Lee Yi Shyan
Chairman of Business China
Former Senior Minister of State, Ministry of National Development & Ministry of Trade and Industry
This year marks 30 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China, as well as Business China’s 13th anniversary. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China, we have produced a microsite , to showcase the past, present and future of bilateral relations.
Due to historical and geopolitical reasons, the official establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China only took place in 1990. But the roots of a cordial relationship between the two countries can be traced back to November 1978, when Mr Deng Xiaoping first visited Singapore, and founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s following visit to Beijing in 1980. It was from then that Mr Deng and Mr Lee – two giants of their time – set a solid foundation for what was to become a fruitful partnership.
Since diplomatic relations were established in 1990, the connection developed rapidly. In 1994, construction began on the Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, which was to become a model for industrialisation in China. In 2007, the foundation for the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City was laid, and a joint exploration on balancing economic development with ecological protection commenced. In 2015, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative was launched with the aim of boosting economic development in China’s western region and fostering greater connectivity between the region and the world, through modern services and smart industry.
In addition to government-to-government projects, Singapore enterprises also work closely with many different provinces in China. A few notable joint developments include the Guangzhou Knowledge City, the Nanjing Eco Hi-Tech Island, and the Chengdu Innovation Park. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of Singapore companies have made their way to China, a sign of their confidence in China’s development and potential. From 2013, China has been Singapore’s largest trade partner for six consecutive years, and Singapore has also become China’s largest source of foreign investment. Part II of our commemorative microsite takes a closer look at this mutual investment.
China’s rapid economic growth has propelled the country to overtake Japan in becoming the world’s second largest economy in 2010. By 2015, China’s outbound investment overtook inbound foreign investment for the first time. These milestones show the deep-seated changes taking place in the scale and structure of the Chinese economy. China has the capacity and the need to export capital and technology, in order to continue expanding her economy and improving the economic structure.
At this historical moment in time, Singapore and China can complement each other and jointly explore mutually beneficial opportunities in third-country markets. In 2010, Singapore and China reached a consensus on “Going Global” together, and in 2013, China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative – all of which are important platforms for bilateral and multilateral collaboration. I believe that Singapore’s global reputation and capacity in financial services and international arbitration will provide ample support for the joint ventures of companies from both countries in third-party markets under the aegis of the Belt and Road Initiative. The third section of our microsite shares more on this.
One of the pioneers of diplomatic ties between Singapore and China – Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was dedicated and untiring in his efforts to boost bilateral relations. In 2007, Mr Lee initiated the launch of Business China, and actively pushed for bilingualism and biculturalism in business. To this end, Business China has three strategic objectives: to nurture Singapore-China-savvy talents, build a quality and premium Singapore-China network of talent, and promote deep and wide-ranging exchanges between Singapore and China. Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s foresight, and the importance Business China patron, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong placed on the organisation, has sealed our commitment and encouraged us to continue building stronger links with China.
Despite only having presence for 13 years, Business China has made considerable contribution in supporting and strengthening bilateral relations. In conjunction with China President Xi Jinping's official state visit to Singapore in 2015 Business China and Lianhe Zaobao jointly published a commemorative book marking 25 years of official diplomatic relations between Singapore and China. In 2018, Business China was co-organiser of the Singapore Lecture with ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, where China’s Premier Li Keqiang was invited to deliver the keynote speech, “Pursuing Open and Integrated Development for Shared Prosperity”. This year, we decided to try something new, launching the commemorative microsite to celebrate the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
Business China has also been actively providing opportunities for in-depth exchange between the youth of Singapore and China, facilitating education exchange, internship, entrepreneurship, and job opportunities, in order to nurture deeper mutual understanding between the young talents of both countries. Last year, Business China was appointed administrator of the Singapore-China Youth Interns Exchange Scheme (YES), to build a one-stop service platform for the youth of both nations and businesses and facilitate the matchmaking of talent and enterprises.
In February this year when Wuhan was hard hit by COVID-19, Business China responded to the call of the Singapore government to raise funds in aid of China’s fight against the pandemic, showing our support and care for the people of Wuhan during this difficult time. In early June, Business China also mobilised members and other volunteers to raise funds for Singapore’s own fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, donating resources to medical staff and the underprivileged. The microsite also features this touching act of kindness.
2020 has been a challenging year for many. As we look ahead, there are much uncertainties. It is uncertain when the pandemic can be contained, where Sino-US relations are headed, and how the global economy performs. These have significant impacts on the future. Given the volatility and uncertainty, there exists a greater necessity for countries around the world to collaborate and maintain a multilateral global economic system; and a more pressing need for ASEAN, China and other key economies to foster regional economic development and integration. I am confident that Singapore and China will be a force for good in these circumstances, and to continue to broaden bilateral cooperation and build stronger links. We look forward to taking bilateral relations to new heights in the next 30 years.
Lee Yi Shyan