Saturday, 3 October 2020

30 years of Singapore-China Diplomatic Relations

Singapore leaders exchange congratulatory messages with their Chinese counterparts
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan have exchanged congratulatory messages with their Chinese counterparts on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries today.

The leaders' letters were released by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In her letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Halimah noted that the foundations of the relationship were laid decades ago, starting with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's visits to each other's countries in the 1970s. Diplomatic ties were established on Oct 3, 1990.

Over the past 30 years, the relations between Singapore and China have flourished, marked by close people-to-people ties and substantive cooperation, she wrote. Bilateral cooperation has expanded into new areas, including smart cities, finance, legal and judicial issues, as well as the Belt and Road Initiative.

"I am heartened that even amidst the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic this year, Singapore and China have maintained close and frequent exchanges at all levels, and extended assistance to each other in times of need," she wrote, saying they have opened up new areas of cooperation as they grapple with similar challenges of economic recovery and bolstering trade and connectivity.

In his letter to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, PM Lee wrote that the longstanding bilateral relationship predates the formal establishment of diplomatic ties in 1990, and bilateral cooperation has since grown in depth and scope. He noted that China has been Singapore's largest trading partner and Singapore has been China's largest foreign investor since 2013, and the three government-to-government projects in China in each of the last three decades - in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing - continue to do well today.

He added that people-to-people exchanges have also grown, with more than four million people travelling between both countries in 2018, 40 times the 100,000 travellers in 1990. Both countries have supported each other through the COVID-19 outbreak, and identified new areas of cooperation to propel the relationship forward, he wrote.

PM Lee added that both countries share a strong interest in enhancing Asean-China relations, and upholding free and open trade. "I look forward to working with you to strengthen the multilateral infrastructure that binds our world today, and to bring our bilateral partnership to greater heights."

Writing to Vice-Premier Han Zheng, DPM Heng said Singapore and China enjoy a multi-faceted and mutually beneficial relationship today, underpinned by close cooperation across many domains.

Bilateral exchanges have been institutionalised, with the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) as the apex platform, an important one to review existing areas of cooperation and develop new areas to keep up with the times. The Singapore-China Forum on Leadership, the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum and eight Provincial Business Councils cover other key areas of cooperation.

DPM Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Finance Minister, said: "Through these platforms, we have also built personal relationships that further deepen our bilateral ties. My exchanges with you, including our two telephone conversations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic this year, bear testament to the growing relationship between us and between our countries."

He looks forward to hosting Mr Han and his delegation for the upcoming JCBC this year, and to discuss how they can take relations to greater heights.

Foreign Minister Balakrishnan, writing to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, said both countries have been committed to facilitating economic recovery by championing cooperation in cross-border and supply chain connectivity, and have found new areas of cooperation in public health management and vaccine research and development.

"As we look back on the achievements in our relations over the short span of 30 years, I am confident that our ties will become even stronger as we embark on the next phase of our partnership," he said.

Immediate task ahead for Singapore and China is to strengthen epidemic prevention and control, says DPM Heng Swee Keat
DPM also cites other areas for collaboration like finance, tech
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

As Singapore and China enter their fourth decade of cooperation, the most immediate task for both countries is to work on strengthening epidemic prevention and control, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In an interview with Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao published yesterday, he added that there is room for both countries to collaborate in other areas, including upholding a rules-based multilateral trading system, managing an ageing population, finance and technology.

"Right now, our main task is to control the pandemic," Mr Heng said. "If we can control the pandemic, economic and social activities will be able to gradually resume. So this is the most critical thing now."

Singapore and China are commemorating 30 years of formal ties this year. In August, Beijing's most senior diplomat, Mr Yang Jiechi, visited Singapore and called on leaders here, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

On Thursday, which marked the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, President Halimah Yacob and PM Lee wrote letters to congratulate China on the occasion.

In the interview, Mr Heng also outlined other areas of potential cooperation, including in finance.

The lesson learnt from the Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis was that finance is vital for economic stability and growth, Mr Heng said.

Many Asian countries have substantial savings, and it is worth studying how this money can go towards sustainable development projects, he added.

