By signing new agreements, have China and Singapore kissed and made up?
Clear sign of thaw in relations after ties were strained over Lion City’s support for international tribunal ruling on South China Sea and seizure of nine of the city-state’s armoured vehicles in Hong Kong
In a clear sign that China and Singapore are back on an even keel after a series of diplomatic spats, senior officials from both sides signed a number of major agreements on Monday.
The agreements on a range of issues, including intellectual property rights and a US$1.4 billion project aimed at boosting transport links between Chongqing and Southeast Asia, were signed after a meeting chaired by China’s Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli and Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Relations between the two countries have been strained since Singapore voiced support for an international tribunal ruling that dismissed most of China’s claims to the South China Sea. Tensions were further ratcheted up in November after the seizure of nine armoured vehicles from Singapore in Hong Kong. The troop carriers had taken part in military exercises in Taiwan.
Xu Liping, a researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest agreements were a sign the two nations have found a way to foster ties, despite their differences.
“The meeting reflected that Sino-Singapore relations have returned to normal and showed the two countries are managing relations in a very pragmatic way,” he said.
The previous disputes meant China had set out what its core interests were while Singapore was mindful of the mainland’s increasing economic, geopolitical and military clout, said Xu.
Vice-Premier Zhang said during the meeting on Monday that China attaches great importance to developing relations with Singapore and called on the two nations to deepen mutual political trust, the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
A council set up by China and Singapore to foster ties has met every year since 2004 apart from 2016, reflecting the strained relationship between the two nations.
Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the high-level meeting on Monday could help ease frictions between the two sides.
“Ties between the two countries have not been hurt to a great extent. Communications on different levels still continued last year,” he said. “The frictions are a reflection of a worsening security situation in Asia.”
Dai Fan, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at Jinan University in Guangzhou, said the meeting was evidence ties between the two sides had improved.
Singapore has considerable investment in China and is a huge market for for the city-state. “Singapore has no other alternative but to attach great importance to Singapore-China relations,” he said. “I believe Singapore will be more careful in developing relations with China in the future.”