The two weeks in 2005 that he spent in Singapore studying how its grassroots organisations are run and how its MPs connect with the people left a deep impression on Mr Zhu Hailun.
"We had to attend classes in the day, have our dinner, and then visit the local communities because your MPs met the people at night," said Mr Zhu, the party boss of Urumqi city in China's western Xinjiang region.
"The trip inspired me greatly on the importance of connecting with the people," he said of his training stint organised by the Chinese Communist Party's organisation department.
Mr Zhu was recounting his experience during a meeting with visiting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
He said Singapore's grassroots work is similar to the party's current "mass line outreach" campaign aimed at getting cadres to connect better with the people.
Mr Lee said he was happy to hear that Mr Zhu had enjoyed the stint and hoped that more Xinjiang officials could visit Singapore, as "one of the best ways we can understand each other better is through people exchanges".
But Singapore also wants to exchange experiences with and learn from Xinjiang, he said. As both have diverse demographics, "there's much that we can learn from each other in social management, integration and promoting good relations between various religions and races", he added.
Mr Lee, making his first visit to the western autonomous region, is seeking to understand and explore new areas of bilateral collaboration in China's less-developed regions. One area came up when Mr Zhu said Urumqi is planning to build four special economic zones and is keen to tap Singapore's expertise.
Accompanied by Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri, Mr Lee visited a museum where he saw exhibits on the origins and cultures of the region's 13 people groups such as the Uighurs and Tajiks.
Next, he visited Goldwind, China's largest maker of wind turbine generators. Goldwind chairman Wu Gang briefed Mr Lee on its existing collaboration with Singapore's research institutes and talks with the Economic Development Board on setting up its global headquarters in Singapore.
During a visit to Hongshan Park, Mr Lee and his wife Ho Ching gamely took part in a local custom in which couples seal their love by affixing padlocks to a fence before throwing the keys away. Cameras clicked as the couple, who married in 1985, added their locks to the thousands already on the fence before hugging each other.
Mr Lee also toured the Xinjiang Normal University where he met faculty staff and students. Mr Zhang Lixin, 47, the varsity's deputy party secretary, attended a master's programme in public administration at the Nanyang Technological University in 2011.
"I learnt a lot about Singapore's policies in areas like education, health care and transport that I think can be applied here too," he told The Straits Times.
PM Lee, who also visited the Heavenly Lake of Tian Shan, a scenic spot east of Urumqi, will travel to Shihezi city this morning where he will meet its leaders and visit a petrochemical firm. He will meet Xinjiang party boss Zhang Chunxian in Urumqi this evening.
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