DPM Teo Chee Hean at the 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership

SM Teo Chee Hean | 14 April 2019

Opening Address by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, titled “Achieving Our Peoples’ Aspirations for Better Lives through Better Policies, Engagement and People Development” at the 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership on 14 April 2019 in Yan’an, China.


Your Excellency Minister Chen Xi (陈希),
Minister of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon. First of all, I would like to thank Minister Chen, Shaanxi Party Secretary Hu Heping, and our Chinese friends for hosting the 7th Singapore-China Forum on Leadership. Thank you for the warm and gracious hospitality extended to me and my delegation.

I would also like to thank the China Executive Leadership Academy in Yan’an (CELAY) for hosting the Forum. I first visited CELAY in 2010, when I had an engaging discussion with some 200 cadres. Four years ago, I visited the China Executive Leadership Academy in Jinggangshan for the 5th Leadership Forum. We had a good discussion on how to strengthen national unity and forge consensus with our people. Two years ago, we had the 6th Forum in Singapore, where I welcomed Minister Zhao Leji. I also visited the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong in 2009, and the Central Party School in Beijing in 2001.

I am glad to have visited all three Executive Leadership Academies over the years. These visits have helped to deepen my understanding of the challenges facing China, and how you are developing your cadres’ capabilities to meet these challenges.

The Singapore-China Forum on Leadership, which was inaugurated ten years ago in 2009, has become a premier platform of our bilateral cooperation. Our deep, substantive and wide-ranging discussions over the years are a reflection of the mutual trust between our two countries, and our commitment to help each other better meet the aspirations of our people.

This has been complemented by our close cooperation in human resource development and training. Since 1996, Singapore has received more than 55,000 Chinese officials and cadres on training programmes. Singapore has also sent many of our senior officials on study trips to different parts of China to learn from your development experiences. Among the Singapore delegates today, some came here in 2015 where they spent three days in discussion with their Chinese counterparts.

Moving Forward Hand-in-Hand from Generation to Generation

Our two countries have a long history of close friendship and working hand-in-hand for mutual development. This can be traced back to the strong foundation laid by Mr Deng Xiaoping and Mr Lee Kuan Yew in the 1970s.

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng’s historic visit to Singapore in 1978, where he had seen Singapore’s development model and concluded that it had relevance for China’s reform and opening up. This started many exchanges between our two countries, which deepened over the years. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up, China conferred the Reform and Friendship Award on Mr Lee Kuan Yew last year. We in Singapore are very heartened and touched that our Chinese friends continue to remember Mr Lee and Singapore’s contributions.

The close partnership between our countries has continued to deepen from generation to generation. 

At the national level, our leaders continue to maintain frequent high-level communication. Our bilateral relationship was designated as an “All Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times” during President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to Singapore in 2015. I had the honour of hosting President Xi at the Singapore Lecture where he addressed the Singaporean audience. Last year, Singapore was pleased to host three of China’s top leaders, namely Premier Li Keqiang, Vice Premier Han Zheng and Vice President Wang Qishan. President Halimah Yacob has also accepted President Xi’s invitation to visit China later this year for the Conference on Dialogue on Asian Civilisations. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and both Deputy Prime Ministers separately visited China last year, and we are visiting China again this year. 

We continue to be close partners on the economic front. China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, while Singapore has been China’s largest source of foreign investment since 2013. 

We have continued to deepen our trade and economic partnership through new initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). At last year’s Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) which I co-chair with Vice Premier Han Zheng, we made further progress in our BRI cooperation through the four platforms of infrastructural connectivity, financial connectivity, third party collaboration and professional services. We also upgraded the status of the Southern Transport Corridor under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI) to the CCI-New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor (ILSTC) which connects the Belt and the Road. I am pleased that Shaanxi Province, which has played an integral role in the historic Silk Road, has also expressed interest to particiate in the ILSTC.

In Nov last year, we upgraded the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. We also elevated the China-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City to a State-level Bilateral Cooperation Project.

We will soon establish the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council, which will enable Singapore to further contribute to the development of the Yangtze River Delta region. We are also embarking on new initiatives in legal and judicial cooperation for commercial transactions, and in the development of smart cities.

