With their similarities, Hong Kong and Singapore are frequently cast in the role of straightforward, cut-throat competitors. Small in size, dominated by Chinese populations, both seek to prosper from offering trade and services to the world beyond their boundaries. Although the relationship between the pair can sometimes sink into name-calling and point-scoring, George Yeo Yong Boon believes the nature of their linkages is both more subtle and profound. Singapore's minister for trade and industry said there was room enough for the two economies to prosper, even when circumstances were challenging. Mr Yeo also said the two governments openly borrowed and adapted ideas from one another's administration. 'I would say that on the whole the relationship between [the two] is like in the old days during the British empire, a hugely complementary one,' he said. 'I mean yes, we exaggerate the competition . . . but really looked at objectively, the [complementing factors] are profound, which is why we are each other's major trading partner and we invest very heavily in each other's real estate and factories and companies and so on.' At government level at least, Mr Yeo said, there was a willingness to share experiences on policy formulation and execution, so best practice could be emulated and mistakes, however defined, avoided. 'I remember when [Chief Secretary] Anson Chan was in charge of the new airport [at Chek Lap Kok]. I had a call from her once and she said 'Look, can we send a team to Changi Airport?' But of course,' Mr Yeo said. 'We analysed the MTR [Mass Transit Railway] in great detail before we built our MRT [Singapore's underground transport system]. And in the same way, when we built the Esplanade [a waterfront development], we did a thorough study of all the strong and weak points of the Hong Kong cultural centre. 'So the cities are always peering over each other's shoulders . . . and spurring each other along.' The relentless borrowing and adaption does not though extend to all areas of government, such as Singapore's aggressive promotion of bilateral free-trade agreements (FTAs). It has led the region in negotiating FTAs, to the initial disquiet of other governments, including Hong Kong, which felt that the deals might erode the primacy of the World Trade Organisation. 'WTO is a common base for everybody. Both Hong Kong and Singapore are at our core multilateralist because we live on trade, so our support for the WTO is a given. It is almost religious,' Mr Yeo said. Hong Kong officials were at first uneasy about the trend, he added, although they had since lost some of that disquiet. 'I noticed that Hong Kong has now come around and is talking to New Zealand [about an FTA] . . .,' Mr Yeo said. 'And I believe that Hong Kong's position has altered in that whatever the WTO may be able to achieve, that represents a common base; beyond that, those who can move further should move further.' Against that background of discussion, debate and occasional disagreement, Mr Yeo said both sides used the other's existence as a spur to further advancement. 'At the intellectual level . . . there's a lot of healthy rivalry and mutual learning. If you look at economic agencies, the tourism [and trade authorities] they study each other's brochures and they watch each other's moves, and trade fairs and exhibitions. 'And after a while, we don't quite know whether the idea originated in Hong Kong or in Singapore. 'It is a very useful relationship. I think without Hong Kong in the region, the spur on our backs would not be as effective.'