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Sino-Singapore relationship in 'working shape': PM

Singapore and China must manage and accept different perspectives on issues and not let differences affect ties

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PM Lee (left) and his team lunched with the chiefs of large Singapore companies last Saturday in Chongqing. The business leaders were in a group led by the Singapore Business Federation.

Hangzhou, China

SINGAPORE and China have strong levels of cooperation but the two countries are different and it is normal that they don't see eye-to-eye on every issue all the time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said.

"We are different countries, so it's quite natural that we have different perspectives on issues," he told the Singapore media on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) leaders' summit in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Singapore took over from Thailand as the dialogue coordinator of Asean-China relations in August 2015 for a three-year term.

With China embroiled in the ongoing South China Sea territorial dispute, Beijing has on several occasions urged Singapore, a founding member of Asean, to maintain an objective position in its role as coordinator.

Asked to comment on the perceived tension both countries have experienced in their relationship lately, Mr Lee said it was important to "manage and accept" the different perspectives on the table and not allow them to affect the overall relationship.

"We have many cooperation areas with China. They are 'win-win' cooperation, otherwise they would not be there. If they were to slow down, it would be a pity for both countries," he said.

"We accept that there will be some times when there are issues, and things may take time. This is normal between any two countries, particularly two with a very close relationship," he added.

He told Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting in Hangzhou last Friday that Singapore's role as dialogue-relations coordinator was to be an "honest broker" to bring people closer together.

"It depends on consensus. In the end, we have to respect different countries having different perspectives and stands, and we have to make common cause where we can and respect one another's different positions when we have to."

On the whole, he described the broad relationship to be in "working shape" as he rounded up his four-day visit to China on Monday.

Apart from Hangzhou, he had also spent a day in the south-western city of Chongqing, where he met party secretary Sun Zhengcai and had lunch with the chiefs of some of Singapore's largest companies.

Mr Lee said Singapore's cooperation with China, the world's second-largest economy, is progressing on many fronts, including the new government-to-government project - the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative (CCI) - in China's west.

He noted the CCI's many advances since its launch last November in its four priority areas: financial services, aviation, transport & logistics, and ICT.

The CCI is the third government-to-government project between Singapore and China, after the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994 and the Tianjin Eco-city in 2008.

Mr Lee said that while the Chongqing project has enough on its plate to keep going for another year or two, both sides are already looking at ways that it can "break new ground" and help China when the country rolls out new policies or new emphasis on development strategies.

"If we can identify the areas which are promising, we can put it up to the JCBC (Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation) the next time Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean meets (Chinese) Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli," said Mr Lee, referring to the council's two co-chairs.

The JCBC, which meets every year, is a high-level institutional mechanism established in 2003 to oversee the full gamut of Sino-Singapore cooperation.

Separately, Mr Lee met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in between the plenary sessions of the G-20 Summit.

Mr Lee, who was with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, posted a picture of the meeting on his Facebook page and wrote: "We have good relations with Canada and can do much more together."

Mr Lee departed Hangzhou on Monday evening and flew straight to the Laotian capital Vientiane to attend the Asean Summit, which begins on Tuesday.