Greater push for Sino-S'pore projects

Singapore and China have signalled a greater sense of urgency and higher priority for key bilateral projects, while taking stock of the factors that have underpinned 25 years of warm diplomatic ties.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to "positively work" towards an upgrade of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, as they met yesterday in a key leg of Dr Tan's first state visit to China as president.

An upgrade is timely given that the pact came into effect in 2009, said a statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday. Dr Tan expressed hope that the upgrade will begin within the year and be concluded swiftly.

Dr Tan and Mr Xi also noted the good progress made on the exploration of a third government-to-government project in western China. The two sides have worked together on the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City.

Mr Xi said the third project would be a priority. "We hope it can serve as a demonstration project for China's 'One Belt, One Road' initiative," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Xinhua.

The pledge to work on these initiatives comes as both sides reviewed the warm ties that have been fostered since diplomatic relations were formalised 25 years ago.

Dr Tan is in China as part of a series of activities to mark the occasion. At their meeting, Mr Xi attributed the successful relationship to the big-picture, long-term approach that leaders from both nations have taken, Xinhua reported.

China and Singapore both focus on development strategies and look for economically complementary activities to work on, Mr Xi noted, adding that the two countries have also built effective mechanisms for co-operation.

He said the two countries should continue to strengthen strategic communications and political trust, maintain high-level interactions, and deepen trade and economic co-operation.

Despite the tensions that have arisen due to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Mr Xi yesterday told Dr Tan that China values the path of peaceful development and good neighbourliness. He said China wants to co-operate with ASEAN.

For its part, Singapore - which will take over as country coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations next month - will work hard to build mutual trust and strengthen ties between ASEAN and China, Xinhua quoted Dr Tan as saying.

Mr Xi held a welcome ceremony for Dr Tan, complete with a 21-gun salute, and hosted the Singapore leader to a state banquet at the Great Hall of the People.

The two also witnessed the signing of three memorandums of understanding in the areas of education and research development.

On a busy day of meetings, Dr Tan also met Premier Li Keqiang.

He earlier jointly hosted a lunch reception with top Chinese political adviser Yu Zhengsheng to commemorate the 25th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

The two men also witnessed the handing over of a cheque for 3.7 million yuan (S$804,000) to the China Foundation of Poverty Alleviation, to build three hostels for 1,000 students in Ludian. The funds were raised by Singapore firms operating in China for the county in Yunnan province, which was hit by an earthquake last August.

Dr Tan ends his six-day state visit today.

This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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