He gave the example of infrastructure projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative, noting that Asia needs US$1.7 trillion (S$2.3 trillion) in infrastructure development each year.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said Asia will need to invest US$1.7 trillion per year in infrastructure until 2030 to maintain its growth momentum, tackle poverty, and respond to climate change.

But there are risks if projects are not suitable or if the financial system is not strong, Mr Heng said.

Singapore and China, along with multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the ADB, and China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, can work together to train officials and cooperate with officials, bankers and investors to design a better platform for the flow of funds.

Mr Heng also touched on the potential for Singapore to work with China to grow its position as an offshore trading hub for the Chinese renminbi, and stressed that innovation and technology will play a more important role in the future.

He praised the entrepreneurial spirit that he witnessed in China as well.

The Deputy Prime Minister recounted a visit he made to the city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, which has a reputation for entrepreneurship. There, in a small showroom, he saw thousands of beautiful watches of many different brands.

The showroom, he later found out, was a collaborative effort by enterprises which were willing to cooperate with their competitors in order to build a common platform and better serve buyers.

"I hope our businesses will be able to learn from this spirit," Mr Heng said. "Although businesses may be in competition with one another, they may face common problems. Businesses must think about how they can cooperate to solve these common problems, and then think about how to differentiate their products."

Lianhe Zaobao and ThinkChina - an online magazine by the newspaper - have also published a new photo book to commemorate 30 years of Sino-Singapore ties.

The book, titled In the Founders' Footsteps: 30 Years Of Singapore-China Diplomatic Relations, contains rare photos celebrating the links between both countries, such as paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's visit to Singapore in 1978 and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's many trips to China.

30 years of Singapore-China ties: A complex relationship headed for challenging new chapter
On the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Singapore-China diplomatic ties, The Straits Times looks at the evolution of this relationship
By Goh Sui Noi, Global Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

The Singapore-China relationship was never going to be an easy one given the huge differences between the two countries, not the least of which are their different political systems and disparity in size.

Another complicating factor: Singapore's ethnic Chinese majority population (75 per cent), with many Singaporeans still steeped in Chinese customs and traditions, and for some, even personal memories of the motherland.

Singapore's ethnic mix, especially set against the complexities and racial sensitivities of its South-east Asian neighbourhood, explains why in 1990, it became the last of the original six Asean member states to establish diplomatic ties with China even though informal ties had been ongoing for more than 10 years prior to that.

As the only ethnic Chinese-majority state in South-east Asia (indeed the world), Singapore did not want to be seen in the region as a fifth column of China. The matter was particularly acute in the 1970s, when China was actively championing the communist cause and lending support to South-east Asia's leftists, posing security worries for the region's governments, including Singapore's.

Only when these were resolved, did Singapore feel ready to establish diplomatic ties and, in 1990, the time was right.

As the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs: "Unlike in 1976, I was no longer concerned that a Chinese embassy in Singapore could pose problems for our security. Our domestic conditions had changed. We had solved some basic problems in Chinese education."

Yet another complicating factor: Singapore troops training in Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province. The Chinese had initially wanted an end date to this arrangement prior to setting up formal ties.

Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh, who led a delegation in 1990 to Beijing to negotiate the establishment of ties, recalls in an e-mail interview that Singapore had a number of non-negotiable conditions related to Taiwan, including the right to send its national servicemen for training to Taiwan and the right of its leaders to visit Taiwan in their individual and private capacities.

In the end, Beijing opted for flexibility over Taiwan in order to clear the pathway for formal ties.

The last 30 years since have seen the relationship grow stronger and closer, albeit punctuated by blips and dips, particularly in 2004 and 2016.

It is a journey that, in the words of Mr Xu Liping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, "has been very difficult and full of twists and turns". But on balance it has been a positive one, he adds.


When China first began to reform its economy in 1978 and to open up to the world, Singapore played a very important and unique role, particularly as a bridge between China and the West, Mr Xu notes.

Singapore helped China to integrate into the regional and international economic systems. It pushed for China's entry to the World Trade Organisation, which took place in 2001, and promoted China-Asean cooperation, with the 2002 China-Asean free trade agreement being one of its outcomes.

But bilateral ties went beyond that, growing deeper and broader, with both sides displaying a pragmatism that overcame the differences.

