Singaporean investment in the coastal province of Shandong has leapt in the past year by 60 per cent to US$1.1 billion (S$1.37 billion), making it one of China's fastest-growing areas of interest for local companies.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said yesterday that this is a far cry from his last visit to the province in 1993 when he was prime minister.
Then, despite lobbying from Shandong officials, Singapore decided to place its first Chinese developmental project, an industrial park, in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, instead.
On his second visit to the province's capital city of Jinan 21 years later, he noted that the passage of time had turned his hair white but made the city a gleaming up-and-coming metropolis that exports high-end goods rather than the apples, pears and groundnuts of yore.
"We know that the Shandong people were disappointed," he said of the decision then. "But I had a different idea for cooperation." This was that Singapore investment into Shandong should be broad-based, rather than concentrated on one area like an industrial park.
To facilitate this, Mr Goh set up the Singapore-Shandong Business Council (SSBC), the first of its kind, in the early 1990s, and had his political secretary Tang Guan Seng head it.
"I think the idea was right," he told Shandong province party secretary Jiang Yikang, governor Guo Shuqing, Jinan party secretary Wang Min and other senior officials yesterday.
"The key measure of success to me is that the investments are Singapore investments, whereas in the Suzhou industrial park there are many other foreign investors," he said during a lunch meeting with the province's leadership.
Singapore is the third largest foreign investor in Shandong.
SSBC co-chairman and Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said that the sharp growth in investment has been due to the cutting of red tape for Singapore companies, plus investors' recognition of the province's untapped potential and lower costs compared to more mature counterparts like Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shanghai.
Those three remain the top destinations for Singaporean investment. But Shandong has overtaken provinces such as Sichuan and Zhejiang in attracting Singaporean dollars.
"The relationship we have built with our Shandong counterparts has smoothened out a lot of processes for Singapore businesses," he said. "They have really pushed for us, thanks to the trust we have built over the years."
Shandong governor Guo Shuqing, who previously headed the Securities Regulatory Commission, said that Shandong can learn a lot from Singapore, although the countries' social systems are different.
"Singapore has a lot of experience to teach us in social management, especially in the areas of public housing, eldercare and health care," he told Mr Goh.
After the meeting, Mr Goh travelled to Qingdao, also in Shandong, where he met several Singapore businessmen operating in the province for dinner.
This article was published on April 12 in The Straits Times.
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