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Visits Strengthening Sino-Singaporean Ties

Although there have been mutual misunderstandings and misgivings between China and Singapore, the fundamental roots of relations remain strong. Both sides should cherish their exchanges and build on them to realize even stronger ties in the future.


The most recent example of the close relationship was Vice Premier Wu Yi's visit to Singapore in September, when she co-chaired the high-level Second Assembly of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Minister Wong Kan Seng. The mood was reportedly good and the talks were termed "substantive," as both sides agreed to work more closely on initiatives, old and new. Singapore stressed it valued its ties with China and welcomed China's "peaceful development."


Wu's successful visit has paved the way for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to China beginning on Monday, and perhaps Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Singapore during his tour of the region for the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in December.


In fact, during Wu's short but fruitful visit to Singapore, she went to call on Prime Minister Lee, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. According to Singapore media reports, Wu said, on entering Prime Minister Lee's office, that she was very glad to see him again. Lee replied in Mandarin: "Thank you, yes, it's always nice to meet old friends."


Their last encounter was in May 2004, when Lee, as deputy prime minister, visited Beijing, and launched with Wu the inaugural meeting of the JCBC. It was the "old friend" and "again" remarks that were truly significant.


After a lunch in Wu's honor hosted by Lee at the Istana, Wu met another "old friend," Senior Minister Goh, who came up with the JCBC idea back in 2003. Wu's visit therefore clearly underscored the "old friend" aspect of Sino-Singaporean ties. It is therefore necessary to go back to the roots of Sino-Singaporean ties in order to build the future of this relationship, beginning with Lee's current visit.


Singapore and China signed a number of agreements during Wu's visit, including a human resources partnership for the 21st century, a deal on the inspection and quarantine of animals and plants and an exchange program for officials.


Financial input will be increased at the Shanghai Zhongxin Technology Company, a joint cooperative project by Singapore's Economic Development Board and the Shanghai municipal government to promote technological exchanges between the two countries, from 10 billion yuan (US$1.23 billion) to 50 billion yuan (US$6.17 billion), with Singapore and China both putting in an extra 20 billion yuan (US$2.47 billion).


In addition the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and the China Foreign Trade Center (CFTC) will team up, with the CFTC supporting the SCCCI's Enterprise Development Center, to be established later this month in Singapore.


These five agreements further attest to the comprehensive nature of Sino-Singaporean relations and how they have extensively matured over the years. But mutual trust must be effectively restored.


Sino-Singaporean relations are indeed wide-ranging and comprehensive, and the scope for development and consolidation of these ties has solid foundations -- especially considering the historical ties that bind them.


Important historical milestones include the visit of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping to Singapore in the late 1970s, when he expressed openly the need for China to "learn from Singapore." Singapore then shared its expertise with China in industrial and organizational management in the 1980s and 90s, leading to the establishment of their cooperation in Suzhou of Jiangsu Province.


Singapore became "a window to China" and spoke out for China's "pragmatic development" and its abandonment of its "ideological struggle," a systematic defense put up by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew vis-à-vis the West and international investors. Lee always receives respect in China because of this.


It must be remembered that Sino-Singaporean ties have been built solidly on "positive pragmatism" on both sides.


Building further on this basis, Singapore and China built up their close relations on economic pragmatism, as Singapore asked, and China reciprocated, by normalizing bilateral relations with Beijing only after Indonesia had done so, though economic, trade and investment ties were already flourishing, even in the absence of normal ties.


Singapore has clearly stated it accepts the one-China policy and Beijing can rest assured there is absolutely no ambiguity in its policy with regard to Taipei.


There can be no doubt that Singapore values China's friendship and welcomes its "peaceful development," as well as its positive and constructive role in East Asia.


Countries, big and small, will always act in their own interests, which may cause some hiccups in bilateral relations from time to time, but fundamental mutual interests remain strong and solid between Beijing and Singapore, which should allow both sides to clear the air frankly in direct contacts and approaches without inhibitions.


A direct channel between Chinese and Singaporean leaders should be established in order to effectuate a sound future relationship, just as a bilateral FTA could cement our economic relations and symbolize a new phase of consolidated ties.


Sino-Singaporean relations are thus poised to take off with the visit of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Beijing, when mutual trust will be fully restored.


(China Daily October 26, 2005)


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