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Thu, May 20, 2010
The Straits Times
S'pore, China will remain different

By Peh Shing Huei

BEIJING: China will take at least another 10 or 15 years before it can catch up with Singapore, and even when it does, the two countries will not be quite the same, said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew last night.

He also said that while he expects the connections between the two nations to grow, he believes that Singapore
will remain quite different from China because of the city state's ties to the rest of the world.

He told about 140 Singaporeans during a reception in Beijing: "Singapore is a very different place and it has to be
different because we are connected to the world in a way they have not yet been connected to the world.

"And I don't think they ever will be because the foreign intrusion in their economy is marginal whereas the foreign intrusion into our economy is massive, across the board."

He observed that the nature of the two societies is different. "We are more rule-based, we do not depend on guanxi
(connections). We are more meritocratic, we are more open.

"And we have the advantage of being bilingual," he said at the event organised by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China.

Mr Lee, 86, who is on his 32nd visit to China since 1976, shared with the audience the early problems which the two countries faced with the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) during the 1990s.

He said: "It took us some time to understand that when we sign an agreement, it's final and that's it. And when there's any dispute we look at the words of an agreement.

"But in China, when you sign an agreement, it's the beginning of a long friendship which means that from time to time, as friends you would sort out if you are making too much or you cough up more."

The landmark bilateral project hit major roadblocks in its initial years, with the Suzhou government promoting an alternative park because it had only a 35 per cent stake in the SIP. The situation improved when Singapore reduced its stake from 65 per cent to 35 per cent in 2001 and the park made profits after that.

As MM Lee said yesterday: "All these other things which we have learnt, we had to pay an entry price for that."

The experience has changed the way the Singapore Government works in China, taking a fresh approach towards the next flagship bilateral project - the Tianjin Eco-City.

"So when you go to Tianjin Eco-City, we are more consultants than partners because we have learnt that when we are consultants, we have no vested interests in the profit and loss in the company, and it's all theirs to win or to lose," he quipped.

Mr Lee interacted with Singaporeans at the reception, including Mr Victor Loy, 42, who works in the investment banking sector.

Said Mr Loy: "He's very old, but he is still the same sharp person. A guy in our group spoke with an American accent and MM Lee threw him a few questions to find out about his background. Mr Lee asked him why he's speaking like an American when he's a Singaporean."

The Minister Mentor continues his visit in Beijing today, when he will meet Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.


For more The Straits Times stories, click here.

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