Addressing Our Peoples’ Aspirations for Better Lives

The theme of today’s Forum, “Addressing Our Peoples’ Aspirations for Better Lives”, is an important focus of both our leaderships. We are always aspiring to meet the aspirations of our people – in this generation, and for our children and our grandchildren. While we are guided by time-tested principles, we have to think creatively to design new policies and programmes that will meet the aspirations of our people as we enter into a new phase of our development journeys.

54 years ago, when Singapore became independent in 1965, one of our most urgent priorities was to give our people a roof over their heads, and improve health and sanitation. These were basic needs. We started building HDB flats so that Singaporeans could afford to own their own homes, and to give them a stake in our country’s future and a home to defend. Today more than 80% of Singaporeans own their own homes. We transformed our economy to create good jobs for Singaporeans. We have also invested heavily in education and skills training to equip Singaporeans with capabilities to compete in the global market.

China’s history is much longer and richer, and the challenges you face are on a much larger scale. But your progress has been dramatic. Since China started your reform and opening up, you have lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty and given them better lives. This is an impressive feat unparalleled by any other nation in history.

As China becomes more developed, the Chinese people’s aspirations will become more diverse. As President Xi said at the 19th Party Congress, China’s current main challenge is to meet the “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life”.

I would like to share with you Singapore’s framework for how we can continuously improve ourselves and address our peoples’ aspirations for better lives.

First, Breaking New Ground in Policymaking. We recognise that policies need to be constantly reviewed and improved, as no policy is perfect or can last for all time. Even if a policy is optimal at the point when it was introduced, its relevance and effectiveness might wane, or there could be unintended consequences that accumulate over time. 

Healthcare is one example. The traditional healthcare model is to build good clinics and hospitals. The more clinics and hospitals we built, the better our healthcare. Singapore has done well on this front. We were ranked the country with the highest health adjusted life expectancy in the Global Burden of Disease 2017 Study published in The Lancet.

But the model also has to change with longer lifespans that will also lead to new societal pressures. Today, one out of seven Singaporeans is aged 65 and above. By 2030, one out of four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. Similarly, China also enjoys significantly higher life expectancy today and also faces an ageing population.

To meet the greater healthcare needs of our citizens, the Singapore Government has built more and better public hospitals, and elder care facilities, and increased our healthcare subsidies. However, we need to find a more effective and inclusive model to allow citizens to take more ownership over their own health. 

This is why we are transforming our healthcare model, by empowering Singaporeans to take greater responsibility for their own health so that they will enjoy more years of healthy life and need less medical care. We call this “beyond healthcare to health”. This means more prevention, health education, healthy lifestyles, regular check-ups and national health screening programmes to deal with any health issues early, before they become serious. 

For example, we launched the “National Steps Challenge” to encourage Singaporeans to “move more” and engage in more physical activity. We paired this with a “Healthy 365” mobile app, which allows users to track their diets and ensure that they eat healthily. Through this, we can also use data analytics to study the lifestyle trends of Singaporeans and make more targeted interventions.

We are also transforming our healthcare system to deliver integrated care and placing greater focus on patients’ health outcomes. For example, our healthcare institutions are now grouped into clusters, with each cluster comprising a fuller range of facilities, capabilities, services and networks across acute care, primary care, community care and long-term care. This allows the clusters to draw on their combined strengths to deliver seamless and coordinated care for patients in their daily lives - at home, at work, when they are enjoying their meals or leisure activities - and not just when they feel sick and turn up for treatment at health institutions. We are also establishing more community healthcare facilities so that Singaporeans can receive medical attention in familiar surroundings close to their families. This allows patients to receive more social and psychological encouragement and support compared to seeking medical treatment at the major hospitals further away.

Second, Harnessing Our Peoples’ Energies and Ideas for Collective Outcomes. The Government does not have all the answers on its own. By harnessing the energies and ideas of our citizens to co-create solutions, we can also help them to find better solutions, understand the trade-offs in policy-making, and take ownership for the solution and the outcome.

