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Chinese premier to visit Singapore in sign of improving ties

Relations between the two Asian nations have been strained over South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 12:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 2:01pm

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has accepted an invitation to make his first official visit to Singapore in a sign of easing tensions between the two over the South China Sea.

The invitation was conveyed by Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Tuesday during his meeting with Li on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Dalian in northeast China’s Liaoning province, Channel News Asia reported, citing a statement from Singapore’s Prime Minister’s Office.

Are China-Singapore relations about to thaw?

Li said he looked forward to the visit, according to the report. The Singaporean government statement did not say when Li would make the trip, and Beijing has yet to confirm the visit. It will be Li’s first as premier.

Relations between China and Singapore have been strained over Singapore’s stance on recent maritime disputes in the South China Sea. In November, the situation worsened when Hong Kong seized nine Singaporean infantry carrier vehicles en route from Taiwan on a container ship that had been used in military exercises.

Although the city state is not directly involved in the long-standing territorial dispute, Singapore has irritated Beijing for siding with the United States and China’s rival claimants on the contentious issue.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s conspicuous absence from last month’s belt and road summit in Beijing was widely seen as further evidence of a tense relationship.


“We have seen signs of ­improving ties between the two nations, especially following proactive steps on the part of Singapore ... in the past weeks,” said Du Jifeng, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Li’s visit would be an important step in restoring friendly ties, he said. “Both sides have realised that deteriorating ties are not in their interests and that they need to put aside their differences and move forward,” Du said.

But Singapore was unlikely to change its policy of seeking a security alliance with the US while pursuing close economic and business ties with China, he said.

During his meeting with Li, Tharman said Singapore took ­a long-term view of Singapore-China relations, the report said. Both sides also agreed to strengthen economic cooperation, especially on the belt and road trade plan, and to speed up talks on the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement upgrade.

On a visit to Beijing early this month, Singaporean Foreign ­Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan voiced support for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious trade initiative and said bilateral ties were “in good working order”.