People’s Daily Interview with PM Lee Hsien Loong
PM Lee Hsien Loong's written interview with the People's Daily newspaper from China.
Please scroll down or click here for the Chinese translation of the interview.
Question 1: Singapore-China relations
People's Daily: Singapore-China relationship can be considered to have advanced with times in 2017, achieving positive progress in various areas of cooperation. You have made an official visit to China in September last year, reaching consensus with President Xi Jinping on the development of bilateral relationship between China and Singapore. What is your outlook for Singapore-China relationship in 2018?
PM Lee Hsien Loong: Singapore-China relations are strong. The foundations were laid down by our leaders long before we established formal diplomatic relations in 1990. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore. That visit took place two years after Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited China in 1976. Our bilateral relations have since flourished with regular exchanges of visits, including the visit by President Xi Jinping in 2015 marking the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Singapore and China.
President Xi Jinping said that Singapore and China share common interests in many areas. I agree. We are two very different countries, in terms of population, demographic composition, economic size, and geography. But we have managed to work together to pursue win-win cooperation over a wide range of issues, from trade and investment to social governance, human resource development, financial services, legal and judicial matters.
Since my meeting with President Xi last September, China has held the 19th Party Congress and Lianghui. These meetings set strategic directions for China’s development and foreign policy in a new era. China will play a growing role in regional and global issues. Singapore will continue to support China’s constructive participation in the regional architecture as well as the international system.
Our developing partnership is reflected in our three Government-to-Government projects. The Suzhou Industrial Park facilitated China’s early industrialisation efforts and has been replicated in other Chinese cities. We then embarked on the Tianjin Eco-City to support China’s sustainable and green develop-ment. The third Government-to-Government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, is a priority demonstration project under China’s Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative, Western Region Development and Yangtze River Economic Belt strategies.
For this year, we have a full bilateral calendar. We are working to complete the upgrading of the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. Singapore will host the annual Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (co-chaired at the DPM level) and the Second Legal and Judicial Roundtable, while China will host the Social Governance Forum and Forum on Leadership. Through these high-level platforms and many other exchanges, we hope to take our partnership forward.
Question 2: ASEAN—China Relations
People's Daily: ASEAN is a priority for China’s diplomacy with its neighbouring regions. Singapore takes on the role of ASEAN Chairmanship this year, and continues to undertake the role of country coordinator for ASEAN-China relations for the first half of the year. How does Singapore plan to promote the further development of the ASEAN-China relationship?
PM Lee: China is one of ASEAN’s most important and substantive dialogue partners. China is the top trading partner for most ASEAN Member States. ASEAN is a significant grouping whose cohesion and effectiveness fosters a conducive regional environment for China. The ASEAN-China FTA is one of the world’s largest free trade areas. It is therefore in the interest of both sides that relations remain strong, stable and mutually beneficial.
As ASEAN Chair as well as Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations, Singapore will continue to expand and deepen cooperation between the two sides. We upgraded the ACFTA in 2015, and are now working towards the full implementation of the upgrade Protocol. Deepening economic links and improving connectivity will help us to reach the target of US$1 trillion in ASEAN-China trade by 2020.
This year ASEAN and China mark the 15th Anniversary of our Strategic Partnership. Singapore is working with fellow ASEAN Member States and China to chart the future direction of the ASEAN-China relationship through the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030 statement, which we hope to issue in November 2018.
We have also designated 2018 as the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation. This fits in with Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship theme of “Resilience and Innovation”. One of our Chairmanship deliverables is to establish an ASEAN Smart Cities Network. China has the largest number of smart cities in the world, with more than 500 smart city projects underway. We can learn much from China’s experience. We look forward to partnering China in this area to create tangible benefits for our peoples and businesses.
Question 3: Belt & Road Initiative
People's Daily: One of the themes for the “Boao Forum for Asia 2018” is “Globalisation and the Belt & Road”; the establishment of Belt and Road is currently also an important component of Singapore-China cooperation. What do you think are the priorities areas where Singapore’s development strategy and the “Belt and Road” initiative align?