In economics, the two sides created demonstration projects such as the Suzhou Industrial Park that began in 1994 and the Tianjin Eco-City (launched in 2007) that leveraged on Singapore's experience and expertise.

China also sought to glean lessons in state governance, city administration and political party management. It sent many of its officials, both from central and local governments, to train at various institutions in Singapore, including the Nanyang Technological University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. These exchanges began in the 1980s but burgeoned from 1992, when then patriarch Deng Xiaoping told his people to learn from Singapore.

There were the occasional hiccups, such as when the Suzhou Industrial Park project ran into difficulties because of a divergence of objectives between China's central and local governments.

Still, as Professor Koh notes, by 2004, Singapore and China "had very substantive ties in trade, investment, tourism, politics, the transmission of knowledge, expertise and best practices from Singapore to China".


But 2004 was the year that Singapore and China were to experience a major dip in their relations. That was when then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid a visit to Taiwan, weeks ahead of his becoming Prime Minister. Before his Taiwan trip, in July, Mr Lee had visited Beijing in May, and had been given the red-carpet treatment.

The Chinese reacted angrily to Mr Lee's Taiwan trip, saying it hurt their core interests and warning that the "Singaporean side should take full responsibility for results from the event".

While Singapore explained that the visit was a private one and did not change its "one China" policy, the Chinese contended that as Mr Lee had held senior positions in the government for many years, his capacity could not be changed by "a simple remark".

Beijing went on to freeze official relations for about a year.

As Prof Koh sees it, Mr Lee's visit was in keeping with the agreement the two sides signed in 1990. He recalls that Singapore kept calm but made no concessions over Taiwan. "About a year later, China decided to unfreeze our relations," he says.

The lesson from this episode, he says, is that while for Singapore international treaties are sacrosanct and must be honoured no matter how much time has passed since they were concluded, for the Chinese, they must be interpreted in the light of changing circumstances. Mr Xu says that to Beijing, Singapore had crossed a red line, which was that there should not be official contact between the two sides.

The next low point came in November 2016, with Hong Kong impounding nine Terrex armoured vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces that had been used in troop training in Taiwan and were being sent back to Singapore on a ship that made port calls at Xiamen and Hong Kong.

Ostensibly, the reason was China's opposition to any form of official interaction between Singapore and Taiwan, including military exchanges.

However, the real reason, says Mr Xu, was that Singapore had touched on China's bottom line through its support for the ruling of the arbitral tribunal on the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines, which rejected China's historical claims to much of the waterway. Singapore had taken a neutral stand on the ruling but urged peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law. PM Lee, speaking in Washington in August, said the ruling was much better than seeing "whose guns are more powerful".

Again, notes Prof Koh, Singapore stayed calm, stood firm and waited for the Chinese to stop their unfriendly actions, which also included not inviting Prime Minister Lee to the inaugural international forum of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2017.


The rough spots in ties are attributable in part to the high expectation each side has of the other, given the closeness of the relationship and, on the part of the Chinese, the sense that Singapore with its largely Chinese society should be weighing in on the side of China on international issues.

There is also the matter of size. "The relationship between Singapore and China is not a relationship between two equals," says Prof Koh, adding that it is a relationship between a big country and a small country, with big countries having the tendency to bully small ones.

The relationship has survived the unhappy incidents and thrived in the past 30 years. In that time, Singapore's special status as a bridge between China and the West has diminished as China has established its own links and has grown strong and powerful.

Still, as China's tech giants such as Tencent and Alibaba's growing presence in Singapore has shown, Singapore still has a role to play in China's economic development. In this instance, it is as a staging board for Chinese companies to expand to South-east Asia and beyond.

The economic links are strong, with China now Singapore's largest trading partner and Singapore the largest investor in China. People-to-people exchanges are also strong, particularly with many new Chinese migrants to Singapore.

The relationship may have become less special, more normal, but it is no less close or substantive.

The future is less certain, however, particularly with tensions rising between China and the United States. Singapore has good relations with both and it would be difficult for it to choose sides. How it manages this challenge would determine the next chapter of its relationship with China.

Unofficial ties that buttressed decades of friendship between Singapore and China
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

The visit by the US table tennis team to Beijing in April 1971 is widely regarded as a key turning point in US-China relations, culminating in rapprochement when then US President Richard Nixon visited the Chinese capital less than a year later.

