Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing called Chongqing party chief Chen Min'er his "old friend", as both sides reaffirmed close collaborative ties between Singapore and Chongqing.
Chan invited Chen to come to Singapore
Speaking at the Singapore-China (Chongqing) Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum on Wednesday, Sept. 11, Chan said he has been "personally looking forward to" Chen's visit to Singapore for "a long while".
In addition, Chan said he had a good meeting with Chen earlier before the event started, where he expressed his appreciation for the "support and guidance" the latter has given for Singapore's projects in Chongqing.
The two leaders met last year during Chan's working visit to China in April 2018, affirming bilateral ties under the Singapore-China (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative.
Chen is currently in Singapore for a visit from Sept. 10 to 13 at the invitation of Chan.
This is his first visit to the city-state in his current capacity.
Other than visiting places such as Changi Airport and the National University of Singapore, Chen will also be attending a Meet-the-People session hosted by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who was present at the forum.
More than 500 Singapore and Chongqing business leaders and government officials attended the forum.
Chen a potential successor to Xi Jinping?
Speaking after Chan, Chen said he was glad to have made this trip to Singapore, which he called a "beautiful" garden city.
Referring to the multiple times that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he said both countries have a good cooperative relationship between them.
Collaboration between Singapore and China will benefit the people of both countries, and create more opportunities for other countries as well, he added.
Chen Min'er, a rising political star
Chen is a rising political star within the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
A trusted confidant of Xi, Chen rose to become a member of the 25-member Politburo, the CCP's top decision-making body within a year, after he was appointed to his current position of Chongqing party chief.
Chongqing, one of China's four key cities, is usually led by a party secretary from the Politburo.
Chen is seen as a potential successor to Xi, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
China is Singapore's largest trading partner
In his speech, Chan mentioned that both Singapore and China have developed a strong and multi-faceted relationship over the years.
He added that China is Singapore's largest trading partner, while Singapore is China's largest foreign investor.
And as the global economy faces greater stresses and uncertainties, it is vital for both sides to maintain the momentum for greater economic integration, Chan said.
He then brought up the progress made by both sides, saying that the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement was upgraded in 2018, and "substantial progress" was made in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
In addition, both Singapore and Chongqing have developed the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor under the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstrative Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (CCI-ILSTC) in order to reduce the duration and cost of transporting products between Southeast Asia and Western China.
27 MOUs signed
Both leaders also witnessed the signing of 27 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) at the sidelines of the forum.
The signed MOUs were for projects that spanned across financial services, aviation, transport and logistics, as well as information and communication technology sectors.
3 areas of further cooperation
Chan also laid out the three areas where further collaboration should focus on.
1. Deepening of strategic understanding among political leaders
There is a need for senior leaders from both sides to develop a shared understanding with one another, Chan said.
To accomplish this, the minister stated that the Singapore government will work with Chongqing leadership to initiate more quality exchanges with Western China.
2. Facilitating trade by developing common standards and shared platforms
Chan also spoke about the need to focus on facilitating trade, by intensifying efforts of local enterprises and government agencies to use common standards and shared platforms, in areas such as custom clearance, and mutual recognition of standards for products and services.
3. Developing the geographical connection of Singapore and Chongqing
Chan added that future collaborations should include the intensification of efforts to promote the use of the Singapore-Chongqing connection, as a catalyst to a wider connection between Southeast Asia and Western China.
Thanked Chen for support given to Singapore's companies
Chan also thanked Chen for the support given to Singapore's companies, adding that Singapore is pleased to partner Chongqing as both places play the role of mutual hubs in Southeast Asia and Western China respectively.
"The success of our cooperation will not only bring tangible benefits to our people, it will also be a powerful testimony to our belief in the benefits of connection and integration in bringing out the best in each other," Chan said.
Singapore-Chongqing International Data Channel launched
Both men also launched the Singapore-Chongqing International Data Channel (IDC) as the main highlight of the event.
The IDC is China's first point-to-point international data channel with another country.
According to the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), it is set to offer better network experience to users in both places.
The IDC also supports Singapore companies looking to digitally expand their businesses to Chongqing or Western China.
Touched on the trade war
Chinese Ambassador to Singapore Hong Xiaoyong, in his speech, also touched on the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.
Reiterating Beijing's oft-repeated stance, Hong said the U.S. has "unfairly accused" China of being a currency manipulator, and that China does not want to engage in a trade conflict with the United States.
Nevertheless, it is not afraid of fighting with the Americans on trade issues if necessary, and will not give in no matter what.
Hong's remark reflect Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe's speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June this year, in which he said China is ready should the U.S. want to fight.
All photos by Julia Yeo