Top China diplomat's S'pore visit is Heng Swee Keat's first meeting with foreign leader since Covid-19 outbreak

Singapore and China mark 30 years of diplomatic relations this year.

Julia Yeo | August 21, 2020, 02:06 PM

China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, is currently in Singapore for a three-day visit ending on Saturday (Aug. 21).

Yang's visit marks 30 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and China

Yang, who is part of China's 24-seat Politburo, called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, and was hosted to meals by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.

Widely regarded as the chief architect of China's foreign policy, his visit marks 30 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and China, which were affirmed by Yang and PM Lee when the two met at the Istana.

Citing the Chinese Foreign Ministry, The Straits Times reported that Yang's visit to Singapore was made at the invitation of the Singapore government.

PM Lee and Yang reaffirmed importance of cooperation in rules-based international order

PM Lee and Yang expressed appreciation for the mutual support between both countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, and welcomed the good progress in bilateral cooperation despite the public health crisis, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press release issued on Friday, Aug. 21.

Both of them also reaffirmed the importance of strengthening cooperation within a rules-based international order.

PM Lee further said in a Facebook post posted on Thursday night, Aug. 20, that Yang's visit, which took place shortly after Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu's visit, has brought some semblance of normalcy in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

DPM Heng's first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since Covid-19 escalated

DPM Heng and Yang discussed the substantive cooperation between both countries, noting that Singapore and China have worked closely to combat the public health and economic impact of Covid-19.

This includes the launch of the Singapore-China Fast Lane in June 2020 to facilitate essential business and official travel, MFA said.

Noting that it was his first in-person meeting with a foreign leader since the Covid-19 pandemic worsened, Heng wrote in a Thursday (Aug. 20) Facebook post that they discussed how both countries could cooperate further, and work with other countries in the region.

These ideas can be taken up at the 16th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation later this year, which Heng co-chairs with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng, he added in his post. 

Teo and Yang visited Deng Xiaoping commemorative marker together

Teo hosted Yang for lunch, and they visited the Deng Xiaoping commemorative marker along the Singapore River and the Tang Shipwreck Exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

The two discussed global and regional developments over lunch, and affirmed the importance of strengthening collaboration to deal with global challenges and to shape a more cooperative and constructive region.

In a Thursday (Aug. 20) Facebook post, Teo reaffirmed with Yang the importance of both countries working together more closely to strengthen cooperation within a rules-based international order, and to secure the well-being, safety & prosperity of their peoples. 

He added that Singapore appreciates his visit in spite of the many travel restrictions due to Covid-19. 

Vivian exchanged views on regional and international developments with Yang over breakfast

Vivian also hosted Yang to breakfast, and witnessed a cheque presentation ceremony for a charity project initiated by the Singaporean community in China to support poverty alleviation in Pengshui county, Chongqing municipality in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and China.

In a Facebook post posted on Thursday, Aug. 20, Vivian said both of them had "a fruitful discussion on bilateral relations", adding that it was good to see "an old friend of Singapore" again.

Yang visiting S'pore and South Korea amid declining relations with U.S.

Yang will travel to Busan on Friday (Aug. 21) for an official visit to South Korea.

South Korea was the first country in May to establish a "green channel" with China to allow fast passage for personnel involved in key sectors between the two countries. Singapore followed suit in June.

Yang's visits to Singapore and South Korea this week could be viewed as a bid by China to improve ties with its Asian neighbours, amid rapidly declining relations with the United States.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told South China Morning Post that the context underlying Yang's visit is "the current tensions between China and the U.S."

"Southeast Asia is a region where Beijing needs to ensure it [is seen positively] under these circumstances," he said, adding that Beijing sees it as a necessary move to counter American and Japanese efforts at reaching out to the region, in order to secure its interests in the area.

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Top image via VCG & Ministry of Communications and Information