BEIJING, April 1, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described bilateral relations as “very good” in an interview with China Media Group two weeks ago, before embarking on his official visit to China.
Then one day before he wrapped up his week-long trip, the two countries had their relations updated to a “comprehensive, high-quality and forward-looking” partnership, as Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Lee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday.
Of the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore has the deepest engagement in China’s reform and opening up, and shares the closest integration of interests with it, Xi said.
He added that China is ready to strengthen strategic communication and seek greater synergies between strategies with the Singaporean side to make “high quality” a distinct feature of the cooperation between the two countries.
Relations a model for region
China and Singapore enjoy expanding and deepening economic ties. From 2013 to 2021, China had been Singapore’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. And Singapore continued to maintain its position as the largest source of foreign capital in China for the 10th consecutive year in 2022.
From January to February 2023, the total import and export volume of China and Singapore reached $19.5 billion, up 37.6 percent year on year, according to data from China’s Ministry of Commerce.
In addition, Singapore is the very first nation among the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to publicly support the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and it is also a member of the Friends of Global Development Initiative (GDI) group.
A landmark project of high-quality BRI cooperation between China and Singapore, the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor saw 107,000 TEU containers transported by the rail-sea intermodal freight trains as of February 23 this year, up 9.25 percent year on year.
During Friday’s talks, Xi hailed China and Singapore as important partners, describing the relationship as “forward-looking, strategic and exemplary.”
That has not only helped advance the revitalization of each country’s development, but also serves as a model for countries in the region, said the Chinese president.
China is willing to strengthen the construction of the corridor with Singapore, Xi pledged. Efforts should also be made to deepen digitalization, green transformation and third-party cooperation, and promote people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, he added.
For his part, Lee expressed confidence in the vitality and resilience of China’s economy, echoing a message he had highlighted when speaking at the annual conference of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) on Thursday.
Singapore and other neighboring countries are looking forward to further deepening economic cooperation with China, he said.
Dividends of peace
Asia has been hailed as “a bright spot in the bleak global economic landscape” and global economic governance has entered into the “Asian moment,” according to a recent report released by the BFA.
The weighted real GDP growth rate of Asia in 2023 is estimated at 4.5 percent, an increase from 4.2 percent in 2022, said the report, adding that the region is expected to accelerate the pace of overall economic growth.
During talks with the Singaporean leader, Xi attributed such good momentum in the region to a development path with Asian characteristics that features independence, mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, openness and inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation.
Against the backdrop of accelerating world changes unseen in a century, regional countries should cherish the hard-won development momentum to jointly safeguard the dividends of peace in the region, he said.
Xi urged efforts to keep in the right direction of economic and regional integration and reject the attempts to push for “decoupling and severing supply chains.”
“No country should be allowed to deprive the Asian people of their right to pursue a better and happier life,” said the Chinese president.
Singapore believes that countries should respect each other, coexist peacefully, cooperate for mutual benefit, avoid conflicts, and work together to deal with risks and challenges, said Lee.
Even if there is competition between countries, it should be based on respect and trust, and there should be no picking sides, he said.
When it comes to the Taiwan question, Lee stressed that almost all countries in the world recognize that there is only one China in the world, and develop friendly and cooperative relations with China on the basis of the one-China policy.
The Taiwan question is China’s internal affairs, and the touting of “Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow” will have unpredictable and grave consequences, warned the Singaporean prime minister.