Less widely known, however, is that ping-pong diplomacy also played a role, that same year, in nascent Singapore-China ties when the Republic sent a team in November to the first Afro-Asian Table Tennis Friendship Invitational Tournament.

The two countries then had no official ties as China did not recognise Singapore's independence in 1965. But unofficially, both sides recognised the value of expanding commercial and other ties.

This was evident when, about a fortnight before the paddlers competed, Singapore sent its first official trade mission to China.

Singapore's participation in the tournament also led to China sending its ping-pong team here in 1972, paving the way for other sports and cultural exchanges, like visits of China's acrobatic troupes.

The milestone year also saw the Singapore Medical Association sending a high-level team to China.

Though low-key, these early links demonstrated the pragmatic approach of the two countries in developing their friendship and mutual understanding amid the turbulent times of the Sino-Soviet split and the Vietnam War.

Eminent historian Wang Gungwu noted that Chinese Singaporeans, many of them emigres, were deeply committed to maintaining links with their home towns in China, while China was keen to grow trade and restart its economy.

By then, the Malayan Communist Party had also been defeated, the Chinese were winding down their Cultural Revolution activities, and Singapore's then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was "skilfully non-communist", said Professor Wang, who is University Professor at the National University of Singapore. "Since everybody benefited from expanding commercial and financial contacts, you could dispense with formal diplomatic ties and act pragmatic."

Trade figures reflected this new reality: In the 10 years from 1965, Singapore's trade with China more than tripled, from $246.9 million to $786.2 million.

Beijing also did not forget Singapore's vote of support that helped China gain a seat at the United Nations in October 1971.

In 1974, at a private dinner in New York, then Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Qiao Guanhua extended an invitation to Singapore's Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam to visit China.

Mr Rajaratnam's trailblazing goodwill mission to Beijing the following March fostered warmer ties even as Singapore maintained its policy of being the last among the founding Asean members to formalise ties with China - a move to allay the fears of its neighbours that the Republic would be a "third China" as 75 per cent of its population was ethnic Chinese.

Beijing's material support for communist movements in South-east Asia in the 1950s and 1960s had also made some countries in the region wary of Chinese overtures. Indonesia, in particular, had a difficult relationship with China. Ties were severed in 1967 after Jakarta accused Beijing of complicity in an abortive communist coup attempt in the country.

In a late-evening meeting with Mr Rajaratnam during his China trip, Premier Zhou Enlai said China respected Singapore's sovereignty, and did not see it as a third China.

He also told Mr Rajaratnam that while China hoped to establish diplomatic ties with Singapore soon, it understood the sensitivities Singapore faced and was willing to postpone formal relations.

The success of Mr Rajaratnam's visit laid the groundwork for Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to make his maiden trip to China in May 1976.

During the two-week trip, Mr Lee held lengthy meetings with Premier Hua Guofeng, and had a face-to-face meeting with Chairman Mao Zedong despite the Great Helmsman's frail health.

Veteran diplomat Tommy Koh, who organised Mr Lee's visit, recalled that the 15-minute meeting with Chairman Mao, although not particularly substantive, was still a strong signal from the Chinese.

"It was important symbolically: that Mao Zedong approved of the visit by Singapore, and wanted to have good relations with Singapore," Professor Koh said in a recent interview.

The reciprocal visit to Singapore by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978 would help cement not just the underlying bilateral relationship but also a budding personal friendship between Mr Lee and Mr Deng.

Impressed by Singapore's governance model and the way it had managed to attract and channel foreign investments, Mr Deng returned home with the Republic's formula in mind as he designed China's economic reforms, which came to be his signature reform and opening-up policy.

Mr Lee recounted in his memoirs that official Chinese news coverage of Singapore changed after Mr Deng returned home. "Singapore was described as a garden city worth studying for its greening, public housing and tourism. We were no longer 'running dogs of the American imperialists'," Mr Lee noted, referencing an epithet Radio Beijing had once used to describe him.

In the ensuing years, official visits continued apace despite the lack of diplomatic relations.

