Developing connectivity to promote regional prosperity

By Stanley Loh Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/14 9:59:25

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI) was launched by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2015 as the third Government-to-Government project between Singapore and China. The CCI is a platform for our cooperation in the Belt and Road initiative, the Yangtze River Economic Belt and the Western Region Development strategies. The CCI draws on the combined strengths of Singapore and China as globally-connected countries to promote both "hard" and "soft" connectivity in the areas of (i) financial services, (ii) aviation, (iii) multi-modal logistics and (iv) information communications technology. The CCI is based in western China with Chongqing as its operating centre, to support China's efforts to catalyse the development of western China. Singapore serves as the CCI's regional hub in Southeast Asia and beyond.

The progress of the CCI so far has exceeded our initial expectations. In particular, the CCI's New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor (ILSTC) has established a strategic link between the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It has reduced the time needed to transport cargo between western China and Southeast Asia from three weeks to one week, hence reducing logistics costs. During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's official visit to Singapore in November 2018, Singapore and China signed an MOU to formalise the ILSTC.

Singapore and China are working closely to integrate the sea and rail transport infrastructure along the ILSTC. In particular, we are strengthening last mile connectivity by extending rail lines to the ports so that the network can be truly seamless. We are also streamlining border inspection processes, improving transparency of regulations, and exploring ways to exchange trade data electronically through Singapore's Network Trade Platform, to reduce administrative cost and time.

Singapore companies are participating enthusiastically in the ILSTC's development. Sino-Singapore Chongqing Connectivity Solutions, a joint venture between Singapore and Chongqing companies, is building up northbound cargo from ASEAN countries to China so that the ILSTC will develop into a sustainable and balanced two-way trading route. Another joint venture between our companies, the Multi-Modal Distribution and Connectivity Centre, is developing a demonstrative multimodal distribution hub at Guoyuan Port to showcase the best practices in multimodal operations across Chongqing's major logistics nodes.

Aside from Chongqing, Singapore is investing in other parts along the ILSTC including Guangxi and Gansu. Singapore's port operator, PSA International, operates a container terminal at Qinzhou Port in Guangxi's Beibu Gulf. PSA International has been marketing Qinzhou Port to international shipping lines to service a new shipping route between Singapore and Qinzhou. As cargo volume builds up, the frequency of shipping freights will be increased to daily basis. Pacific International Lines (PIL) has invested in a large-scale China-Singapore International Logistics Park in Nanning to promote cargo flow and value-adding processing activities along the ILSTC. PIL also signed an MOU with Gansu in November 2018 on cooperation in developing Gansu's logistics network. CrimsonLogic is working with the China-ASEAN Information Harbour Co. to jointly pilot an international trade facilitation module to facilitate more efficient Customs clearances.

As an open and inclusive platform, the ILSTC has since expanded to officially include eight western China provinces, namely Chongqing, Guangxi, Guizhou, Gansu, Qinghai, Yunnan, Ningxia and Xinjiang. Sichuan and Shaanxi have also expressed strong interest to participate. ASEAN countries are also making use of the ILSTC to transport their products and agricultural produce to western and southern China. The ILSTC will continue growing in strength as more partners join, enabling it to contribute even more to the development of western China.

The CCI has also achieved promising results across its other pillars. We have facilitated cross-border financing deals totalling 28.9 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) to date lowering financing costs in western China by 0.7 percentage points. Aviation connectivity has increased and there are now 14 weekly flights between Singapore and Chongqing. Changi Airport International and Chongqing Airport Group have set up a joint venture to manage commercial operations at Chongqing Airport. Singapore and Chinese companies have signed business deals in ICT. Singapore was the Country-of-Honour at the inaugural Smart City Expo in Chongqing in 2018 with a significant contingent of over 40 Singapore companies.

The CCI has promoted other aspects of Singapore-Chongqing cooperation. The Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chongqing Organisation Department have concluded an MOU on the Cooperation in the Training of Senior Officials. Two batches of Chongqing senior officials will visit Singapore this year. Healthcare cooperation has increased, with the opening of Singapore's Raffles Medical Group's first hospital in China in Chongqing on January 7, 2019. The National University of Singapore also plans to establish a research institute in Chongqing to promote collaboration in basic research, commercialisation activities and talent development. 

Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing met Chongqing Party Secretary Chen Min'er and co-chaired the fourth CCI Joint Implementation Committee (JIC) with Chongqing Mayor Tang Liangzhi last week. We had good discussions on the CCI's progress and future development. 

Against the current backdrop of global economic headwinds and uncertainty, the CCI is indeed a bright spot which has promoted greater connectivity and economic development not just between Singapore and China, but between ASEAN and China as well. It augments our joint commitment to promote rules-based multilateral free trade and economic integration. The CCI has opened up a new space to enhance people-to-people, financial, goods and information flows in our region. Ultimately, our common goal is to create even greater prosperity for our countries and the peoples of our region.  

The author is Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the People's Republic of China.


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