'Singapore is the crossroads of East and West. It sharpened my mind'
Sun Tao beat about 200 comrades in Heilongjiang to be chosen for government officials' training in Singapore, marking a milestone in his career.
The deputy chief of Muling county, located near the North Korean border with a population of about 330,000, was among the latest batch of 141 Chinese officials who graduated with a master's degree after one year of study. Public money paid the tuition, which was 100,000 yuan (HK$116,000).
Sun said what he saw and learned in Singapore was a window to the world for all Chinese grass-roots officials from developing areas on the mainland.
'It was my first time to be trained overseas. Most cadres, especially those from rural areas, can only learn about the outside world through television and textbooks,' he said.
'I see Singapore as the crossroads of East and West. It sharpened my mind and let me understand we have to use Singapore's experiences for reference to join the current globalisation.
'I'm in charge of the local community party school. I will soon introduce what I learnt to train other officials in Muling. Among county-level officials, there is a big lack of talent for modern public administration, industrial development and urban planning.'
He said the mayors' class would boost his career and make him stand out from other grass-roots officials.
While Sun was like a sponge, absorbing everything during his Singapore journey, some of classmates - senior officials at higher levels who run municipalities - said Singapore's experiences may be used as examples for economic and financial decision-making, but were insufficient to solve the mainland's deep-rooted social and economic problems.
'No Western experience can compare with Singapore's when it comes to achieving high-speed economic development, clean government and social stability during an extended period of single-party rule,' said Yi Zhongqiang, deputy mayor of Jiangmen , Guangdong. 'This is the main reason our leadership so values its Singapore training projects. But we can't just repeat what it does because of the different size and situations between the two countries.
'Singapore is a city-size country. China's situations are much more complicated than theirs. Their social or economic policies may work well in a land of 6 million people but they won't solve the problems of China with 31 provinces and 1.3 billion people.
Li Xianmou, deputy mayor of Shanwei, Guangdong, said: 'We were there to learn the soul of the market-oriented economy and urban planning. We can copy Singapore's ideas to run an industrial park, a port or housing programmes but we all know others' experiences can't solve China's problems. As [former paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping said, we are crossing the river by feeling the stones, especially for further political and economic reform.'