BEIJING – China’s new government, looking to execute an “ambitious blueprint”, wants to work with Singapore and step up exchanges on modernisation and development, Chinese Premier Li Qiang told Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a meeting on Saturday.
At the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Mr Li said that the central task of his government is to turn the blueprint laid out at the 20th party congress in October 2022 into a “working plan”.
“This is a clear message we are sending to the outside world.”
Noting that Singapore has been deeply involved in China’s modernisation drive since its early days of reform and opening up, Mr Li said that his government wants to bring bilateral relations to a new level so that “together, we can bring benefits to our people and contribute to peace, stability, development, prosperity and beyond”.
Mr Li took over as Chinese premier from Mr Li Keqiang three weeks ago, as China completed its twice-a-decade leadership handover during its annual parliamentary meetings.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had previously stated that he hopes to narrow China’s widening income gap and inequality among the country’s different regions as part of a national campaign called ”common prosperity”.
The new government, headed by Mr Li Qiang, has also aimed to boost the recovery of the world’s second-largest economy, which has been battered by the country’s strict zero-Covid policy that only ended in late 2022.
Calling Mr Lee “an old friend familiar to the Chinese people”, Mr Li recalled his last conversation with the PM in Shanghai in 2018, when the two leaders discussed the governance of modern cities and industrial development.
Mr Li, who was then the Shanghai chief, said Mr Lee had gone to great lengths to discuss “people’s well-being and how to deliver tangible benefits to the people”.
“I was impressed by our conversation,” said Mr Li. “He also talked about cultural diversity and inclusiveness.”
PM Lee is one of the first foreign leaders to visit China since Premier Li took over as the head of the government.
“On both sides we attach high importance to this bilateral relationship, and we are gratified to see the closeness of this relationship,” Mr Li said.
PM Lee said that Singapore and China have “a very strong basis to take the relationship forward”.
Providing updates on Singapore’s government-to-government projects with China in Tianjin, Chongqing and Suzhou, Mr Lee said that Suzhou Industrial Park, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2024, “is a mature and successful example of what two countries can do together with determination, with consistency, and with hard work and goodwill and deep trust and mutual understanding sustained over several decades”.
The Chongqing Connectivity Initiative “fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as the imperative to connect up between China’s great western areas and the outside world through the corridor to Singapore, South-east Asia and beyond”, PM Lee said, referring to China’s major global infrastructure initiative that aims to mirror ancient trade routes.
He added: “There are many specific areas of cooperation where we can do more and new areas of cooperation I hope we will be able to explore together.”
On this trip, he said, “I’m very happy to have a chance to catch up with old friends, to meet old friends in new appointments and to meet and make new friends, and to take our relationship the next step forward”.
A Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) statement said that the two leaders exchanged views on regional and international developments and “took stock of the strong momentum in Asean-China relations” with an eye towards more substantive and practical cooperation.
PM Lee also reiterated in-principle support for China’s interest to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade pact whose founding members include Japan, Australia and Singapore.
On March 31, Britain became the latest member and the first European state to join the CPTPP, one of the world’s most valuable trade pacts. China, along with Taiwan, have submitted applications to join the CPTPP.
The MFA statement said that it was “important for China to meet and adhere to the high standard rules and comprehensive market access commitments, as expected of all CPTPP members”, which has to be worked out between China and all CPTPP members, on the basis of consensus.
PM Lee also welcomed China’s application to the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement that helps exporters and other companies make the most out of digital trade.
Earlier on Saturday, Mr Li had accompanied PM Lee to walk down a red-carpeted hall inspecting a guard of honour, with Singapore and Chinese top officials observing to the side.
They included Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Singapore’s ambassador to China Lui Tuck Yew.
PM Lee returns to Singapore on Saturday evening.