Yap Pheng Hui
Singapore’s relationship with China does not start or end with diplomacy and trade; people-to-people exchanges also form crucial links in the chain. In fact, they are the foundation of the bilateral relationship. While personal, leisure and work travel, as well as education are all important, grassroots organisations and community associations also play an active part in deepening mutual understanding and friendship, building more sustained connections.
Business China is just one such example. Unlike other business and cultural organisations or clan associations, Business China’s objective is to strengthen the ties between Singapore and China.
Senior Minister of State,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Transport
Through the nation’s journey in bilingualism and insights gleaned from the Suzhou Industrial Park venture, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew came to believe that Singaporeans should be bilingual and bicultural to be ready for China’s growing influence in the region and to leverage the opportunities it brings. Business China was thus founded in November 2007, to promote a greater understanding of China among Singaporeans and nurture young Singaporeans in building their capacity for developing deeper links with China. This initiative was indeed a move of great foresight on the part of the Founding Prime Minister, who understood the role such a dedicated a non-government organisation that operates independently of any government,
Three years after it was established, Business China launched the widely lauded Business China Awards, which aims to honour outstanding individuals or enterprises for their contributions to Singapore-China relations. To date, award recipients have hailed from the fields of politics, business, culture, news, philanthropy, and medicine, and are widely recognised as role models in their fields.
Another of Business China’s objectives is to nurture an inclusive bilingual and bicultural group of Singaporeans so as to sustain our multi-cultural heritage. And young Singaporeans are crucial in fulfilling this purpose. One of the three categories in the Business China Awards is the Young Achiever Award, which was created specifically for the up and coming new force in maintaining close relations between the two countries. As Tin Pei Ling, CEO of Business China, noted, nurturing “Singapore-China-savvy” youths is a key priority.
Tin Pei Ling has also observed that young Singaporeans appear to have a polarised knowledge of China: while some mistakenly assume that the achievements and glamour of China’s top tier cities are representative of the entire country, others are still stuck with the old impression of how China was before its digital economy took off. Hence Business China has focused on providing immersive learning opportunities for Singaporean youths over the years, in the hope that Singaporean youths will experience local customs, social and business cultures for themselves through living in China.
Playing a vital role in this is the Singapore-China Youth Interns Exchange Scheme (YES), spearheaded by the Ministry of Education and administered by Business China. Under the scheme, Singapore and China will send as many as 500 youths each year on internship exchanges for up to six months, thus providing these youths a valuable opportunity to forge a deeper understanding between the two countries. The internship scheme not only builds up a talent pipeline for companies of both countries, it is also a platform to enable the cultivation of lasting people-to-people ties.
As a formal arrangement between Singapore and China, YES would go a long way in further promoting bilateral relations in the years to come. In addition to YES, Tin Pei Ling shared that Business China is assembling a panel of entrepreneurs, opinion leaders, and well-known scholars from both Singapore and China for dialogues, seminars and other activities with youths to offer them the opportunity for engagement with business personalities and experts.