Singapore-China People-to-people Exchange
By Yap Pheng Hui
Since the establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Singapore and China in 1990, bilateral ties between both countries have grown from strength to strength. Private, non-government exchanges have also greatly increased. More than 10,000 Singaporeans currently live in Beijing and Shanghai, according to official Singapore data, while the number of Chinese nationals residing in Singapore is estimated to exceed 380,000.
The exchange of foreign students between the two countries is an important link to promote people-to-people ties and enhance mutual cultural understanding. The Singapore government started offering scholarships to Chinese students in the early 1990s. Since then, many more Chinese students have come to study in Singapore at their own expense. Today, tens of thousands of Chinese students are enrolled in Singapore’s schools and universities. Upon graduation, many of the scholarship recipients chose to remain in the city-state to work or start their own businesses. Gradually, they become an important part of the backbone of Singapore society.
Senior Minister of State,
Ministry of National Development &
Ministry of Communications and Information
Notably, Singapore is also the main location for Chinese officials to study abroad. Over the years, more than 50,000 Chinese officials have taken courses in public management, social governance, and urban planning in Singapore. Masters degree programmes offered by Nanyang Technological University, otherwise known as the “Mayors’ Class”, and the graduate degree programmes offered by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore are among the most well-known.
More Singaporeans are also studying in Chinese universities, and their fields of studies have expanded beyond the usual repertoire of Chinese studies, international relations and economics. In addition, Singapore schools of all levels - from primary schools to polytechnics and universities - organize short-term study trips to China all year round, giving students the chance to learn more about the people and society upclose.
In recent years, tourism has become the most important form of people-to-people exchange between the two countries. Today, China is the largest source of tourists for Singapore and since 2007, Singapore has been consistently ranked one of the top overseas destinations for Chinese travellers. Some 3.42 million mainland Chinese tourists visited Singapore in 2018, while more than 978,000 Singaporeans travelled to China the same year.
Private, non-government exchanges between Singapore and China also extend beyond education and tourism.
Established in 2007, Business China aims to nurture bilingual and bicultural business leaders through a Chinese-language platform to help connect China with the rest of the world. Over the years, Business China has been actively creating programmes for young Singaporeans to deepen their understanding of China’s society, culture, education, business and economy. The immersion programmes and internships have helped groom a new generation of China-ready and China-savvy experts.
Singapore and China continued to maintain people-to-people exchanges in 2020 in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early 2020, when the COVID-19 was spreading in China, the Singapore government took the lead in mobilising various community organisations to help China fight the epidemic. Subsequently, when the COVID-19 situation improved in China, many Chinese nationals and enterprises returned Singapore’s favour by sending masks and personal protective equipment to the Republic via various Chinese clans and associations.
Over the years, Singapore has been providing assistance to China in times of crisis. In the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, Singapore raised over $200 million and 47 tons of humanitarian assistance items for quake victims. According to statistics provided by the Chinese Embassy in Singapore, up to 40,000 individuals visited the embassy to donate towards the humanitarian cause, and that sets the world record in terms of community support rendered towards the disaster relief effort.
In early-June 2020, both countries established fast lane arrangements between Singapore and 6 Chinese provinces and municipalities - Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong to facilitate essential business and official travel between Singapore and China. These 6 provinces and municipalities host key bilateral initiatives such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, Sino-Tianjin Eco City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative. China is the first country with which Singapore establishes such fast lane arrangements, and it is a testament to the close bilateral ties which is further strengthened by recent cooperation during the pandemic.