Lee’s Beijing visit heralds warming of Sino-Singaporean relations

By Ge Hongliang Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/19 22:33:39

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is visiting China from Tuesday to Thursday. Observers from China and Singapore have been somewhat surprised by Lee's trip to Beijing, announced only three days in advance. Some have argued that Lee should have come earlier: His last visit was four years ago.

China-Singapore relations have gone through twists and turns since last year, culminating in Singapore's support for the South China Sea arbitration ruling and its nine Terrex infantry carrier vehicles being detained by Hong Kong authorities. At a state dinner in the US in August last year, Lee lodged an offensive position against China, which triggered controversies. What's more, the representative of Singapore launched malicious attacks on the representatives of countries taking a fair position on the South China Sea during the 17th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Venezuela in September. Although Lee attended the G20 Hangzhou Summit last year, these various spats and embarrassments cast a shadow over bilateral relations.

A detente has emerged in the China-Singapore relationship since 2017. As a mediating state, Singapore has played an important role in negotiating a framework for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and ASEAN countries in August. Lee met Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of the G20 Hamburg summit in July to discuss how Singapore could work with China to implement its Belt and Road initiative among other initiatives. This gradual amelioration in China-Singapore ties and a common wish to promote mutual cooperation prompted the two leaders to find a suitable time to move bilateral relations forward, thus enabling Lee's trip.

Two important events are major concerns for Lee. The first is the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress expected to be convened on October 18. This is of great importance for China and Singapore to set the tone for bilateral relations and ensure warming ties before the congress kicks off. It is crucial for the Singaporean government to consolidate mutual cooperation and improve its status in China's regional and global diplomatic arena.

The second event is US President Donald Trump's Asia visit in November. The Trump administration may agree on its policy for Southeast Asia in a few months. But the Lee Hsien Loong government will probably not overly concern itself with Trump's new Southeast Asia policy. The best option for Singapore, with its focus on major powers and regions, would be to seize the initiative in its diplomatic interactions and adopt a more flexible and pragmatic approach.

The author is a research fellow with the Charhar Institute and the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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