China has developed considerably, but there are still areas where Singapore can add value, says DPM Wong

BEIJING, Dec 9 — China has developed considerably in the last 30 years and Singapore has to be able to provide value to Beijing, particularly in areas where the city-state has “some strengths”, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday (December 8).

These include how Singapore organises its housing estates and neighbourhoods, especially to take care of a rapidly ageing population.

Wong, who is also finance minister, said that “we have to be able to find ways in which we provide value to them (China) or for that matter to any counterparts”.


Wong was speaking to the media in Beijing at the end of his official visit to China, where he co-chaired the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).

The annual forum is the highest platform for both Singapore and China to review areas for bilateral cooperation and this year’s iteration saw 24 deals announced between the two countries — higher than the 19 last year.

Accompanying Wong yesterday were National Development Minister Desmond Lee and Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat, who were also part of the delegation attending the JCBC this year.


In asking a question of Wong, a journalist noted that when government-to-government projects between the two countries began 30 years ago, the focus was on the Chinese learning from Singapore.

Asked about what Singapore can bring to the table now in its collaboration with China, Wong said: “I see our cooperation these days really more as mutual learning, mutual exchanges, mutual collaboration.”

He also said that finding ways to add value so that others would want to collaborate with Singapore is “really how we can continue to make a living for ourselves”.

In the case of China, it has strengths in various areas of technology such as in electric vehicles and renewable energy.

“But there are some areas where we have some strengths and we can complement each other in the economic arena.”

Singapore can share some of its practices with China, such as how the island nation organises its housing estates and neighbourhoods to take care of a rapidly ageing population — a challenge that both Singapore and China face.

“And we do it in our public housing estates in quite a unique fashion with services readily available with our void deck amenities,” Wong added.

“That’s something that China has already started to do in Tianjin Eco-City and they are interested in seeing how they can scale up across other cities in China as well.”

Tianjin Eco-City is one of the three flagship government-to-government projects under the JCBC, and marks its 15th anniversary this year.

Lee noted that his ministry and China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development had started a ministerial level dialogue in May, where both sides “exchanged notes” on various areas of construction.

Next year’s forum is going to focus on urban rejuvenation, he said, noting that China is interested to look at how Singapore does housing and home upgrading.

“So it’s mutual learning and mutual sharing of ideas. And there are opportunities also for enterprises from both countries to come together and work together,” he added.

Besides housing, Wong said that another way Singapore adds values is by playing its role as a reliable and trusted partner.

“Not just linking up bilaterally, but also connecting China to the wider region. And that’s something we do with China, but it’s something we do with many other countries we partner with as well.”

Economic headwinds not affecting cooperation

China continues to be an economy with “tremendous opportunities” to work together, Wong said, even though there is some forecast that the Asian giant’s growth will slow down in the medium term.

He was responding to a question on whether headwinds that China is facing may have any impact on collaboration with Singapore and how this was discussed during meetings with the Chinese leaders.

The International Monetary Fund in November said that it expects China’s 2023 growth to come in at 5.4 per cent with next year’s rate expected to be a slower 4.6 per cent.

“It has not impacted collaboration,” Wong said.

“The medium-term prospects — well, people have different forecasts, but I would say, never bet on the decline of China.”

This is because the country’s economy is of such “tremendous” scale with many areas of strength on top of having a huge market.

Excluding the real estate sector, there continues to be a very healthy flow of Singapore investments into China, Wong added.

“That speaks to the opportunities that exist between Singapore and China, that investors, that companies can see these opportunities.

“And from a government perspective, we provide the framework through the JCBC and through other cooperation mechanisms for these sorts of mutually beneficial partnerships.”

Visa-free does not mean no immigration checks

On Thursday, ahead of the JCBC meeting, Wong and China’s Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang announced that both countries are looking to establish a mutual 30-day visa free travel arrangement.

Expected to kick into effect early next year, this was one of the 24 agreements unveiled at this year’s JCBC.

Responding to a question on whether there may be any concern given that this was the first time Singapore will be granting a visa-free arrangement to China’s citizens, Wong said that this will not be the first time Singapore that has a mutual or visa-free arrangement with any particular country.

“We have more than 70 countries where the people can come to Singapore visa-free. We have experience with it,” he said.

“Visa-free does not mean no immigration check. There’s still a system in the backend and we do the necessary checks.”

Wong added that the visa-free arrangement brings convenience not just for businesses, but for people on both sides who are travelling for education or to visit families.

More importantly, he said that stronger people-to-people exchanges will provide a stronger foundation for both sides to enhance cooperation across a wide range of areas.

“Because we’ve created people to people links at all levels, not just at the government level, but among the businesses, among our students, among our people,” he said.

“I think this will be helpful and positive for a longer term cooperation between our two countries.” ― TODAY

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