ST: S'pore envoy bids farewell to China

BEIJING: Singapore's long-serving Ambassador to China Chin Siat Yoon bade farewell to Chinese officials and the Beijing diplomatic corps on Thursday night, ending a stint that began in 1998.

The retired brigadier-general said his 14-year tenure was a most exciting time as it had given him a ringside seat to follow China's dramatic progress.

He saw the country and its people's strength, energy and talent, whether it was battling natural disasters such as the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008 or successfully hosting the Beijing Olympics in August the same year.

But having travelled to almost all the provinces in China, he is also aware that the country indeed still has huge challenges to overcome.

'Outsiders do not necessarily see China the way it sees itself. China sees 150 million of its people still living below the poverty line and a host of socio-economic problems that need to be solved,' he said at a reception here attended by former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing.

'Others, however, may see a China that has achieved double-digit growth for more than two decades and wonder how a strong China would use its power and influence. Hence, China's repeated assurances that it will steadfastly adhere to its path of peaceful development are very necessary and much appreciated.'

He also witnessed the development in bilateral ties between Singapore and Beijing, a maturing relationship which has seen cooperation not only widen but also deepen.

'As with all bilateral relationships, there was of course the occasional hiccup. When I first arrived, the first major task assigned to me was to help resolve our differences over the Suzhou Industrial Park - our flagship cooperative project,' recalled the veteran diplomat who turns 63 this year.

'Fourteen years on, the SIP has become the most successful icon of our relationship which continues to enjoy the attention of leaders on both sides.'

A second project, the Tianjin Eco-City, is now in the works, he added, drawing the leaders and people of both countries even closer.

Last year, China was Singapore's third-largest trading partner and Singapore China's 11th-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $101.4 billion, he said.

Total visitor arrivals from China to Singapore in the first 11 months of last year was 1.46 million, up 36.6 per cent from the previous year.

'I am thus leaving at a time when our bilateral relations are in good shape and set to become even better. I have no regrets,' he said.

'If I have made any contribution to this important relationship during my tenure, I owe it to all of you present here this evening, and many more who are not here.'

Taking over from Mr Chin as ambassador next month is career diplomat Stanley Loh Ka Leung, 40.

Mr Chin leaves Beijing for Tokyo where he will be Singapore's Ambassador to Japan.

shpeh@sph.com.sg