Singapore and China to work together on global trade plan in sign of better ties

The two countries’ foreign ministers meet and agree to cooperate on the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ after tensions over the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 5:12pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 12:16am

Singapore and China have agreed to work together on Beijing’s ­ambitious global trade initiative, in a sign tensions between the two Asian countries could be easing.

Speaking after a one-hour meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Monday, Singaporean Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said the two countries would strengthen cooperation on the “Belt and Road Initiative”, in particular boosting Chongqing’s transport links to Southeast Asia.

Balakrishnan said relations between China and Singapore “are in good working order, strong, and have the potential to grow even deeper and stronger”.

The comments came after the conspicuous absence of Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, from last month’s belt and road summit in Beijing.

Relations between the countries have been strained by a diplomatic row over Singapore’s stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. In November, Hong Kong seized nine Singaporean infantry carrier vehicles en route from Taiwan on a container ship after being used in exercises. It was seen as a protest over Singapore’s long-standing military ties with Taiwan.

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Xu Liping, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Balakrishnan’s visit was a sign of improved ties despite divisions over security issues.

“China thinks it is fine for Singapore and the US to have a certain level of security cooperation but such cooperation cannot undermine China’s interests,” Xu said, adding that Beijing hoped Singapore would “make adjustments” to its security policy – particularly taking “a more neutral and constructive role” in the South China Sea disputes.

After the meeting,

Balakrishnan said Singapore would strengthen its role in providing financing support for the belt and road plan, while the two countries would also cooperate on infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa.

He also called for efforts to speed up talks on the Beijing-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which he said would be “an important statement in favour of free trade and economic integration”.

Singapore had been a strong supporter of a rival trade deal to the RCEP, the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, before new US President Donald Trump pulled the country out of that pact.

Wang told Balakrishnan that China “strongly values the unique influence of Singapore” in regional affairs. Singapore plays a coordinating role between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) grouping, and will assume the chairmanship of the bloc next year.

Earlier last month, China and Southeast Asian countries agreed on a framework for a code of conduct for the disputed South China Sea as part of efforts to ease tension in the strategic waterway.