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Countries should ‘build bridges and not walls’ to tackle shared challenges: Chan Chun Sing

BEIJING – Countries need to draw closer, and “build bridges and not walls” to navigate shared challenges from pandemics to climate change, said Mr Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday.

He called for nations to work towards developing “a multi-dimensional global cooperation system” where all countries, big and small, play by the rules; and which is “backed by new structures and cooperation” so that action to tackle transboundary problems can be swifter and more effective.

Singapore and China can do their part by creating more inclusive and resilient supply chains to facilitate the flow of goods, services and people, amid a fragmenting global order and fragile world economy.

“We can also work towards upholding global standards for an open and integrated global economy,” he added.

Mr Chan, the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership in Beijing. He noted that with both countries having upgraded their bilateral relationship recently, they can explore new and deeper ways to work together.

He said both sides can strengthen their partnership by leveraging Singapore’s role as an economic bridge between the East and West.

Mr Chan added that Singapore and China must entrench themselves in the global value chain with a “future-oriented view”.

“We must be the ones that build the ‘windmills’ to capture new opportunities of growth early, such as digitalisation and sustainability, collaborate with our partners, and be able to adapt in an agile manner,” he said. The minister was referring to a Chinese saying about how some will build walls while others will create windmills when the winds of change are blowing.

Mr Chan, who is also Education Minister, is co-hosting the forum with Mr Li Ganjie, Minister of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Organisation Department (COD).

The COD oversees the training, appointment and promotion of personnel in ministries and state-owned enterprises.

Both countries have worked on government-to-government projects that have evolved over the years, depending on their developmental needs, Mr Chan noted.

These include the Suzhou Industrial Park that started in 1994, and Tianjin Eco-City that began in 2007. Subsequently, there were regional projects like the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative in 2015.  

“Looking ahead, these (government-to-government) projects can be refreshed to trailblaze new development models of ‘high-quality growth’ and experiment (with) innovative approaches of governance,” Mr Chan said.

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During his speech, Mr Chan emphasised the need to build trust between people, between governments, and between people and the government.

“Trust is key to move ahead into our next bound,” he said, using a Chinese idiom to emphasise that without trust, even moving forward an inch is hard.

“We can further strengthen the foundation by tapping our history in human resource development and people-to-people exchange; and enhance the opportunities for our next generations to grow together.”

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Earlier this year, Singapore and China formally upgraded their relationship to an All-Round High-Quality Future-Oriented Partnership, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to China.

Both sides have also concluded negotiations to upgrade the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which will provide for more business-friendly, liberal and transparent rules.

First held in 2009, the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership is a strategic platform for political leaders and senior officials from both sides to discuss and exchange experiences on common challenges related to leadership development.

The two countries take turns to host the forum, which is being held in-person for the first time since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During his speech at the forum’s opening ceremony, Mr Li said that like Singapore, China is also regarded as one of the safest countries in the world.

The world’s second-largest economy will continue on its trajectory of a peaceful rise, moving towards modernisation while embracing multilateralism, he said.

“There are difficulties and challenges that we face that will require increased cooperation and working together to face our problems head-on,” he said, noting that Singapore forged a unique path of modernisation suited to its national conditions.

China is very willing to work with Singapore on services and industries of the future, reaping the benefits that modernisation will bring to the people of both countries, Mr Li said.

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The keynote speeches were followed by addresses from Mr Xie Chuntao, executive vice-president of the CPC Central Party School, and Mrs Josephine Teo, Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information. Mrs Teo touched on the fundamentals and goals of good governance in Singapore, as well as how the Government has evolved to meet the needs of a population that now prefers a more consultative approach.

“(We) will face more complex challenges, from climate change to market risks. We must continue to harness the power of collaboration across the public, people and private sectors, to remain agile as a nation,” she said, citing the examples of the Alliances for Action, which were launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Forward Singapore exercise.

Mrs Teo is part of a Singapore delegation headed by Mr Chan that is on the third of a four-day visit to China.

On Monday, the group visited Xiong’an New Area in Hebei province. Xiong’an is designed to take over some of Beijing’s non-government functions in a bid to ease overcrowding and spread out development.

During a meeting with the area’s party chief Zhang Guohua, Mr Chan said the project was unique and forward-looking in how it aims to move non-government functions out of the capital city, so the greater region can develop as a whole, rather than simply building a new capital.

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