'ao Forum for Asia Annual Conference and had good meetings with President Xi and key leaders. We look forward to welcoming Premier Li Keqiang in November this year.

In June this year, I visited six Chinese provinces and municipalities and had good discussions with many senior Chinese leaders, including Vice-Premier Han Zheng, whom I look forward to receiving in Singapore this week to co-chair the 14th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).

We will also co-chair the Joint Steering Councils (JSCs) for our three government-to-government projects - the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park from 1994, as we exchanged experiences in building industrial townships; the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City from 2008, as both countries promoted eco-friendly, low-carbon development; and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI) from 2015, to enhance connectivity for the flow of goods, services and data between Western China, Singapore and beyond.

The JCBC was established in 2004, and is the premier platform to exchange ideas, discuss bilateral projects and set the direction for bilateral cooperation. The JCBC has expanded bilateral cooperation in line with the needs of our countries, in trade and investment, financial services, inclusive and sustainable development, human resource development and people-to-people exchanges. We also review the progress made by our seven joint business councils co-chaired with provincial leaders from Shandong, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Liaoning, Tianjin, Jiangsu and Guangdong.


The JCBC has catalysed several milestones in our bilateral cooperation. The China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) was China's first comprehensive bilateral FTA with another Asian country. It was launched at the 2006 JCBC and completed at the 2008 JCBC, co-chaired by then-Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng and then Vice-Premier Wang Qishan, respectively.

The CSFTA reaffirmed our joint commitment to trade liberalisation in the challenging economic environment following the global financial crisis.

Both sides are now working towards concluding a substantive CSFTA upgrade this year which is forward-looking and comprehensive. This will send a strong signal to the global community on our commitment to free trade and an open, rules-based multilateral trading system.

Since taking on the co-chairmanship of the JCBC in 2011, I have worked closely with both co-chairmen, then vice-premiers Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli. Our two countries have enhanced financial cooperation to support China's renminbi (RMB) internationalisation. In 2013, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was appointed as an offshore RMB clearing bank in Singapore, the first outside Greater China. Singapore is now one of the top three offshore RMB clearing centres globally for cross-border RMB receipts and payments with China.


Singapore is in a good position to further support China in the next phase of China's RMB internationalisation. Since June 2016, RMB financial investments were included as part of Singapore's official foreign reserves. We also supported the inclusion of the RMB in the IMF Special Drawing Rights basket in September 2016.

I look forward to working closely with Vice-Premier Han Zheng in this year's JCBC, where we will mark another milestone. We have agreed to designate our cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a dedicated agenda item with four cooperation platforms: infrastructural connectivity, financial connectivity, third party collaboration and training, and professional services.

The CCI, a priority demonstration project under the BRI, has enhanced infrastructural connectivity. Since its launch during President Xi's state visit to Singapore in 2015, progress on the CCI has exceeded expectations in four priority areas, namely financial services, aviation, transport and logistics, and information and communication technology.

The CCI-Southern Transport Corridor (STC) connects the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road along a route running entirely through western China, bringing new growth opportunities to provinces along the route. The CCI-STC will link western China and South-east Asia through the Chongqing-Guangxi-Singapore rail and sea multi-modal logistics route. As one of the world's busiest transshipment hubs, with connections to 600 ports globally, Singapore can connect the CCI-STC to international markets.

The CCI-STC is also an open and inclusive platform. As more users from Central Asia, China and South-east Asia come on board, cargo volumes will grow and we will enjoy greater economies of scale. This will support the "Belt and Road", Western Region Development and Yangtze River Economic Belt Strategies.

As an international financial and business centre, Singapore can support Belt and Road projects and infrastructure financing. Singapore accounted for more than 80 per cent of total inbound investments to China from Belt and Road countries and more than one-fifth of China's outbound investments to Belt and Road countries in 2017.

Chinese banks in Singapore have committed $100 billion - about RMB500 billion - to finance Singapore-based and Chinese companies involved in Belt and Road projects.

We have also signed a memorandum of understanding on third party market collaboration, which facilitates cooperation in commercially viable projects in Belt and Road countries. Last year, both countries launched a Legal and Judicial Roundtable co-chaired by our chief justices.

At the second roundtable in Singapore last month, our chief justices signed a memorandum of guidance (MOG) on the Recognition and Enforcement of Money Judgments in Commercial Cases. The MOG, which is the first that China has signed with another country, will enhance business confidence in cross border transactions and projects by providing greater legal clarity and support for companies.

Singapore can also provide supporting professional services as a neutral location for trusted and efficient dispute resolution mechanisms to help projects get back on track.

Singapore and China have enjoyed strong friendship for more than 40 years, through close communication and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Our cooperation has progressed with the times, reflecting the evolving needs and opportunities in line with the development of our two countries. We should keep up the momentum.

Both Singapore and China are entering new phases of development and face many common challenges. The potential for constructive cooperation will only increase further.