Mr Lee made his second visit to China, in 1980, while then Premier Zhao Ziyang visited Singapore in 1981, after which the two nations exchanged trade representatives for the first time, with the offices serving as de facto embassies.

The breadth of relations expanded into other spheres: In 1985, direct air links were established, with the first Singapore Airlines flights to Shanghai and Beijing.

Trade and investments continued to blossom: By 1990, two-way trade had reached $5.2 billion, while Singapore's companies had directly invested more than $1 billion in China.

After Indonesia resumed formal relations with China in August 1990, Singapore and China formalised ties in a simple ceremony at the United Nations complex in New York on this day, 30 years ago.

The subsequent years saw Mr Lee maintain an abiding interest in China that its leaders keenly reciprocated. He would visit China 33 times over 37 years and meet five generations of Chinese leaders, becoming a respected elder to successive groups of political leaders from both sides.

These early years of Singapore-China relations still hold valuable lessons for keeping ties on a strong footing, like the value of pragmatic, mutually beneficial cooperation in overcoming ideological hurdles, said scholars of China and Singapore-China ties.

One such lesson is to combine the building of personal relationships among leaders with strong institutional frameworks to ensure continuous partnership at different levels, said ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Lye Liang Fook.

"Another key ingredient is to be forward-looking and continue to pursue cooperation based on each country's national interest," he said. "Proceeding on each other's national interest offers a good basis to review not only existing areas of cooperation, but also to explore new areas of cooperation."

Singapore - the launch pad for Chinese business in South-east Asia
By Tan Dawn Wei, China Bureau Chief, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2020

Two weeks ago, Tencent, China's Internet and gaming behemoth, announced it was creating a regional hub in Singapore to tap the fast-growing South-east Asia market. The news came on the heels of other Chinese tech giants setting up bigger shops in the Republic, as they face push-back in the US, India and other countries.

ByteDance, the parent company of video-sharing app TikTok, was reported by Bloomberg to be planning to invest billions of dollars and generate hundreds of jobs in Singapore over the next three years. And Alibaba has sunk at least $5 billion into buying Lazada, which it claims has become South-east Asia's top e-commerce platform based on average monthly Web visits.

The three Chinese companies are also eyeing a digital-bank licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Chinese media has described these global expansion plans as shrewd moves to capture a market of 640 million in South-east Asia, one that will boast 310 million digital consumers by the end of this year, according to a recent report by Facebook and Bain.

And Singapore is well placed to play host, say the media reports.

"Singapore and China have small cultural differences, similar administrative systems and lower communication costs," wrote Professor Pan Helin of the Institute of Digital Economy at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in the Communist Party paper Global Times. "China's digital technology radiates across South-east Asia with Singapore as the hub, and then continues to reach overseas markets in South-east Asia. This is a more rational and safe choice in the current global geopolitical competition climate."

Singapore, on its part, has been wooing Chinese firms to use the Republic as a launch pad to the region, by offering professional services, intellectual property management and financial services.

The bilateral relationship has, for the past four decades, been anchored by economic ties.

Since 2013, China has been Singapore's largest trading partner, while Singapore has been China's biggest foreign investor. Two-way trade reached $135 billion in 2018.

The two countries also inked a bumper crop of deals at their last apex bilateral summit, the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation meeting last October, signalling a new chapter in the relationship as Singapore shifts to a new generation of political leaders.

The level of economic interdependence will continue to increase, say Chinese analysts who point to the growing number of collaborative projects and pacts between the two countries.

The two have multiple inter-governmental projects in China, including Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city, Chongqing Connectivity Initiative and Guangzhou Knowledge City, and plan to take their collaborative experience in high-quality industrial parks to other countries.

"Economic cooperation is important in maintaining the healthy development of the bilateral relationship," said Dr Fan Lei, director of the Centre for Singapore Studies at Shandong University of Political Science and Law. "Singapore is a small country and is more dependent on the global market, and its export-oriented economy dovetails with China's current development strategy."

Singapore was among the first countries to support China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure development blueprint launched in 2013 that spans land and sea routes to create a global trading network. One-third of all Chinese investments to Belt and Road countries now flow through Singapore.

That the relationship has progressed largely smoothly over the past 30 years since formal diplomatic relations were established is thanks to the pragmatism adopted by the leaders of the two countries.

