Singapore determined to restore normal ties with China: experts

By Zhang Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/19 23:23:39

Change happens under Xi diplomacy

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) holds a welcome ceremony for Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before their talks in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 19, 2017. (Xinhua/Zhang Ling)


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) holds a welcome ceremony for Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong before their talks in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 19, 2017. (Xinhua/Li Tao)

Experts said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's visit to China, which began on Tuesday, shows he's determined to restore bilateral relations back to normal following years of strained ties.

Lee's visit, his first since 2014, came abruptly, having only been announced on Friday, before his long-planned visit to the US in October.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met Lee on Tuesday, who is also scheduled to meet with President Xi Jinping, the Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Wang Qishan and other top leaders in Beijing, before he heads to Xiamen in East China's Fujian Province.

China-Singapore ties have gone through difficulties especially since the Southeast Asian country openly backed an international tribunal ruling over the disrupted waters in the South China Sea in 2016. China slammed the tribunal as illegal.

Lee was not invited to Beijing's Belt and Road summit in May, which included a wide range of national leaders and top international delegations. Nor did he attend Xiamen's BRICS summit two weeks ago when Thailand was invited to represent Southeast Asian countries.

Lee's trip, which follows a visit to Beijing in June by Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, shows that "small troubles have not shaken the foundation of the two countries' bilateral ties," Li Mingjiang, an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told the South China Morning Post.

Repairing relations with China is crucial to Lee, who faces consistent domestic pressure from the opposition party and involvement in a family scandal months ago, said Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Center of Southeast Asian Studies.

Lee's visit proves that his previous pro-US strategy in the Asia-Pacific, with which the Southeast Asian country could barely strike a balance between the world's two biggest powers, will change, experts said.

"As China rises quickly, Lee realized it's crucial to mend fences with China and to be involved in China's Belt and Road initiative," Zhuang told the Global Times.

In an interview with the Xinhua News Agency on Saturday, Lee expressed his willingness to see Singapore as a hub for Chinese business and headquarters of some Belt and Road projects to be established in the country, based on its advantages in finance, transportation, trade and services.

"A long strategic tradition established by Deng Xiaoping and Lee Kuan Yew, the same culture and language, and close economic ties are all reasons to make its ties with China of unparalleled importance to Singapore," Zhuang said.

Lee's visit falls one month before the 19th National Congress of the CPC. Putting Sino-Singaporean ties back on track is also an achievement of President Xi Jinping since the 18th National CPC Congress, experts said.

"Though Singapore is a small country, it has the international influence of a world power and plays the role of a bellwether among ASEAN countries for diplomacy. The warming-up of bilateral relations shows remarkable progress," Zhuang said.

Posted in: DIPLOMACY

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