As Vice-Premier Han and I convene the 14th JCBC this week in Singapore, I am confident that we will break new ground and take our relations to new heights.

This article by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean was first published in Cankao News.

China Vice-Premier Han Zheng calls on President Halimah, PM Lee
The leaders reaffirm Sino-Singapore ties and discuss bilateral cooperation
The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2018

Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng called on President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana yesterday, before wrapping up his three-day visit to Singapore.

Mr Han, who is among the seven top leaders of China's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, was here to attend the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting. It is the highest-level platform for leaders to meet and chart the course of cooperation between China and Singapore.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said President Halimah and Mr Han reaffirmed the longstanding and multifaceted relations between the two countries, which enjoy strong economic and people-to-people ties, as well as regular high-level exchanges.

They also discussed the JCBC meeting, co-chaired by Mr Han and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday, growing cooperation under China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as international and regional developments such as Sino-US relations and Asean-China cooperation.

Mr Han and PM Lee also took stock of Singapore-China relations and discussed the progress made in bilateral cooperation. The statement said the two leaders supported the proposal to enhance legal and judicial cooperation under the BRI.

The China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) upgrade also came up during the discussions. President Halimah, PM Lee and Mr Han said they look forward to the conclusion of the FTA negotiations by the time Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Singapore in November for the Asean Summit.

Negotiations on a revised FTA started in November 2015. Singapore was the first Asian country to have a comprehensive bilateral free trade deal with China in 2009.

China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) upgrade ready by end of 2018
Deal will give Singapore firms boost in China, deepen cooperation in areas like e-commerce
By Tan Dawn Wei, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2018

Singapore and China will conclude the upgrade of their Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of this year, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, giving certainty for the first time to when the new deal will be sealed.

Talks over the upgrade have taken nearly three years. The deal will enhance a trade pact that went into force in 2009, and provide Singapore businesses with greater trade facilitation and investment protection in China.

It will also feature more cooperation in areas such as legal and financial services, as well as e-commerce and the environment.

Speaking to reporters yesterday at the end of China and Singapore's key meeting on bilateral cooperation, Mr Teo said he hopes both sides can sign the improved FTA when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Singapore for the 33rd ASEAN Summit in November.

Singapore, which was the first Asian country to have a comprehensive bilateral FTA with China, has been China's largest foreign investor since 2013.

This year's Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting, in its 14th year, saw a number of firsts. It was the first appearance by Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng as co-chair of the session. Mr Han had taken over the reins from former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who retired last October.

The meeting also saw the introduction of the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative as a standalone agenda item, signalling the importance of this China-led developmental masterplan in future collaborations between the two countries.

Mr Han, in his opening remarks at the JCBC meeting, called the initiative "a major opportunity for the development of China-Singapore relations", and said China was willing to work with Singapore from a strategic and long-term perspective.

Another first: The introduction of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as deputy co-chair of the JCBC as well as the Joint Steering Councils for the three government-to-government projects: Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

Mr Heng has been touted as a potential deputy prime minister, and a contender to be the next prime minister.

Mr Teo said that even though it was Mr Han's first outing at this annual meeting, they had good rapport. Mr Han was promoted to the all-powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee last October, propelling him into the top leadership ranks of the country.

"China has just had its 19th Party Congress and Two Sessions, so they have a new leadership in position. We are also transitioning our leadership in Singapore, and it (JCBC) provides the leadership on both sides to get to know each other and work together on substantive projects. This will take our relationship, on a solid footing, into the future," said Mr Teo.

In his opening remarks, the Deputy Prime Minister said the annual meeting's agenda has evolved to keep pace with the two countries' development and priorities. Both sides struck several agreements, such as establishing a Singapore-Shanghai cooperation council at the ministerial and mayoral level, as well as an internship programme for students of both countries.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore will also work with its Chinese counterpart to strengthen cross-border supervision, given the increased activities of investors and financial institutions in both markets. The financial authorities of both countries will also look into facilitating investment flows to support growing interest, as well as cooperate on fintech matters.

Mr Teo said China and Singapore also agreed to begin negotiations on a mutual legal assistance treaty for criminal matters, which will boost legal protection along the Belt and Road, which aims to mirror ancient trade links between China and the world over land and sea.

On the cultural front, both sides are looking at conducting research on the historical and archaeological value of artefacts from the Tang Dynasty recovered from a shipwreck found in 1998 off Belitung Island, which are part of the Asian Civilisations Museum's collection.

Officials from both sides also took stock of the progress made on the three government-to-government projects in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing. The next step would be for China and Singapore to take the experience gained from running these joint projects to a third country, said Mr Teo. He was joined by a dozen ministers, including Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

Seven memorandums of understanding were also signed, among them a partnership between the National Arts Council (NAC) and the China National Arts Fund to promote exchanges and collaboration among artists and arts groups from both countries.

