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Celebrating 25 years of Singapore-China diplomatic ties
THE year 2015 is of special significance as Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence and 25 years of formal diplomatic relations with China. Both countries conducted visits at the highest level to commemorate the milestone in bilateral relations: Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited China in July, with China President Xi Jinping returning his invitation for a state visit early this month.
The special relationship that Singapore and China enjoys is the result of trust built over the years between leaders and citizens alike. Though vastly different in size and schema, Singapore and China have established a special friendship since the mid 1970s which has evolved over time, in line with changing needs and development priorities.
In recognition of the cherished friendship between Singapore and China and in conjunction with President Xi's visit, both governments have agreed to elevate bilateral relations to a higher level and establish an "all round cooperative partnership progressing with the times".
The increased partnership between Singapore and China will open up more opportunities for mutual benefit and also strengthen coordination on regional and global issues. For example, the choice of Singapore as the venue of the historic meeting between President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou showcases the role that Singapore can play in facilitating stability and peace in the region.
EVOLVING SINGAPORE-CHINA TIES
During his recent visit to Singapore, President Xi Jinping together with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong witnessed the signing of eight Memoranda of Understanding and Agreements. These include the exchange of letters for the official launch of negotiations for the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA) upgrade, agreements to launch the third government-to-government project, and other agreements on education cooperation, urban management, and collaboration between the two Customs authorities. The wide range of agreements reflect the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation.
One of the most highly anticipated announcements was the venue of the third government-to-government project. The bilateral project was announced by President Xi to be based in Chongqing and named "China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity".
Developments will be around the theme of "modern connectivity and modern services", with focuses on the four priority areas of financial services, aviation, transport and logistics, and information and communications technology.
The Chongqing project is deemed to be in line with the economic priorities of both countries - in particular, China's efforts to develop its vast western region and Singapore's search for new areas to sustain growth. This project will also allow Singaporean companies to work collaboratively with their China counterparts to expand their regional and global presence.
The third G-to-G project in China comes after the successes of the 1994 China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and the 2007 Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. These projects were considered ground-breaking initiatives in their time and their successful establishment had inspired other cities in China to emulate their models.
Singapore and China have also been actively exploring new collaborative areas which include cooperation in smart cities development, food safety, and technology and innovation through private-sector-led, government-supported joint projects in different parts of China. These include the Guangzhou Knowledge City, the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-tech Innovation Park, the Jilin Food Zone and the Nanjing Eco High-tech Island.
Today, both countries enjoy close bilateral and economic relations. China is Singapore's largest trading partner with trade volume reaching US$121.5 billion last year, a 23-fold increase from US$5.2 billion in 1990. Singapore has also been China's largest foreign investor country for the past two years.
The substantive upgrade of the CSFTA is expected to further elevate the bilateral economic cooperation and provide Singapore businesses with more access to China's growing services sector and greater investment protection in China.
On May 20, 2015, representatives from the 57 prospective founding members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) attended a three-day Chief Negotiators' Meeting in Singapore. This was the first-ever AIIB meeting to be held outside of China. Participants at the meeting finalised AIIB's articles of agreement (AOA) and discussed the draft for the bank's environmental and social framework. Singapore has since signed the AOA, stating it will contribute US$250 million to the AIIB.
The choice of Singapore as the first foreign location for the meeting reinforces Singapore's position as an international financial hub and reputation as a friendly neighbour.
NURTURING BILINGUAL AND BICULTURAL SINGAPOREANS
Launched in 2007, Business China's mission is to nurture an inclusive bilingual and bicultural group of Singaporeans through extensive use of the Chinese language as the medium of communication, so as to sustain our multi-cultural heritage, and develop a cultural and economic bridge linking the world and China.
Business China's Founding Patron, the late Lee Kuan Yew, believed that with greater understanding of the Chinese, their language, culture and customs, Singaporeans will be better equipped to engage with China and leverage on the opportunities that accompany China's growth.
Also, with China's society constantly evolving, it is necessary for Singaporeans to keep abreast of her developments and understand the corresponding impact on Singapore. Since its launch eight years ago, Business China has been actively spearheading strategic outreach programmes through its three main initiatives - FutureChina, Apex and Go East.
FutureChina aims to equip leading organisations in Singapore with an insider's perspective of China's developments, with the objective of nurturing a pool of China-savvy and China-ready business leaders.
Signature programmes include the Future China Advanced Leaders Programme, an intensive three-week highly interactive journey for leading entrepreneurs, second-generation business owners and C-suite level executives to connect with China.
A widely anticipated annual event, the FutureChina Global Forum is the only forum that goes beyond the usual discussions on China's economic evolution to cover timely, hot-button issues pertaining to China's latest development.
Since its establishment in 2010, FCGF has engaged more than 250 leading political figures and China experts to speak at the forum, providing a bilingual platform for thought leaders to share their candid perspectives on China's ever-changing landscape.
Apex is targeted at individual members with an interest in gaining insights and in-depth knowledge about China. Other than the annual Business China Awards, core programmes include the China Insight series and Eminent Speakers Series, where academics and international experts are invited to share invaluable perspectives on issues that impact China and the world.
Go East engages Singaporean students to develop their linguistic and cultural appreciation of China through events like the China-Quotient Forums. Singer songwriter JJ Lin, the 2014 recipient of Business China Young Achiever Award was a guest speaker at the China-Quotient Student Forum in March this year, where he addressed 1,000 students on the benefits of bilingualism.
Through these highly interactive sessions, students and teachers are better able to understand the changing faces of Chinese society as well as the importance of learning the Chinese language and engaging with China.
NEW CHAPTER OF BILATERAL TIES
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Asean-China dialogue relations. As the current country coordinator, Singapore will have the opportunity to work together with other Asean countries and China to strengthen collaboration and promote peace and stability in the region.
As a well-developed international trade hub, Singapore is the ideal base for Chinese companies' foray into the Asean region. With its strategic location in Asean, Singapore can play a constructive role in China's "One Belt One Road" initiative.
During President Xi's state visit to Singapore, Singapore Prime Minister Lee stated: "We will continue to build on what we've achieved since we established diplomatic relations 25 years ago, to take our bilateral relations further forward."
Indeed, the Singapore-China relationship is a special one, with a high level of mutual understanding and trust built through friendly exchanges by our forefathers and leaders.
These strong ties are also only made possible through the concerted and sustained efforts of individuals and organisations who through their actions, enhance Singapore-China relations and promote bilingualism and biculturalism in Singapore. The annual Business China Awards honours these contributors.
Business China hopes to continue to play an important role in strengthening bilateral relations, and spearheading initiatives to promote bilingualism and biculturalism. It will explore new opportunities and encourage Singaporeans to leverage on its multicultural capability, to grow Singapore's prominence as a nexus connecting the world.
- The writer is CEO, Business China