Teo Chee Hean and Vivian Balakrishnan in Hong Kong to meet current, incoming and past leaders

A handout photo. Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean (left) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan meet with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at Government House on May 30.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Two of Singapore's senior officials are in Hong Kong to meet the city's incumbent and incoming leaders, with analysts saying the meetings are important for the two cities to strengthen bilateral ties amid complicated geopolitical situations.

The two officials from the city state - Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan - arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday (May 29) for a four-day working visit.

They met Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Monday and were expected to meet Chief Executive-elect John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday, after he returned from meetings with state leaders in Beijing.

This is the second time Hong Kong has hosted ministers from Singapore since the start of the coronavirus pandemic after health minister Ong Ye Kung visited for a global conference last November when Hong Kong recorded no infections for months.

In a statement issued on Monday after their meeting, Lam said Singapore was the destination of her first official trip overseas after taking office five years ago, a move that was symbolic of the strong relationship between the two cities.

Lam said Hong Kong and Singapore had long enjoyed strong bilateral ties, which were further strengthened through trade agreements such as the Free Trade Agreement and the Investment Agreement between Hong Kong and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that came into full effect last year.

"With Hong Kong aspiring to join and contribute to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP], I look forward to Singapore's continued support," said Lam, whose term will end on June 30.

Hong Kong applied to join the RCEP in January, signing up to be a part of the world's largest free-trade agreement comprising 30 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Lam added that Hong Kong's participation would help further consolidate the regional supply chain through the provision of more access and choices of high-quality services to enterprises, thereby stimulating economic activities in the region.

A handout photo. (From left) Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan and Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean meet Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

In an op-ed piece written by Teo on Monday, he said the two cities faced similar challenges, including ageing populations, affordable housing, education, climate change and urban development.

"Our cities are often compared with each other, which is to be expected. We have healthy competition, which spurs us on to do even better; yet, there is also much to learn from each other," he wrote.

Amid a healthy rivalry, Teo said there was also much to learn from each other, with many opportunities for regional co-operation including in the Greater Bay Area.

"Chief executive-elect [Lee] has a clear mandate to lead Hong Kong into the next chapter of its development. We look forward to working with him to continue strengthening bilateral co-operation, building on the progress both sides have achieved under Lam and her predecessors," he wrote.

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The two officials also met former chief executive Leung Chun-ying on Monday afternoon.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said under Hong Kong's new political atmosphere in which only "patriots" rule, Singapore would like to be better informed on the city's latest changes.

"Singapore would rely on Hong Kong to build a better connection with the mainland, while Hong Kong also needed more co-operation with Singapore when we were repeatedly attacked by the West, while we would like to have more opportunities in the region," he said.

Dylan Loh, an assistant professor in foreign policy at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, suggested that the visit by senior Singaporean ministers to Hong Kong was important for the incoming administration to familiarise itself with the city state and for Singapore to better understand Hong Kong's priorities.

Loh pointed out that the power transition in Hong Kong followed a similar development in Singapore, with finance minister Lawrence Wong in April picked as the presumptive next prime minister.

"Moreover, after the turbulence of the [now-withdrawn] anti-extradition [bill] protests, with things having more political stability, it is an opportune time to revisit the relationship," he said, referring to the 2019 social unrest in Hong Kong.

Additional reporting by Dewey Sim in Singapore

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.