PM Lee: Singapore is an early and strong supporter of China’s Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative. The Initiative will benefit many countries that need more and better infrastructure. It is also compatible with keeping the regional architecture and international system open and inclusive. Thus Singapore and China have agreed to make the B&R Initiative a focal point in our bilateral relations.
We have identified several areas for cooperation under the B&R Initiative. The first is infrastructure connectivity. We have developed the CCI- Southern Transport Corridor (CCI-STC), which will link Chongqing to Qinzhou port (Beibu Gulf, Guangxi) in the south by rail, and from Qinzhou to Singapore and beyond by sea. The CCI-STC will create a direct connection between the overland New Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, enhancing multi-modal connectivity from Western China to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. We are also exploring linking up our Single Electronic Windows to support the trade flows along the CCI-STC.
The second area is financial connectivity. Singapore is an international financial centre, one of the largest offshore RMB centres in the world. Singapore banks are actively helping Chinese companies tap the B&R Initiative and expand into Southeast Asia. Chinese banks in Singapore have committed S$100 billion to finance Singaporean and Chinese companies involved in B&R projects, including issuing project bonds to support B&R financing needs. Singapore’s financial centre can also play a useful role in structuring and providing specialised insurance coverage for B&R infrastructure projects. Today, two-thirds of Southeast Asia infra¬structure projects are arranged by Singapore-based project finance teams.
The third priority area is third country collaboration. Many Chinese companies use Singapore as a base for their operations in the region. We can draw on each other’s strengths to jointly develop commercially feasible projects in third countries along the Belt and Road and provide training to officials from B&R participating countries.
Finally, we can work together to offer legal and dispute resolution services to resolve cross border commercial disputes. The strong record of project financing in Singapore is supported by our reputable and credible legal system which has a full suite of mediation, arbitration and litigation services for commercial disputes. By providing investors more options, we will also give them more confidence to pursue cross-border projects.
Question 4: Regional Trade Arrangements
People's Daily: Singapore is currently advancing the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with ten other countries, and is also negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with 15 other countries including China. What are your views on the relationship between these different regional trade arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region?
PM Lee: Globalisation and international trade have underpinned the growth and prosperity of many countries, including Singapore and China. But in some countries, the political mood is shifting against them. The US has been a longstanding advocate of free trade and economic multilateralism. However, it has recently taken a radically different approach towards trade, and has taken specific steps to protect domestic industries and reduce its large bilateral trade deficits. These measures have inevitably put pressure on the US’ relations with China and other countries
As a small nation with an open economy, Singapore is heavily dependent on international trade. If unilateral and tit-for-tat actions escalate into trade wars, the multilateral trading system that has brought countries prosperity for decades will be severely undermined. There will be no winners in a trade war.
China decision to join the WTO in 2001 was a bold one. Since then, China has committed to abide by multilateral rules, including submitting to WTO dispute settlement mechanism. China has benefited from doing this, as have other countries.
Since 2001 China’s economy has developed greatly. China’s share of global GDP and trade volume have also increased dramatically. It is therefore natural that other countries expect China to take on more commitments and contribute more to the global system, by further opening market access for trade in goods and services, and liberalising rules for foreign investments into China. These steps would better match China’s present stage of development. China can do so on a multilateral basis, or through FTAs with regional partners
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are complementary building blocks towards an eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. These two agreements will boost economic growth in the Asia-Pacific and promote a seamless flow of goods, services and business that will benefit all countries. The CPTPP, which was recently signed, is an open and inclusive agreement. We welcome China, and others, to join the CPTPP when they are ready.
We also hope that the RCEP can be concluded soon. The RCEP will create an even larger market comprising nearly half the world’s population and a third of its GDP, and bring significant economic and strategic benefits to its members and the broader Asia Pacific region. If we can sign the RCEP this year, it will, together with the CPTPP, send a clear signal to the world about our commitment to multilateral trade, and our resolve to keep the regional architecture open and inclusive.
Question 5: Cultural Ties
People's Daily: According to Singapore Lianhe Zaobao’s report, China has overtaken Indonesia to become the source country for the largest number of tourists entering Singapore. What are your comments regarding this? Chinese make up the majority of Singapore’s population, hence a lot of PRC Chinese have a natural affinity towards Singapore. You have also received a Chinese education before. What are your views on the historical and cultural linkages between Singapore and China?
