DPM Lawrence Wong: Singapore-China cooperation in a turbulent world

Ahead of the 19th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) held in Tianjin, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong shares his thoughts on Singapore-China relations, highlighting the need to renew and expand economic links, reimagine industries and reinforce close ties between the two countries.
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong pictured in Singapore on 7 October 2022. (SPH Media)
Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong pictured in Singapore on 7 October 2022. (SPH Media)

Tomorrow I will co-chair the 19th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with People’s Republic of China (PRC) Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang in Tianjin. The JCBC is the apex bilateral platform that reviews and sets the strategic direction for cooperation between Singapore and China. 

Over the decades, our two countries have built a broad and deep partnership. We have collaborated through the different phases of our respective developmental journeys, via our three government-to-government projects (the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-City, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative); our state-level cooperation project, the Guangzhou Knowledge City; as well as our eight provincial business councils. In March this year, we took another major step forward by upgrading our relations to an “All-Round High-Quality Future-Oriented Partnership” under the guidance of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping.

A view of the Suzhou Industrial Park. (Suzhou Industrial Park)
A view of the Suzhou Industrial Park. (Suzhou Industrial Park)

I have personally contributed to several of these cooperation projects. As minister for national development, I worked on the Tianjin Eco-City from 2015 to 2020. I also co-chaired the Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council from 2019 to 2022. I have seen first-hand the tremendous drive and energies of the Chinese people to develop their economy and society, and the good working relationship between Singapore and Chinese officials. Now, as co-chair of the JCBC, I aim to chart the next phase of our relations together with Vice-Premier Ding.

The 19th JCBC meeting will be held amidst an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world. We face headwinds in the global economic outlook as well as the looming threat of climate change. There is much that Singapore and China can do to tackle these common challenges together, and to sustain high-quality growth and prosperity for our peoples. This will require us to renew and expand our economic links, reimagine our industries, and reinforce our close ties. 

There are also good opportunities in other aspects of sustainability, such as in green energy, finance, transport and logistics.

Renew and expand our economic links 

For the past ten years, Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor while China has been Singapore’s largest merchandise trading partner. These close economic ties, built up over the decades, reflect our confidence in each other. We should continue to find ways to renew and expand our economic links.

We are pursuing more open and transparent rules for cross-border investment and trade in services through the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA). Through the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative – New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor, we are also promoting stronger regional economic integration between Western China and Southeast Asia.

A view of the China-Singapore Friendship Library at the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. (Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investments and Development Co. Ltd)
A view of the China-Singapore Friendship Library at the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. (Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investments and Development Co. Ltd)

These linkages form a strong base for us to build on. We can strengthen our food security and supply chain resilience, as well as facilitate greater capital market flows and cross-border payments between China and Southeast Asia.

Reimagine our industries

We should also work together to reimagine our industries so that they remain competitive and future-ready, especially in new and emerging areas such as the green and digital economy, and other high-tech areas. 

Singapore and China have been working together on sustainability for many years. In fact, we started collaborating in this area long before sustainability gained traction on the global agenda. This year is the 15th anniversary of the Tianjin Eco-City. It has set new standards for sustainable development and eco-friendly urbanisation. We should draw valuable lessons from this project to promote resource-efficient and low-carbon urban solutions to other cities in China and across the region. There are also good opportunities in other aspects of sustainability, such as in green energy, finance, transport and logistics.

... even as we forge new economic links and work together to reimagine our industries, we should reinforce our people-to-people exchanges across all levels.

There is scope for us to similarly deepen our collaboration in the digital economy. China is a global digital leader, with its digital economy making up a sizeable portion of its GDP. Singapore is an ideal launchpad to Southeast Asia’s digital economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the world.  We can therefore be effective partners on digital standards and policies to facilitate cross-border commercial data flows and digital trade, and develop smart city solutions, including through the Singapore-China (Shenzhen) Smart City Initiative. 

At the Bund, boisterous crowds jostle on a regular Monday night, excitedly snapping and posing for photos along Shanghai’s famed waterfront promenade that overlooks the financial hub’s dazzling skyline. (SPH Media)
At the Bund, boisterous crowds jostle on a regular Monday night, excitedly snapping and posing for photos along Shanghai’s famed waterfront promenade that overlooks the financial hub’s dazzling skyline. (SPH Media)

We should leverage our mutual strengths in other emerging industries too. The Suzhou Industrial Park has been pursuing high-tech industries such as advanced manufacturing, biomedicine, and nanotechnology. The 30th anniversary of the Suzhou Industrial Park next year is an opportunity to take our collaboration to the next level.

Reinforce our close ties 

Finally, even as we forge new economic links and work together to reimagine our industries, we should reinforce our people-to-people exchanges across all levels. Be it regular exchanges between our officials and students, or facilitating cross-border tourism, these have all contributed to the deep sense of mutual understanding and trust between our peoples. There is more that we can do to foster such close ties, including strengthening our exchanges in tourism, education, research, training and health.

Singapore and China share a close and multifaceted relationship. I look forward to working with my fellow co-chair to advance our bilateral cooperation in the areas I have highlighted and more. Despite our differences in size, history and context, our countries share many common aspirations and challenges. Working together, I am confident we can continue to contribute to each other’s growth, catalyse new opportunities in emerging areas, and forge a better future for both our peoples.  

Related: Lee Hsien Loong: The world cannot afford a conflict between China and the US | Minister Chan Chun Sing on Singapore-China relations: Mutual trust is vital to navigate a changing world | Heng Swee Keat: Singapore and China will build better future for region and the world