S'pore & China want good relations even with new prime minister at the helm: PM Lee

PM Lee said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had interacted with Chinese ministers on several occasions.

Kayla Wong | April 30, 2019, 06:10 PM

Singapore's ties with China will not be affected by the country's leadership transition, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday, April 29, according to The Straits Times.

Sino-Singapore ties not personal to any particular leader

Speaking to reporters after wrapping up his five-day official visit to China from April 25 to 29, PM Lee responded to a question on how the leadership transition in Singapore would affect bilateral relations with China.

He said he hoped the leadership transition will go "smoothly", and that China also wants the "relationship and friendship" to continue.

"It's in the interest of both countries, it's not personal to a few or to particular leaders," he said.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) announced on April 23 Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's promotion to Deputy Prime Minister (DPM).

The move points to Heng being the the front-runner to be Singapore's next prime minister.

Chinese ministers know Heng already

PM Lee added that Singapore has informed China that Heng would be taking over as co-chair of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) from current DPM Teo Chee Hean, who will become Senior Minister on May 1.

JCBC is the top body that oversees bilateral relations between Singapore and China.

PM Lee said the Chinese welcome the change, and that they know Heng as he had "interacted with them on many occasions", including the times when he was the accompanying minister when President Xi and Premier Li visited Singapore.

"So they have a direct feel of him," PM Lee said.

He added that Heng would have to carry "more of the political responsibilities" in the next general election, which must be held by Jan. 15, 2021.

In addition, PM Lee said he would hand over the premiership to his successor by the time he turns 70 in 2022.

He also noted that other than Heng, other leaders have been actively engaging with China on the JCBC platform, including Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee, and Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah.

Bilateral relations have improved tremendously

PM Lee met the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Le Keqiang on Monday, April 29, and witnessed the signing of five agreements that would deepen collaboration between both countries, according to a report by ST.

Previously, in an interview with Chinese state-run media Xinhua, PM Lee said bilateral relations with China had grown "tremendously" since both countries established diplomatic relations in 1990.

PM Lee also expressed support for China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the development strategy involving infrastructure projects that span over three continents, which the Chinese government had sunk billions of dollars into.

After a bout of bad headlines last year that accused China of luring poorer countries into debt traps in exchange for diplomatic leverage, China has enjoyed relatively good press in recent weeks.

Malaysia announced it would resume a major BRI project, the China-backed East Coast Rail Link project, after managing to negotiate for a smaller scale and lower cost.

Italy has also signed on to the BRI -- the first Group of Seven (G7) major developed nation to do so -- despite the United States and other European countries expressing concern at the ambitious plan and lobbying against it behind the scenes.

Top image via Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook page