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Singapore takes a long-term view of China’s development, says Chan Chun Sing

BEIJING – China faces complex challenges in its economic trajectory, but its determination to overcome them should not be underestimated, Singapore’s Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing told the media at the end of a four-day visit to the country on Wednesday.

Singapore, for its part, takes a long-term view when it comes to China’s development and will continue to work with the world’s second-largest economy on more and better projects.

Speaking after co-hosting the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership in Beijing, Mr Chan said: “We should appreciate that the Chinese have their own challenges, and these are complex challenges.”

The country’s economic recovery after three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions is losing momentum after a brisk start earlier in 2023.

Exports are down nearly 20 per cent, youth unemployment has been steadily rising until the government stopped publishing official statistics, and consumer confidence is largely subdued. Meanwhile, the property market is in a slump, with several of China’s top developers facing financial woes.

“But we must never underestimate their determination to overcome these challenges. We should also never underestimate the clarity that they have with their own challenges,” Mr Chan said.

“I can see a very clear determination in them to want to overcome these challenges so that their country and their people can continue to progress.”

In the history of Singapore-China ties, there have been ups and downs, but it is important to focus on the long-term objectives, Mr Chan said in response to a question about China’s economic outlook.

Highlighting government-to-government projects such as the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco-city and, more recently, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, Mr Chan said: “We don’t evaluate our success within a few years.

“In fact, we take a long-term perspective of how we want to grow the project not just to benefit the local geographical area but, more importantly, to use that as a platform to catalyse other areas beyond the pilot site itself.”

It is through such cooperation that both sides can cultivate another generation of officials who can better understand each other and work together better, he said.

“And through that we plant the seeds for the next generation to do even more and better projects between the two countries.”

Since the mid-1990s, more than 50,000 Chinese officials have visited Singapore on study trips. Singapore has also been China’s largest foreign investor since 2013.

Earlier this year, Singapore and China formally upgraded their relationship to an “all-round high-quality future-oriented partnership”.

Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had established the foundation for the “deep mutual trust and deep mutual respect” between both countries that allows meetings such as the leadership forum to take place.

Mr Chan, who is also Education Minister, described the forum as a setting quite unlike others that allows officials to gather and “share intimately” about the challenges they face.

“Our systems, our history, our context may be different but there are always opportunities for us to learn from one another… Both sides understand the differences in contexts, and appreciate the opportunities to exchange ideas so that we can develop better ideas for ourselves and our people in context.”

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Mr Chan co-hosted the leadership forum with Mr Li Ganjie, who heads the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee Organisation Department, which oversees the training, appointment and promotion of personnel in ministries and state-owned enterprises.

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. Both countries take turns to host the forum, which is being held in person for the first time since 2019.

Commenting on geopolitical challenges involving China and the United States, Mr Chan said Singapore simply provides an “unvarnished perspective” on the issues.

“We don’t profess to be able to influence their decisions, but as a good friend, as a true friend, to both the US and China, we wish that they will find a new modus vivendi on how they get on with the relationship.

“But we will always provide them with principled feedback on how we see the situation is evolving and to the extent that we can help both sides better understand one another, we will try our best.”

During the four-day visit, Mr Chan visited the CPC Central Committee Party School (National Academy of Governance) and met his Chinese counterpart, Education Minister Huai Jinpeng.

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

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