PM Lee: China has a population of almost 1,400 million people. The middle class has grown rapidly. Millions of Chinese are travelling overseas for business or leisure. They can be seen everywhere in the world.
Cultural and language similarities make Singapore a popular destination for Chinese tourists. We welcome them. Frequent exchanges between our peoples keep our ties strong and enable us to do more together.
At the same time, Chinese tourists visit Singapore precisely because we are not another Chinese city. They find Singapore a fascinating multiracial and multi-religious country with different cultures and ways of life. Different ethnic groups and religious faiths co-exist side by side, harmoniously. We hope that when Chinese tourists visit us, they can see and appreciate how Singapore is unique, and how our multi-racial national identity influences our place in the world and relations with other countries.
People's Daily: 2017年中新关系可以说与时俱进，各领域的合作都取得积极进展，您于去年9月对中国进行了正式访问，与习近平主席就两国关系发展达成了一系列重要共识。您对2018年中新关系有何展望？
PM Lee Hsien Loong: 新中关系的牢固基础，是两国领导人早在两国1990年正式建交之前就奠下的。李光耀先生于1976年访华，邓小平先生两年后回访新加坡，今年适逢邓小平先生访问新加坡40周年。之后，新中关系随着两国领导人的频密互访而稳健发展，中国国家主席习近平也于2015年到新加坡进行国事访问，庆祝两国建交25周年。
People's Daily: 东盟是中国周边外交的优先方向，今年新加坡担任东盟轮值主席国，上半年还将继续担任中国—东盟关系协调国，新加坡将如何推动中国—东盟关系进一步深入发展？
PM Lee: 中国是东盟最重要的对话伙伴和实质合作伙伴之一，也是多数东盟成员国的最大的贸易伙伴。东盟是个具有一定影响力的区域组织，团结、高效，为中国创造有利的区域环境。中国—东盟自由贸易区（ACFTA）是全球最大的自由贸易区之一。因此，维持密切、稳定和互利共赢的关系，对中国和东盟来说都是有利的。
今年是东盟—中国建立战略伙伴关系15周年。新加坡和其他东盟成员国正与中国一起就“中国—东盟战略伙伴关系2030年愿景”进行规划，为东盟 – 中国关系未来发展指明方向。我们希望能于2018年11月公布这份愿景。
People's Daily: 博鳌亚洲论坛2018年年会的主题之一是“全球化与一带一路”，“一带一路”建设也是当前中新合作的重要内容。在新加坡发展战略与“一带一路”倡议相对接方面，您认为哪些是优先方向？
PM Lee: 新加坡是最早支持中国“一带一路”倡议的国家之一，也是这项倡议的坚定支持者。许多国家需要更大量、更优质的基础设施， “一带一路”不仅能让它们受益，也与维持开放和包容的区域和目标体系相符。因此，新中两国决定把“一带一路”倡议定为双边合作的重点领域。
People's Daily: 当前新加坡正在同其他十国继续推进CPTPP（全面进展的跨太平洋伙伴关系协定），也在同包括中国在内的其他15国谈判RCEP（区域全面经济伙伴关系协定），请问您如何看待亚太地区这些不同的区域贸易安排之间的关系？
PM Lee: 全球化和国际贸易协助许多国家取得经济增长和繁荣，新加坡和中国也不例外。不过，一些国家的政治氛围正转向排斥全球化和国际贸易。美国向来提倡自由贸易并支持多边经济体系，但最近美国对自由贸易的态度却大幅度转向，采取了保护国内产业的措施，以缩小庞大的双边贸易赤字。这些措施无可避免地将影响美国和中国以及其他国家之间的关系。
People's Daily: 根据新加坡《联合早报》的最新报道，中国首次超越印度尼西亚，成为新加坡的最大旅客来源国，您对此有何评论？新加坡人口中大多数是华人，因此很多中国人对新加坡有着天然的亲近感，您本人也接受过华文教育，请问您如何看待中新两国之间的这种历史文化联系？
PM Lee: 中国有近14亿人口，中产阶级的人数也正迅速增长。每年，数以百万计的中国人到国外经商或旅游，足迹遍布世界各地。
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