08 Apr 2018
People’s Daily Interview with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Question 1: Singapore-China relations
Singapore-China relationship can be considered to have advanced with times in 2017,
achieving positive progress in various areas of cooperation. You have made an official
visit to China in September last year, reaching consensus with President Xi Jinping on
the development of bilateral relationship between China and Singapore. What is your
outlook for Singapore-China relationship in 2018?
1. Singapore-China relations are strong. The foundations were laid down by our
leaders long before we established formal diplomatic relations in 1990. This year
marks the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore. That visit took
place two years after Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited China in 1976. Our bilateral relations
have since flourished with regular exchanges of visits, including the visit by President
Xi Jinping in 2015 marking the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties
between Singapore and China.
2. President Xi Jinping said that Singapore and China share common interests in
many areas. I agree. We are two very different countries, in terms of population,
demographic composition, economic size, and geography. But we have managed to
work together to pursue win-win cooperation over a wide range of issues, from trade
and investment to social governance, human resource development, financial
services, legal and judicial matters.
3. Since my meeting with President Xi last September, China has held the 19th
Party Congress and Lianghui. These meetings set strategic directions for China’s
development and foreign policy in a new era. China will play a growing role in
regional and global issues. Singapore will continue to support China’s constructive
participation in the regional architecture as well as the international system.
4. Our developing partnership is reflected in our three Government-to-
Government projects. The Suzhou Industrial Park facilitated China’s early
industrialisation efforts and has been replicated in other Chinese cities. We then
embarked on the Tianjin Eco-City to support China’s sustainable and green development.
The third Government-to-Government project, the Chongqing Connectivity
Initiative, is a priority demonstration project under China’s Belt and Road (B&R)
Initiative, Western Region Development and Yangtze River Economic Belt strategies.
5. For this year, we have a full bilateral calendar. We are working to complete the
upgrading of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Singapore will host the
annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (co-chaired at the DPM level) and the
Second Legal and Judicial Roundtable, while China will host the Social Governance
Forum and Forum on Leadership. Through these high-level platforms and many
other exchanges, we hope to take our partnership forward.
Question 2: ASEAN—China Relations
ASEAN is a priority for China’s diplomacy with its neighbouring regions. Singapore
takes on the role of ASEAN Chairmanship this year, and continues to undertake the role
of country coordinator for ASEAN-China relations for the first half of the year. How does
Singapore plan to promote the further development of the ASEAN-China relationship?
1. China is one of ASEAN’s most important and substantive dialogue partners.
China is the top trading partner for most ASEAN Member States. ASEAN is a
significant grouping whose cohesion and effectiveness fosters a conducive regional
environment for China. The ASEAN-China FTA is one of the world’s largest free trade
areas. It is therefore in the interest of both sides that relations remain strong, stable
and mutually beneficial.
2. As ASEAN Chair as well as Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue
Relations, Singapore will continue to expand and deepen cooperation between the
two sides. We upgraded the ACFTA in 2015, and are now working towards the full
implementation of the upgrade Protocol. Deepening economic links and improving
connectivity will help us to reach the target of US$1 trillion in ASEAN-China trade by
3. This year ASEAN and China mark the 15th Anniversary of our Strategic
Partnership. Singapore is working with fellow ASEAN Member States and China to
chart the future direction of the ASEAN-China relationship through the ASEAN-China
Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 statement, which we hope to issue in November
4. We have also designated 2018 as the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation. This fits
in with Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme of “Resilience and Innovation”. One
of our Chairmanship deliverables is to establish an ASEAN Smart Cities Network.
China has the largest number of smart cities in the world, with more than 500 smart
city projects underway. We can learn much from China’s experience. We look
forward to partnering China in this area to create tangible benefits for our peoples
Question 3: Belt & Road Initiative
One of the themes for the “Boao Forum for Asia 2018” is “Globalisation and the Belt &
Road”; the establishment of Belt and Road is currently also an important component
of Singapore-China cooperation. What do you think are the priorities areas where
Singapore’s development strategy and the “Belt and Road” initiative align?
1. Singapore is an early and strong supporter of China’s Belt and Road (B&R)
Initiative. The Initiative will benefit many countries that need more and better
infrastructure. It is also compatible with keeping the regional architecture and
international system open and inclusive. Thus Singapore and China have agreed to
make the B&R Initiative a focal point in our bilateral relations.
