PM Lee outlines parameters for third govt-to-govt joint venture with China

PM Lee outlines parameters for third govt-to-govt joint venture with China
Guangdong Party Secretary Hu Chunhua (right) meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and wife Ho Ching in Guangzhou, China

For its third government-to-government bilateral venture in China, Singapore wants to conceive of a project that fits in with China's priorities, will be fully supported by the local authorities and is commercially viable, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He sketched these parameters in his first comments on the prospective project, to be located in western China, in an interview with Guangdong newspaper Nanfang Daily.

It was published yesterday, the first day of Mr Lee's week-long visit to southern China.

Noting that Singapore and China's bilateral cooperation is "progressing at all levels and on multiple fronts", he said that both governments had to set the framework for good relations and foster free trade and investments to bring relations to the next level.

Singapore and China are currently exploring where and in what form this third joint venture - coming after the Suzhou Industrial Park, which marks its 20th anniversary this year, and the Tianjin Eco-City - will take.

The Chinese government had asked Singapore to start a new project in its western region and, while talks are still in the early stages, Singapore leaders have made clear their desire that the project breaks new ground in China, like the first two.

In the Nanfang Daily interview, Mr Lee emphasised that Singapore, with its small size and differing strategic context and history, does not presume to be a model for China to learn from.

But Chinese officials have found Singapore an interesting case study, with almost 50,000 visiting for training in the past 20 years, he noted.

"They are interested in our practical mindset, the way we work across multiple agencies, and how we work with the population.

"They tell us that they have found our experiences useful, and shared with us that what they saw here has inspired several experiments in China," he said.

Over time, Singapore has noticed that the focus of Chinese officials has also shifted from economic development to social governance issues like housing, education, social harmony and the rule of law, he added.

Singapore is also eager to learn from China, he said.

"I am particularly impressed by how Chinese at all levels, in and out of government, have a powerful drive to improve, and how China continues to nurture a great thirst for knowledge in dealing with its challenges."

Mr Lee described Guangdong, which he last visited in 2006, as "a gateway to China", a status it has enjoyed for centuries.

Guangzhou and Shenzhen were open, vibrant and rapidly changing, he said, adding: "I am looking forward to seeing the cities for myself and feeling the vibes."

Yesterday, Mr Lee had dinner with Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua, who is widely seen as one of China's next top leaders. Guangdong has deep economic and cultural links with Singapore.

Last year, it accounted for nearly a quarter of Singapore's total $115.2 billion in trade with China.

Singapore has a major bilateral project sited in Guangzhou, the private sector-led, government- backed Guangzhou Knowledge City (GKC).

One of the areas it is working on, Mr Lee noted, is the development of an intellectual property (IP) protection framework.

The GKC is likely to host one of the first specialised IP courts to be set up in China.

Two others, the Chinese government said last week, will be established in Beijing and Shanghai.

This article was first published on Sep 12, 2014.
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