I. Singapore-China Relations: A Walk Back Into Time

by Patrick Liew on June 23, 2017

Singapore and China may differ on some issues and will go through a bumpy ride every now and then in our relationship.

However, we have similar perspectives to macro issues such as governance, culture, economic development, and growth.

It’s in Singapore interests to see China prosper and remain stable and secure.

That’s why Singapore takes an active interest and involvement in China almost right from the time China opened its door to the world.

1. Extending Hand Of Friendship

Our relationship with China goes all the way back to 1976 when our founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew first visited China.

Mr Lee put on record that Singapore wants China’s economy to grow stronger and that the growth of China would be good for the world.

Two years later in 1978, Mr Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore. He had good words to say about Singapore.

Mr Lee told him that China can do better than Singapore.

During his tour of the southern provinces in 1992, Mr Deng even encouraged his people to learn from Singapore.

In his words, he said, “There is good social order in Singapore. They govern the place with discipline. We should draw from their experience and do even better than them.”

According to Ambassador Tommy Koh, after Mr Deng’s tour, more than 500 Chinese delegations visited Singapore in 1992.

2. Human Resources Development

Zhao Leji, a politburo member affirmed the “strong and substantial relationship” between Singapore and China and that the two countries should cooperate in the area of human resource development.

During his visit to China in 2015, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said that since the 1990s, about 50,000 Chinese officials and cadres had studied subjects such as urban management, social governance and public administration in Singapore.

Two of the most popular training programmes are the master’s degree programmes in public administration and managerial economics at NTU’s Nanyang Centre for Public Administration (NCPA) and the master’s degree programme in public administration at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The NTU’s programme is commonly known as the “mayors’ class” due to the high number of Chinese mayors and mayoral contenders enrolled in them.

According to Professor Liu Hong, the NCPA director, about 1,400 Chinese officials had graduated from the “mayors’ class”.

The school has also conducted short-term programmes and had trained more than 15,000 government officials from China and Southeast Asian countries. Most of the students are from China.

Although the number of attendees have declined albeit not substantially, the programmes are attracting a more diverse pool of students, including more professionals such as university management and state-owned enterprises.

Over the years, China has regularly sent many study teams to Singapore, including activists from the Communist Party.

After stepping out of politics, our first Deputy Prime Minister Mr Goh Keng Swee became an advisor to some of the coastal cities in China.

3. Contributing On The Ground

Singapore has been a friend and has always been open in sharing its experiences and best practices with China.

In 1994, during the drive towards industrialization, Singapore helped to set up the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park.

In 2007, just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China was facing problems in environmental issues.

There was an idea to jointly develop an eco-city and that idea resulted in the development of the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city.

In 2015, during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Singapore, both Singapore and China agreed to develop the third government-to-government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative.

The third project was built to support China’s strategy for developing the Western Region.

The other joint projects include the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, Singapore-Chengdu High-Tech Park and the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone.

4. Sociopolitical Development

Singapore stood with and supported China through many challenges.

For example, after the tragic Tiananmen incident in 1989, many countries, especially those from the West condemned China and imposed economic sanctions against It.

Singapore did not join them but instead, continue to invest in China.

When the negotiations between China and the US on China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation reached an impasse, Mr Lee Kuan Yew acted as an interlocutor and helped to break the deadlock.

Singapore was also instrumental in facilitating China’s link-up with ASEAN through ASEAN +3.

It is the only country that has set up the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with China.

5. Economic Development.

When China initiated the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which strategically excludes the US, Singapore broke ranks with the US and was actively lobbying countries to join and support the AIIB.

Singapore is one largest and one of the few offshore clearing centres for RMB.

Singapore was also one of the early supporters of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative.

The Chinese and Singapore banks are actively financing “Belt and Road” projects, especially in the South-east Asia region.

Singapore is one of China’s largest investors and trading partners.

It is a nett contributor to China since Deng Xiaoping opened up the economy.


History has taught us that there are no permanent friendly or unfriendly parties.

Sometimes, it’s good to go through benign controversies, conflicts and challenges.

As the Chinese would say, 患难见真情 – In times of trouble, you’ll know who your true friends are.

China will realize again and again that we want to be a true friend to their people.

We want to value-add to its economy.

We want to be a plus factor to its government.

We want the best for China – with or without cookies and candies.

Both of our countries do not have all the friends in the world. We have our fair share of enemies.

Therefore, we can support one another as a hub and spoke, and a router and connector to the rest of the world for our mutually-reinforcing interests.

We will then have a more stable, secure and sustainable relationship.

In a bigger picture, as a small nation, we are mindful that we need to be friendly with all countries.

We should continue to be relevant and a vital value-addition to the world.

We seek peace, prosperity and progress not just for our country but also for the world, including China.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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