We conducted Our Singapore Conversation in 2012, where we engaged Singaporeans from all walks of life on how we can create “a home with hope and heart” for all Singaporeans. Singapore’s Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat gave a presentation on this at the 6th Leadership Forum in Jinggangshan two years ago, where we also learnt about China’s Mass Line campaign.

Our Singapore Conversation has moved on to more future-focused discussions in the form of our SGfuture engagement sessions. The SGfuture Committee is co-chaired by Minister Chan Chun Sing and Minister Grace Fu, both of whom are participating in this year’s Leadership Forum.

It is also important to involve citizens and the community to build up national resilience and unity. For example, we have benefited from the Inter-Religious Organisation, a non-governmental organisation, founded 70 years ago. The IRO helps to build inter-religious understanding and harmony, and to contextualise religious practices to our own local context. Our Religious Rehabilitation Group, a voluntary group of Islamic scholars and teachers, counsels those who were radicalised to help them re-integrate into society. 

Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) play a key role in strengthening our community, and, complementing the role of the Government. We have encouraged more to step forward.

The Singapore Cares (or SG Cares) movement is one way that the Government has facilitated the partnership of our citizens to volunteer with VWOs and NGOs. We have provided greater support to our VWOs and NGOs, through co-funding, and helping them to form networks to meet citizens’ needs at the local level. We have worked with them to provide better community support to students from needy families and home-bound seniors living alone, to open up more meaningful and fulfilling volunteering opportunities.

Third, Developing our Future Generations to Create a Better Future. Our citizens now live longer, and have longer working lives. Skills re-training is also necessary as the Singapore economy constantly undergoes upgrading and structural reforms. From having one career in a lifetime, it is now common for our citizens to make many job transitions, which require them to learn new skills several times over during their working life. We therefore need a culture of learning for life, where our citizens are always picking up new skills and acquiring new knowledge.

This is why we embarked on SkillsFuture, a national movement to provide Singaporeans with opportunities to keep learning throughout life. We work with schools, tertiary education institutions, employers, training providers and unions, to provide targeted programmes for everyone at every stage of life, be it during their years in school, early career, mid-career or silver years. China is also looking seriously at skills re-training. Premier Li Keqiang had announced a RMB 100 billion skills re-training fund during the Government’s Work Report at the 2019 Lianghui (两会). Skills retraining is going to be a very important component to ensure that our economy remains competitive and our workers remain employed in the future.

At the political level, we also need to develop a future generation of leaders ahead of time. This is what you are doing in your leadership academies in Yan’an, Pudong and Jinggangshan, and you do it much more seriously than other countries. This is why we have nurtured a strong team of 4th Generation leaders with a commitment to serve the people, and complementary skills and competencies, as well as diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. 

Stable political leadership is the foundation that allows us to forge a common vision, execute long-term plans and share the benefits of growth. Stable and capable political leadership has contributed to the steady development and growth of both our countries. This is what both Singapore and China strive to achieve in our own ways, to achieve good governance to benefit our people. Our leaders have also been able to focus on the big picture and our long-term goals while paying attention to the details of policy implementation and execution, and their impact on various segments of our peoples and our peoples’ lives.

The importance of forming strong links among a new generation of leaders is also why I have brought with me today a large delegation of Political Office-Holders and senior public officers to take part in this forum. We need to constantly expose our future leaders to new ideas, give them opportunities to learn from the experiences of others, and to make friends with future leaders from around the region and the world. This is why platforms like the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership have such an enduring importance.


Addressing our peoples’ aspirations for better lives is central to the role of governments. This is all the more so in a time of rapid change, higher aspirations and diverse needs. I look forward to hearing the views and ideas of our Chinese friends. I am certain that delegation members from both sides will benefit from our discussions, and I hope that they will also build strong and lasting bonds of friendship that they can draw upon as they grow in their respective careers. We are in Yan’an today, to better understand the spirit and motivation of China’s development, which started in Yan’an. The more deeply we understand the spirit and motivation, the better we can work together.

As we head towards the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Singapore-China diplomatic relations in 2020, I am confident that our two countries will continue to build on the foundations of friendship and cooperation laid by our pioneer leaders, work hand-in-hand to overcome common challenges, and build a better future for the peoples of our two countries.

I wish this forum great success.