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Strengthening partnerships: in the future economy, Belt and Road

Singapore and China can look forward to an even stronger relationship working on the Belt and Road Initiative.

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From left: Sun Xueling, CEO of Business China, with co-founders and senior vice-presidents of Alibaba Group, Eddie Wu and James Sheng; and co-founder and former CEO of Qunar.com, managing director of Zebra Global Capital, Zhuang Chenchao, at the FutureChina Global Forum 2016.

SINGAPORE and China enjoy a long and enduring relationship, forged long before formal diplomatic relations in 1990.

In a meeting on July 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg, Germany, ahead of the G-20 Leaders' Summit and "affirmed the substantive bilateral relationship, frequent high-level exchanges and good progress made in bilateral cooperation".

Three government-to-government projects - Suzhou Industrial Park, Tianjin Eco-city and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative - cement the Singapore-China relationship through common infrastructural, economic and software-exchange initiatives.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli co-chair the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Collaboration meeting.

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Other formal platforms - such as the seven provincial-level business councils encompassing the provinces and cities of Shandong, Sichuan, Liaoning, Zhejiang, Tianjin, Jiangsu and Guangdong - provide the avenue for more public-office holders and their ministries to work together with their Chinese counterparts. No other country has as many platforms with ongoing engagements as Singapore at any given time.

OF PERSONAL UNDERSTANDING

In recent trips to Singapore, Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China, and Zhao Leji, Communist Party of China Politburo member, made time outside their formal engagements to visit local companies and the heartlands.

They walked around Punggol Town, visited Singapore residents in their homes, spoke and listened to residents, learning about their aspirations as well as what the government does to help them achieve what they want in their lives and jobs.

Such personal engagements allow the Chinese guests to know Singapore better - how we live, our aspirations, our society make-up - just as we are keen to learn more about the Chinese economy and developments in China.

OF NEW FRONTIERS - BELT AND ROAD

There is much that Singapore and China can do together. At the Belt And Road Initiative in Beijing recently, President Xi spoke of investments in infrastructure to increase trade, promote economic growth, improve connectivity and develop win-win outcomes.

Covering 65 countries across Asia, the Middle East and Europe by land, and down the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and up the Mediterranean Sea, the Belt and Road is an ambitious plan, and will require human resource development and other forms of preparatory work to ensure buy-in and participation by other countries.

Various countries would play different roles in contributing to the execution of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Some countries require funding for infrastructure development to provide the environment for the Belt and Road Initiative. The improved infrastructure allows them to leverage their natural resources and manpower for development and growth.

Others, including Singapore, have over the years aggregated players and created links to the rest of the world and can contribute professional expertise and financing.

Singapore has indicated an interest to play an active role in the Belt and Road Initiative and was one of the first few countries to be involved in the establishment of AIIB, committing US$250 million to its authorised capital.

Making projects bankable, and getting them sponsored, financed and executed, are key to realising the initiative. Singapore is aggregating infrastructure companies, global financiers, multilateral lending institutions, and legal and advisory professionals to form an infrastructure exchange hub to service the Belt and Road projects.

OF NEW FRONTIERS - THE FUTURE ECONOMY

Both Singapore and China are investing in new growth areas such as smart nation, autonomous vehicles, automated manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

There is great upside potential as breakthroughs in technology and processes can help economies and companies leapfrog years of development. With the right business models and access to financing, startups can become global giants at speeds never seen before.

Positive demographic trends and a large market make South-east Asia attractive for both Singapore and China corporates. With Alibaba's acquisition of Lazada Group SA, Tencent's backing of Sea Ltd, and Didi's investment in Grab, Chinese technology companies are leading the way in penetrating South-east Asia, seeing it as a starting point for internationalisation.

Singapore's openness and rules-based structure are complementary to the efforts of internationalising Chinese tech companies. Reliable ICT infrastructure and a growing ecosystem of digital companies provide a conducive environment for the Chinese companies to anchor their regional headquarters in Singapore. Singapore's Smart Nation plan also creates opportunities for trials and co-development of mobile applications and digital solutions targeted at the region.

In internationalisation, Chinese corporates may face challenges in language, culture and business dynamics - which Singapore and its people familiar with the region can be of help.

SHARING ON THE NEW FRONTIERS AT THE FUTURECHINA GLOBAL FORUM

Business China hopes to engage individuals and institutions involved in the new frontiers.

Earlier this year, it led a group of young Singaporean business executives to experience the first stop-over in the Belt and Road Initiative: Urumqi and Almaty.

Vice-Governor Lan Tianli will represent Guangxi, at the FutureChina Global Forum this year. This will be one of the highlights of the event as Chongqing and Guangxi are important nodes in the Belt and Road Initiative.

A consortium of Singapore-based companies is also involved in the development of the southern trade corridor from Chongqing to South-east Asia through the Beibu Gulf Port in Guangxi.

Vice-president of Chinese Academy of Sciences Zhang Jie will be discussing technology and innovation at the forum.

Co-founder of drone-maker EHang, local companies including ST Kinetics, and the president of Alibaba's Tudou are among industry participants who will be sharing exciting developments in artificial intelligence and consumer technology.

BUSINESS CHINA AND HUMAN CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT

Human capital development will be crucial in the next stage of bilateral relations. It prepares the ground for the execution of the Belt and Road and strengthens Asean-China relations.

Singapore can play an active role in human capital development, such as training youth and third-country officials. Business China hopes to support this.

Developing people-to-people connectivity will be key to realising opportunities in the New Economy. Business China hopes to engage young Singaporeans and facilitate regional interaction, increase understanding and the pursuit of common interests.

  • The writer is CEO of Business China
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