NAC chief executive Rosa Daniel said both sides have a lot to offer. "We hope to share Singapore's multilingual and multicultural approach to artistic expression with China artists and audiences," she said.

"This is also an added opportunity for our artists to build critical networks and deepen their artistic practice through skills exchange with the Chinese, such as residencies, workshops and masterclasses."

Singapore and China ink seven deals on the arts, entrepreneurship, research and intellectual property
By Kua Yu-Lin, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2018

Singapore and China signed seven deals in areas such as the arts, entrepreneurship, intellectual property and research yesterday, after an annual bilateral meeting co-chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng.

In all, six memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and one strategic framework agreement were signed and exchanged on the sidelines of the 14th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting held at The St Regis Singapore hotel.

The seven deals are as follows:

1. An MOU to promote the replication of the Tianjin Eco-city’s development experience in other Chinese cities, and, in future, the Belt and Road regions.

A joint work group, comprising senior government officials from Singapore and China will be formed to oversee its implementation.

2. The Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Suzhou municipal people’s government signed an MOU to deepen exchanges through the attachment of Singapore government officials to Suzhou.

The programme aims to enhance people-to-people links in areas such as training and the sharing of public administration experiences.

3. An MOU was signed and exchanged to facilitate the training of senior officials from both countries. It reaffirms the longstanding relations between Singapore and China, and will deepen cooperation under Singapore’s third government-to-government project with China – the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

4. The National Arts Council and the China National Arts Fund signed their first MOU to strengthen exchanges in the arts, encourage collaboration among artists and develop new creative work for audiences in both countries.

5. The National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area Administrative Committee signed a strategic framework agreement to jointly establish a research institute in Chongqing.

The NUS (Chongqing) Research Institute, also known as NUSRI@CQ, will be the university’s second overseas research institute in China, after Suzhou.

It will serve as a base for NUS to conduct education, scientific research, technology transfer and commercialisation activities, which will strengthen Sino-Singapore cooperation in western China.

The institute will “serve as an important gateway for NUS to extend our reach in the western region of China”, Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS senior deputy president and provost, said in a statement.

6. An MOU to cooperate in entrepreneurship, innovation and commercialisation was signed and exchanged between Enterprise Singapore, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and the Suzhou Industrial Park Administrative Committee.

The parties will work together to grow Singapore and Suzhou startups and develop partnerships in emerging industries such as advanced manufacturing, biomedicine and nanotechnology applications.

7. An MOU on intellectual property cooperation was signed between Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City Administrative Committee, IP ValueLab and Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City Investment and Development to establish an International Intellectual Property Innovation Service Centre in the Knowledge City.

The agreement aims to provide Chinese enterprises with better access to ASEAN and other key overseas markets through Singapore.

Likewise, Singapore and other companies in ASEAN can access market opportunities in China’s Greater Bay Area and beyond.

Trade links in focus for visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Han
By Tan Dawn Wei, Deputy Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2018

Rain was hardly a dampener on Chinese Vice-Premier Han Zheng's first day in Singapore yesterday.

Holding an umbrella, he gamely climbed up mega container ship Cosco Capricorn at the Pasir Panjang Terminal for a visit. Later, he also braved the evening shower for a walk to see the Deng Xiaoping marker along the Singapore River.

That quick stop in the rain holds particular significance - this year marks the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng's historic visit to Singapore.

The Chinese leader's sojourn in November 1978, and then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's visit to China two years earlier, helped lay the foundation for bilateral ties.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean then hosted a welcome dinner at the Asian Civilisations Museum, where Mr Han and other Chinese guests also took in the Tang Cargo exhibit, which showcases South-east Asia's linkages to the ancient Maritime Silk Road and Singapore's role in facilitating global trade.

Mr Han, who is among the seven top leaders in China after being appointed to the top decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, last October, is here to attend the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting between China and Singapore for the first time. This is the highest-level platform to discuss cooperation, and is in its 14th year.

Over dinner, Mr Teo and Mr Han spoke about the deepening cooperation between the two nations under China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, such as in infrastructural connectivity, financial services, third-country partnership and professional and legal collaboration.

The Prime Minister's Office said they also "looked forward to the early conclusion of a substantive upgrade of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement which would signal our joint commitment to free trade and economic liberalisation".

Both leaders also discussed setting up a Singapore-Shanghai cooperation council at the ministerial-gubernatorial level, and a reciprocal internship programme for students of the two countries. The Tang Cargo exhibit will also make its way to the Shanghai Museum.

Earlier, Mr Han visited Pasir Panjang Terminal along with Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, where he boarded the Chinese-owned Cosco Capricorn and spoke with crew members.

The 400m-long ship, which can hold 20,000 containers, is on its maiden voyage from Rotterdam through Singapore to Shanghai.

Today, Mr Han will attend the annual bilateral meeting which will take stock of cooperation between the two countries and chart further developments. Also on the agenda are the Joint Steering Council meetings for the three government-to-government projects: Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

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