According to a Facebook post published by Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng, China did not invite our Head of Government (aka PM Lee) to the Belt and Road Forum.
However, our Southeast Asia counterparts Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia and The Philippines all sent their Heads of Government.
This means that Singapore did not have a representative on the main table around President Xi Jinping’s in many of the main discussions.
However, Singapore did send a delegation headed by Min Lawrence Wong.
Focus of the Belt and Road Forum
According to a Straits Times (ST) report, the invitation was decided by the Chinese.
The forum was to focus on outbound investments, and in getting Chinese investments overseas and encouraging Chinese companies to go abroad.
Min Lawrence Wong was quoted in the ST report saying that “we don’t have any specific projects as of now that may be part of this Belt and Road (initiative) in terms of infrastructure”.
However, Singapore can play a different role as a financial hub in brokering these Chinese investments to other countries in the SEA region as well as partnering Chinese companies to go abroad.
Min Lawrence also signed a MOU with the Chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Mr He Lifeng, to enhance bilateral cooperation on the Belt and Road.
Furthermore, Singapore is already accounting for about one-third of China’s outbound investments to the Belt and Road countries according to the PRC Ministry of Commerce.
With these in mind, is it really a cause of concern that PM Lee did not attend the Belt and Road Forum?
More importantly, if appearing on the main table with President Xi suggests that Singapore is a special friend of China, is it in our interests to be associated as close allies with China?
Does that strengthen or weaken our position as an independent sovereignty?
historic ties with china
In an opinion letter published by The Straits Times, Prof Tommy Koh (Ambassador-At-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs) reassured Singaporeans that our friendship with China isn’t as superficial as what people speculate it to be.
Our ties with China can be traced all the way back to 1976 when Mr Lee Kuan Yew made his first visit to China.
Mr Lee said that Singapore would not be anti-China and the stronger China became, the power between US, the Soviet Union and China will be more balanced.
Our friendship was affirmed when Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made a historic visit to Singapore in 1978, two years after Mr Lee’s inaugural visit to China.
Mutual trust and respect was developed between the two countries.
In 1992, Mr Deng even asked China to learn from Singapore. Here’s what he said:
“There is good social order in Singapore. They govern the place with discipline. We should draw from their experience and do even better than them.”
This attracted more than 500 delegations to visit Singapore in 1992.
Since 2013, Singapore has become the largest investor in China.
There are three types of investments.
The first category are the investments by Singapore’s private sector for purely commercial reasons. The second category of investments is by the private sector in projects with backing of the two governments. The last category of investments are the very large government-to-government projects.
Another major contribution Singapore has made to China is to be its steadfast friend and an interlocutor between China and the US.
Take the tragic Tiananmen incident in 1989.
The West condemned the China and imposed economic sanctions against it. Not only did Singapore not join the US, we continued to invest in China.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew also helped to break the deadlock when the negotiations between China and the US on China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation reached an impasse.
With such deep historic ties, there’s little room to doubt the genuine friendship we have with China.
Featured image: PM Lee’s Facebook