[Photo above: PMO]
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was speaking at the 20th Anniversary Celebrations of East Asian Institute held at the Shangri-la Hotel.
“Our common interest in building a peaceful and growing region is much greater than any occasional differences of views,” Mr Teo said, without elaborating specifically on what these differences are.
Singapore and China have been locked in a dispute the past one year over various issues, the latest of which was the seizure of 9 military vehicles by Hong Kong authorities last December. The vehicles, which were returning from training exercises from Taiwan, have since been returned to Singapore.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s absence at the recent One Belt One Road (OBOR) forum in Beijing has also given rise to talk that China had snubbed the S’pore leader by not extending an invitation to him.
Despite these incidents, however, Mr Teo said “Singapore will continue to be a strong and principled supporter of China’s peaceful development and constructive engagement in the region.”
“Singapore-China relations have been aptly characterised as an ‘All-Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times’, during President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to Singapore in conjunction with 25 years of diplomatic relations in 2015,” Mr Teo said in his speech. “This reflects the depth, breadth and strength of our long-standing bilateral ties, and the bright prospects for the future.”
Examples of the strong relationship include cooperation on various projects, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, and major platforms which allow both sides to interact and exchange views and ideas, such as the Leadership Forum and Social Governance Forum.
Nonetheless, even among close neighbours and friends, “there may be different perspectives on some issues, given that countries are of different sizes, have different histories, vulnerabilities, and geographical location.”
But Singapore and China have “a broad and longstanding relationship”, Mr Teo said.
“We share similar views on most issues, and have worked well together to advance these common interests,” he added.
Mr Teo said he has 3 hopes for China:
First, that it is stable and prosperous, even more integrated with the region and the world; Second, a China which continues to contribute to developing international norms and rules for the benefit of all, in order to preserve peace, stability, growth and development; Third, for a China that draws on its long history and deep culture to find a harmonious blend with modernity, as China continues making its societal transformation.
Mr Teo’s remarks, particularly about the two sides’ “occasional differences of views”, is the first comments by any Singapore leader to touch on the relationship between the two countries, since PM Lee’s absence at the OBOR forum on 15 May.
PM Lee’s non-attendance at the OBOR forum had given rise to speculation that Singapore was being left out of the massive OBOR initiative, despite the city-state having a supposedly close relationship with China.
When asked about PM Lee’s absence, Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong – who represented Singapore at the forum – said it was China which had decided on the invitations.
But Singapore’s role in the OBOR project cannot be ignored, according to Ge Hongliang, research fellow at the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities.
“Singapore plays an indispensable role in the implementation of the [OBOR] initiative due to its financial and judiciary advantages,” Mr Ge wrote in The Global Times, a pro-Beijing newspaper. “It’s reported that China’s investment in Singapore alone accounts for about one-third of its total investments in countries along the [OBOR].”
As one of the largest offshore renminbi centers, Singapore plays a key role in investing in the countries along the OBOR, too.
“Moreover, as the financial center of Southeast Asia, Singapore can provide capital support for the [OBOR] initiative,” he said.
“In addition, Singapore has prominent advantages and experiences in infrastructure construction, urban planning and legal services, which are vital in implementing the initiative. With the signing of a memorandum of understanding during the forum, the potential of Singapore for implementation of the [OBOR] initiative would be further released.”