Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng kicked off his two-day visit to Singapore on Tuesday and will co-chair with Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat several in-person meetings held for the first time in three years. Experts said the two sides are likely to engage in deep discussions on how to promote economic and trade cooperation in the next 10 years after China has mapped out its development plan following the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
At the invitation of Heng, Han will visit Singapore from Tuesday to Wednesday and co-chair with Heng the 18th China-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation Meeting, the 23rd China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park Joint Steering Council Meeting, the 14th China-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Joint Steering Council Meeting and the 6th China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity Joint Steering Council Meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian announced at a press conference on Monday.
Commenting on the importance of the visit and the meetings, Zhao noted that China and Singapore are high-quality cooperation partners and that bilateral relations have maintained excellent growth.
In February this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Singaporean President Halimah Yacob, who came to China to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, and they reached important consensus on further growing bilateral ties.
Singapore has actively participated in China's endeavor to foster a new development paradigm. Both sides have made new progress in high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, advancing the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, and broadening cooperation on new fronts including the digital economy and green development. Our cooperation is forward-looking, strategic and demonstrative, Zhao stressed.
The China-Singapore bilateral cooperation mechanisms have over the years played an important role in coordinating and advancing across-the-board cooperation between the two countries. They are deeply valued by both sides, he said.
This is the first time in three years that these meetings will be held in-person, Zhao pointed out. He noted that it will offer an important opportunity for face-to-face discussions, which will help form a stronger synergy between development strategies in the new era, upgrade high-quality cooperation and boost prosperity and growth for both China and Singapore and the wider region.
Han will also meet with President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, and renew the friendship with old and new friends with a focus on future advancement of China-Singapore cooperation, according to Zhao.
According to South China Morning Post, during the 18th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation - the highest-level annual forum between the two countries, the two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in various areas including trade, finance, public health and pandemic response, and announced a total of 19 memorandums of understanding and agreements.
Han's visit and the bilateral meetings, coming after the conclusion of the 20th CPC National Congress, which determined the blueprint for the country's future development, serve as a good opportunity for China to have an effective and timely communication with neighboring countries over the blueprint, Chen Xiangmiao, an assistant research fellow at National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times.
In fact, Singapore is not only a neighboring country, but it is also part of ASEAN, one of China's most important trading partners and most important source of trade imports in the international market. It plays a vital role in proposing topics and agenda-setting on Southeast Asian regional issues, Chen noted.
China was ASEAN's biggest trade partner for 13 consecutive 13 years up to 2021. The two sides' trade exceeded $878 billion in 2021, accounting for 14.5 percent of China's total foreign trade volume that year, according to data released by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.
In 2021, bilateral trade volume between China and Singapore was $94.05 billion, a year-on-year increase of 5.4 percent, according to official data.
Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the meetings mark a milestone for the two sides since high-level offline talks between the two sides were suspended due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
The cooperation between China and Singapore is an innovative and up-to-date cooperative relationship and the two countries have taken the lead in China-ASEAN cooperation, Xu said.
He noted that Singapore expects continuity and more openness of China's economic policies after the 20th CPC National Congress, and it expects to participate in China's strategy for high-quality development.