China-Singapore ties stand test of time

Neighbors, friends deepen partnership and enter higher level of economic cooperation

China and Singapore enjoy a long history of exchanges and friendship. At different historic periods, such as the World War II, the founding of the People’s Republic of China and China’s reform and opening-up, many outstanding Singaporeans have given their help, contributing to the friendship and cooperation between our two countries.

In recent years, China-Singapore ties have entered a new era. During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Singapore in 2015, the two sides established an All-round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times and China-Singapore Belt and Road cooperation has been constantly upgraded, showing strategic, forward-looking and exemplary features.

Shortly after I became ambassador to Singapore last year, I visited the Ee Hoe Hean Club that houses a memorial hall built by the Tan Kah Kee foundation. On its walls are a series of old photos marking the outstanding contributions made by the early overseas Chinese leaders in Southeast Asia, including Tan Kah Kee, who helped in the liberation of China and the social development of Singapore.

Tan is well known in both Singapore and China. He was committed to the cause of education, helping found the Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore and Jimei University and Xiamen University in China.

During the World War II, Tan used his wealth to mobilize the overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia to support China’s anti-Japanese War. He was not the richest Chinese overseas, but contributed the most, even setting up an overseas Chinese machinist group to serve in China. In a letter to Chen Cunmu, president of Jimei School in Xiamen, in November 1937, he wrote: “The time is difficult, I hope to encourage the students to work hard to fight against the enemy and save the country … My only regret is that I don’t have millions of money, otherwise, I’ll spend all of them on buying government bonds to save the country with no hesitation.”

In 1940, Tan led a delegation to visit the anti-Japanese invasion soldiers and civilians in China. Chairman Mao Zedong hosted a banquet for him outside his cave in Yan’an. They shared simple dishes such as cabbage and beans, and held a long conversation. Emboldened by how things stood for China, Tan donated a large amount of money and materials to support the anti-Japanese invasion base areas managed by the Communist Party of China. Chairman Mao called him the “banner of overseas Chinese and national glory”.

Another person who helped establish and promote mutually beneficial cooperation between Singapore and China was Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. During his visit to Singapore in 1978, Chinese then leader Deng Xiaoping and Lee jointly opened a new chapter of friendly exchanges. At that time, Singapore, an independent country, had become one of the “four Asian tigers” while China was planning an ambitious blueprint for reform and opening-up.

Over the next four decades, thanks to reform and opening-up in China, cooperation between the two nations has deepened. Last year, the Chinese government awarded Lee the China Reform Friendship Medal for his outstanding contribution in promoting Singapore’s active participation and support for China’s reform and opening-up.

Lee had visited China 33 times during which many important decisions were taken. He planned and promoted the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park project in person, and shared Singapore’s development experience with China.

Another Singaporean friend who has contributed to China’s reform and opening-up is its former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee. In 1985, Goh, who had just retired, readily accepted an invitation from the Chinese government to work as an economic and tourism consultant for China’s coastal development zones. For the next six years, he made annual visits to China’s east coast for one to two months to make recommendations to the Chinese government. He declined the consultant fee offered by the Chinese government, saying “I am here to help China’s coastal areas develop their economy, not to make money”. He donated his daily allowance to primary schools.

Deng praised Goh as an economic expert who played an important role in China’s reform and opening-up.

China-Singapore cooperation has now deepened with the launch of the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity. Singapore has established economic and trade cooperation mechanisms with eight Chinese provinces and cities, including Shanghai and Guangdong. And more and more Singaporean government officials and entrepreneurs have come to China to participate in China-Singapore cooperation, forging deep friendship with their Chinese partners. Also, many officials who now hold key positions in Singapore’s cabinet and in big companies have lived and worked in China and continue to contribute to the promotion of China-Singapore ties.

The three major inter-governmental cooperation projects, namely the Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-City and China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity, are progressing smoothly.

Three important cooperation platforms, namely connectivity, financial support and third-party cooperation, under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, are also being strengthened. Last year, the Guangzhou Knowledge City project was upgraded to a State-level cooperation project, the bilateral free trade agreement was upgraded and formally signed, and the “Southern Transport Corridor” was upgraded to a “New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor” connecting the Belt and Road.

China has been Singapore’s largest trading partner for six consecutive years, and Singapore is China’s largest source of new foreign investment during that time. This year, the Shanghai-Singapore Comprehensive Cooperation Council was established, bringing the number of cooperation mechanisms between Singapore and Chinese provinces and cities to eight, forming a new pattern of all-round cooperation with east, west, north and south China.

China is a friendly neighbor of Singapore and the Chinese people are friends of the Singaporean people as the two countries mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties next year. Our initial intention for cooperation remains unchanged and we are continuing to forge ahead. We believe that as long as the two sides continue to adhere to the principles of mutual respect and win-win cooperation, ties between China and Singapore will continue to benefit both countries and the region.

The author is Chinese ambassador to Singapore. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.