SINGAPORE is seriously considering taking on another mega industrial park project in China, this time in the western region which will figure large in the next phase of the country's economic development, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singapore reporters on Thursday.
But he said Singapore has yet to make up its mind to go ahead with the project, which Chinese newspapers reported will focus on "connectivity and modern services". "We have not reached that point yet."
"The Chinese side is very keen and we're taking it seriously," Mr Lee said after wrapping up an eight-day official visit to southern China and Hong Kong.
While it's referred to as another government-to-government project, similar to the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and the China-Singapore Tianjin Eco City project, he said "the exact form will depend on the Chinese side and we'll be discussing with them". "It's a big decision. We have to consider that carefully."
The project must have a balance between policy and commercial goals, according to him. "To start a third government-to-government project, there has to be a clear understanding of what the objective is, the economic policy and, at the same time, how can we package it so that it's a commercially cogent and viable project," Mr Lee said. "Then also, (we) have to decide where we're going to do this. These are things we're studying and discussing with the Chinese side and we hope to come to a conclusion soon."
He agreed that connectivity and modern services should be the focus of the project. It "makes sense because you're talking about the western region, you're talking about vast areas, linking them together not just physically but also IT, financial services . . . and modern services is something which encompasses logistics and many other relevant things".
Mr Lee would probably like the project to follow the private-sector-led and government-backed model that is the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City project. After visiting this industrial park in Guangzhou last week, he suggested that, because government resources are already stretched to their limits, it is one model for future China-Singapore mega investment projects.
Mr Lee, who had spoken to some of the Singapore investors in southern China in the past week, said they are taking the China market very seriously. "One of them told me (that) working in Guangxi, which is not quite so developed, not quite so well known, there's advantage being there because there are more untrodden paths where you can break new ground and find new opportunities."
The Singapore businessmen were happy to see him there. "They said, 'How about you come twice a year because when you come then we have links. We make contact with the party secretary, with the governor, or the chairman in the case of Guangxi, with the mayors'," Mr Lee said.
"And they get the visibility and everybody knows that there's blessings from the two governments."
On the new Chinese political leaders he met, Mr Lee observed that they are "very driven, know their job and are very anxious to get ahead and to make an impact in their province, of in their city or in their area".
"Whether you're in Guilin, which is a tourism area, or in Shenzhen, which is a 10-million population city, they all are on the lookout for ideas and they all want to show results," he said. "And they would like to work with Singapore. Our brand name is good. They think it's a plus to be associated with us, to have projects where they can say, 'This is a Singapore project'."
In Hong Kong, which he last visited in 2001, Mr Lee found that the former British colony has built "even closer ties with China and (is) contemplating its next steps forward".
"They are planning for the next 30 years and we have to be part of this - and our attitude must be that it's good that the region is prospering, so long as we are also moving with it," he said.