2. We have identified several areas for cooperation under the B&R Initiative. The
first is infrastructure connectivity. We have developed the CCI- Southern Transport
Corridor (CCI-STC), which will link Chongqing to Qinzhou port (Beibu Gulf, Guangxi) in
the south by rail, and from Qinzhou to Singapore and beyond by sea. The CCI-STC will
create a direct connection between the overland New Silk Road Economic Belt and
the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, enhancing multi-modal connectivity from
Western China to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. We are also exploring
linking up our Single Electronic Windows to support the trade flows along the CCISTC.
3. The second area is financial connectivity. Singapore is an international financial
centre, one of the largest offshore RMB centres in the world. Singapore banks are
actively helping Chinese companies tap the B&R Initiative and expand into Southeast
Asia. Chinese banks in Singapore have committed S$100 billion to finance
Singaporean and Chinese companies involved in B&R projects, including issuing
project bonds to support B&R financing needs. Singapore’s financial centre can also
play a useful role in structuring and providing specialised insurance coverage for B&R
infrastructure projects. Today, two-thirds of Southeast Asia infrastructure projects
are arranged by Singapore-based project finance teams.
4. The third priority area is third country collaboration. Many Chinese companies
use Singapore as a base for their operations in the region. Singapore accounted for
85% of total inbound investments to China from B&R countries, and one third of
China’s outbound investments to B&R countries. We can also draw on each other’s
strengths to jointly develop commercially feasible projects in third countries along
the Belt and Road and provide training to officials from B&R participating countries.
5. Finally, we can work together to offer legal and dispute resolution services to
resolve cross border commercial disputes. The strong record of project financing in
Singapore is supported by our reputable and credible legal system which has a full
suite of mediation, arbitration and litigation services for commercial disputes. By
providing investors more options, we will also give them more confidence to pursue
Question 4: Regional Trade Arrangements
Singapore is currently advancing the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific
Partnership (CPTPP) with ten other countries, and is also negotiating the Regional
Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 15 other countries including China.
What are your views on the relationship between these different regional trade
arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region?
1. Globalisation and international trade have underpinned the growth and
prosperity of many countries, including Singapore and China. But in some countries,
the political mood is shifting against them. The US has been a longstanding advocate
of free trade and economic multilateralism. However, it has recently taken a
radically different approach towards trade, and has taken specific steps to protect
domestic industries and reduce its large bilateral trade deficits. These measures have
inevitably put pressure on the US’ relations with China and other countries
2. As a small nation with an open economy, Singapore is heavily dependent on
international trade. If unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalate into trade wars, the
multilateral trading system that has brought countries prosperity for decades will be
severely undermined. There will be no winners in a trade war.
3. China decision to join the WTO in 2001 was a bold one. Since then, China has
committed to abide by multilateral rules, including submitting to WTO dispute
settlement mechanism. China has benefited from doing this, as have other countries.
4. Since 2001 China’s economy has developed greatly. China’s share of global GDP
and trade volume have also increased 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. These steps would better match
China’s present stage of development. China can do so on a multilateral basis, or
through FTAs with regional partners
5. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
(CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are
complementary building blocks towards an eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-
Pacific. These two agreements will boost economic growth in the Asia-Pacific and
promote a seamless flow of goods, services and business that will benefit all
countries. The CPTPP, which was recently signed, is an open and inclusive
agreement. We welcome China, and others, to join the CPTPP when they are ready.
6. We also hope that the RCEP can be concluded soon. The RCEP will create an
even larger market comprising nearly half the world’s population and a third of its
GDP, and bring significant economic and strategic benefits to its members and the
broader Asia Pacific region. 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.
Question 5: Cultural Ties
According to Singapore Lianhe Zaobao’s report, China has overtaken Indonesia to
become the source country for the largest number of tourists entering Singapore. What
are your comments regarding this? Chinese make up the majority of Singapore’s
population, hence a lot of PRC Chinese have a natural affinity towards Singapore. You
have also received a Chinese education before. What are your views on the historical
and cultural linkages between Singapore and China?
1. China has a population of almost 1,400 million people. The middle class has
grown rapidly. Millions of Chinese are travelling overseas for business or leisure.
They can be seen everywhere in the world.
2. Cultural and language similarities make Singapore a popular destination for
Chinese tourists. We welcome them. Frequent exchanges between our peoples keep
our ties strong and enable us to do more together.
3. At the same time, Chinese tourists visit Singapore precisely because we are not
another Chinese city. They find Singapore a fascinating multiracial and multi-religious
country with different cultures and ways of life. Different ethnic groups and religious
faiths co-exist side by side, harmoniously. We hope that when Chinese tourists visit
us, they can see and appreciate how Singapore is unique, and how our multi-racial
national identity influences our place in the world and relations with other countries.