Education Minister Ong Ye Kung recalled his time attending the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) as current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Principal Private Secretary over one and a half decades ago, as he took part in the 2020 JCBC on Tuesday (8 Dec).

A former civil servant, Mr Ong served in the Ministry of Communications from 1993 to 1999 before serving in the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 2000 to 2003 as Director of Trade.

From 2002 to 2004, Mr Ong was the Principal Private Secretary to then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who became Prime Minister in 2004.

After leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr Ong served as Chief Executive of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency from 2005 to 2008 before joining the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) as Assistant Secretary-General.

Mr Ong, a former civil servant, made his first foray into politics in the 2011 General Election, when he was in the People’s Action Party team that contested in Aljunied GRC. In a historic upset, the Workers’ Party (WP) won the GRC, making history by being the first opposition party to be elected in a multi-member constituency.

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Following the electoral defeat, Mr Ong continued to work at the NTUC. He was promoted to Deputy Secretary-General before being elected into the NTUC’s Central Committee.

He left the NTUC for the private sector in 2013. Two years later, he contested as part of the PAP team in Sembawang GRC, which was considered a “safer” ward. The team won and Mr Ong became a Member of Parliament (MP) for the GRC. He was re-elected in the 2020 election.

Mr Ong was one of the few MPs to be promoted to full minister in their first term in Parliament. He was given the Education portfolio. In the most recent Cabinet line-up after the July election, he was made Transport Minister.

In a Facebook post published on Tuesday, Mr Ong reflected on how he attended the first JCBC in 2004 as Mr Lee’s Principal Private Secretary and how he attended the 16th JCBC virtually earlier that day as Transport Minister.

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On what has changed over the years, Mr Ong quipped on social media: “Less hair, more wrinkles, but most importantly, a more substantial agenda for cooperation to strengthen Singapore-China relations.”

Mr Ong said that the Singapore team shared a few ideas to re-open borders for normal people-to-people exchanges at the JCBC and received a positive response from their Chinese counterparts. He added that the JCBC was a “fitting way” to mark the 30th anniversary of Singapore-China diplomatic relations.

University students thank ex-Education Minister Ong Ye Kung after he takes on Transport portfolio