"For countries to have friendly relations, the starting point is finding common ground based on mutual benefit," said Professor Lu Yuanli, director of the Centre for Singapore Studies at Shenzhen University. "Singapore's strength is it is constantly thinking about how it can add value to other countries, and that will certainly be beneficial in maintaining a good relationship with China."


Despite the strong trade ties between the two countries, China's investment in the Republic still trails behind that of the United States - Singapore's No. 1 source of foreign direct investment - by a long way.

Figures from Singapore's Department of Statistics show that in 2018, the US pumped in $289 billion, against China's $41 billion, even though China's stock of direct investments in Singapore has been increasing 10 per cent each year on average since 2010.

There has long been an uneasiness in Beijing over Singapore's cosy connection and strategic partnership with the US, particularly in defence cooperation. While geopolitical considerations factor large in the discomfort, at the Chinese grassroots level the soreness is more emotive - Singapore, being the only country other than China with an ethnic Chinese majority, should stand with China, so goes the argument.

"There are indeed inseparable cultural links and kinship between the two countries, and this is surely beneficial to the growth of the relationship, and is what sets it apart from China's relationship with other countries," said Prof Lu.

But from an official standpoint, there is recognition and acceptance that Singapore is a sovereign country free to make its own foreign policy choices.

"As long as the Singapore-US relationship does not affect China's national interests, also whether in South-east Asia or the South China Sea, China will not interfere in the development of the bilateral relationship," said Dr Fan.

"But once those national interests are somehow threatened, then I think the Chinese government's attitude may change."

Singapore, China mark 30 years of bilateral ties on 3 October 2020
Leaders express wish to deepen cooperation, strengthen relations
By Elizabeth Law, China Correspondent In Beijing, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2020

Singapore and China's leaders have exchanged congratulatory messages to mark the 30th anniversary of bilateral relations.

In his remarks to President Halimah Yacob yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country is willing to work with Singapore to deepen practical cooperation. "The cooperation between the two countries goes beyond the bilateral scope and exerts an exemplary effect at the regional and international levels," Mr Xi said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

As the world undergoes changes not seen in a century because of the coronavirus pandemic, China is willing to work with Singapore to further develop the Belt and Road Initiative, Mr Xi said.

"China is willing to work together with Singapore... to deepen pragmatic cooperation in various fields, jointly safeguard multilateralism and free trade, and promote greater development of bilateral relations for regional and global stability and prosperity," he added.

Noting that China is Singapore's largest trading partner, while the Republic has been China's largest foreign investor since 2013, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his message, said he looks forward to strengthening ties and bringing the partnership to greater heights.

And in her message, President Halimah said that even amid the pandemic, both countries have continued to maintain frequent exchanges at all levels while extending assistance in times of need.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in his letter to PM Lee, said: "China is willing to work with Singapore to... keep pace with the times, pioneer and innovate, deepen the alignment of development strategies, and help the two countries and the region overcome challenges and usher in better future development prospects."

On Oct 3, 1990, the two countries' foreign ministers signed a joint communique at the United Nations headquarters in New York, marking the start of diplomatic ties. Although there had been visits and prior interactions before this, they were arranged through Singapore's trade office in Beijing.

The Chinese Embassy in Singapore yesterday released the first of a three-part documentary celebrating 30 years of bilateral relations.

Featuring 20 people from "all walks of life", the first episode involved senior diplomats Chan Heng Chee and Tommy Koh, who were personally involved in the setting up of formal ties, head of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Chinese Media Group Lee Huay Leng and Business China chairman Lee Yi Shyan.

The episode examined the early stages of bilateral relations, and the inaugural joint government project, the Suzhou Industrial Park.

Meanwhile, Lianhe Zaobao and English e-magazine ThinkChina yesterday released a picture book titled In The Founders' Footsteps: 30 Years Of Singapore-China Diplomatic Relations.

The book was launched by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Chee Hong Tat and Chinese ambassador to Singapore Hong Xiaoyong.

Also at the event were former foreign ministers S. Dhanabalan, Wong Kan Seng and George Yeo, as well as Singapore's former ambassadors to China Cheng Tong Fatt, Chin Siat-Yoon and Stanley Loh.

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