Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

China, Singapore Vow Trade Cooperation in Sign of Thaw

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  • Countries agree to work together to defend globalization
  • Relations with Southeast Asia called ‘stable, calm, positive’

China and Singapore pledged to cooperate on trade and regional infrastructure projects, in a sign the countries have begun to repair ties strained amid security disputes in Southeast Asia. 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan said Monday in a briefing in Beijing they reached agreement to work more closely on China’s “Belt and Road” trade and infrastructure initiative. Balakrishnan described ties as “strong” and said China’s relationship with Southeast Asia was “stable, calm and positive.”

“We had in-depth talks and reached a lot of consensus on bilateral, regional issues and shared interests,” Wang said. “Both of us are of the view that, against the background of a backlash against globalization, China and Singapore, as the champions of regional integration, need to work together to address challenges and uphold common interests.”

The remarks suggest that Singapore’s efforts to paper over diplomatic tensions with its largest trading partner are paying off. The city-state of 5.3 million had found itself in Beijing’s cross-hairs over its military ties with Taiwan, support for the U.S. naval presence in the disputed South China Sea and perceived lack of support for the Belt and Road program.

Singapore didn’t receive a formal invitation from China to attend a Belt and Road summit in May, Bloomberg News reported last month. A shipment of Singaporean infantry carrier vehicles that had been used in military exercises in Taiwan was seized and held in Hong Kong for two months before being released in January.

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The meeting came after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Australia’s ABC Radio in an interview broadcast Saturday that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road Initiative was a constructive way to expand business ties with its neighbors.

“The Chinese and Singaporean leadership understand that there is a wide range of cooperation down the road,” said Huang Jing, a professor with the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “As a regional financial center and a developed economy that is fully integrated in the global economic system, Singapore has a lot to offer to China, while benefiting from the development of One Belt, One Road.” 

Balakrishnan described Singapore as a “strong believer and supporter” of the Belt and Road plan and pledged to establish a financial cooperation platform with China. “China-Singapore relations are in good working order,” he said. “They are strong, with the potential to grow even stronger.”

The two countries accounted for $66 billion in two-way trade last year, representing 13 percent of Singapore’s global total. Singapore is also China’s second-largest investor, with $6.18 billion last year, according to China’s official figures.

Wang said Singapore was an important clearance center for the yuan.

“To advance the Belt and Road Initiative we need financing,” he said. “We hope that cooperation with Singapore will draw upon Singapore’s strengths as a financial center.”

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and Peter Martin

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