China hopes to ‘energise’ relations with Singapore, Asean, Li Keqiang tells Lee Hsien Loong
Chinese premier calls for city state’s cooperation on major rail scheme and ‘Belt and Road’ projects
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang welcomed Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Beijing on Tuesday, saying he hoped to “inject new energy” into China’s ties both with the city state and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Singapore will assume chairmanship of the 10-member trade bloc next year.
“Singapore is an important member of Asean ... it is the country coordinator between China and Asean and will be [the group’s] rotating chair next year,” Li said.
“I hope and trust this will inject new energy into not just China-Singapore relations but also China-Asean relations,” he said.
Lee, who was starting a three-day trip to China, said he too hoped to “make a contribution to bringing Asean and China closer together”.
Li also called for Lee and his government’s support for Chinese companies’ participation in the development of a high-speed railway linking Singapore with the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
The relationship between China and Singapore has been under close scrutiny since Lee’s absence from a major summit on China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – a plan to boost infrastructure and trade links from Asia to Africa – in Beijing in May.
Lee did not attend the event after Beijing blamed Singapore for siding with the United States on South China Sea disputes – in which Singapore is not a claimant – and honouring an international tribunal ruling from July 2016 that dismissed most of Beijing’s claims to the disputed waters.
That followed another diplomatic storm last November, when the Hong Kong government impounded nine Singaporean armoured vehicles en route from a training exercise in Taiwan.
Relations have been improving in recent months, however. Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan visited Beijing in June, at which time the two countries agreed to boost cooperation on government-to-government schemes in Tianjin, Chongqing and Suzhou, as well as on “Belt and Road” projects.
Bai Tian, vice-director of the Asian department at China’s foreign ministry said that Lee’s visit, coming so close to the opening of China’s 19th party congress, served as “an important political signal” that showed the two countries’ commitment to “maintaining the high level visits”.
“We are full of confidence for the development of China-Singapore relations,” he said.
Li said that China was Singapore’s biggest trading partner, and that the city state was China’s largest investor, adding that Beijing hoped to strengthen its cooperation with Singapore through its “Belt and Road Initiative”.
The two countries would continue to push for progress in negotiations on the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and also the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a Beijing-backed regional trade deal, he said.
The Singaporean leader was quoted in a report published on China’s State Council website as saying that the city state welcomed the participation of Chinese firms on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur railway project, and wanted to deepen its cooperation with China on finance, investment, aviation and informational technology.
The two leaders also agreed to strengthen coordination and cooperation on international and regional matters, according to a transcript of their meeting reported by China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
Lee is expected to meet President Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, China’s anti-graft tsar, in Beijing on Wednesday, before going to Xiamen, a city in the southeastern province of Fujian.
There he will meet the provincial party chief You Quan, and visit a local aerospace technology company and the Fujian (Xiamen)-Singapore Friendship Polyclinic, a joint venture medical facility that opened in 2011.