Transcript of PM Lee Hsien Loong's Interview with People's Daily

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

and businesses.

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

cross-border projects.

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.

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