China ready to improve ties with Singapore, Xi Jinping tells Lee Hsien Loong at G20 summit

Relations were strained after Singapore said last year all sides should respect a tribunal ruling dismissing most of China’s claims in the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 11:07pm

President Xi Jinping told Singapore’s prime minister that China is ready to improve relations with the city-state when the pair met ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg on Thursday, ­according to state media reports.

The comments are a further sign of warming ties ­between the two nations. Relations have been strained since Singapore took the stance that all sides should honour an international tribunal ruling last year that dismissed most of Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

During the meeting, Xi and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “affirmed the substantive bilateral relationship, frequent high-level exchanges and good progress made in bilateral cooperation”, Singaporean media reported.

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State-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying that China was “ready to work with the Southeast Asian country to enhance the bilateral partnership step by step”.

Xi also told Lee that the two countries should have “mutual understanding and support for issues on each other’s core interests and major concerns”.

The meeting in Hamburg was the first time the men had met since China hosted the G20 summit in Hangzhou in September last year.

Lee was not invited to Beijing for China’s belt and road trade plan summit in May, with analysts suggesting it may have been a ­deliberate snub.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told visiting Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last week that he accepted Lee’s invitation to visit the city-state.

Xi’s comments come ahead of Singapore chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional grouping next year.

Xi said the two countries should “put new thinking into their cooperation” and called on Singapore to approach the relationship with strategic insight and vision, Xinhua reported.

The two leaders discussed how Singapore could work with China to implement the belt and Road trade initiative and agreed to promote closer economic integration through the speedy conclusion of an improved China-Singapore free trade agreement, Singaporean media reported.

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Lee, who is currently embroiled in a family feud about the will of his late father, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, told Xi he welcomed China’s ­interest in bidding for a high-speed train project linking the Lion City with Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

He also congratulated Xi on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China on July 1. Xi visited the city for the first time since he became president to mark the event.