Thursday, 18 September 2014

PM: Keep up momentum of China-ASEAN integration

Don't let spats overshadow growing relations, he says
By Rachel Chang In Nanning (Guangxi), The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2014

CHINA and ASEAN should maintain the momentum of their regional integration and not let disputes overshadow the positives of their growing relationship, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Delivering the keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the 11th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Mr Lee said the 10-member grouping and China should keep their difficult issues in perspective, and build momentum on regional integration even as they manage frictions and issues that arise from time to time.



Four ASEAN members have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea. Tensions rose this year as the Philippines pursued a legal suit against China at the United Nations and anti-China riots erupted in Vietnam over a Chinese oil rig in a disputed area.

Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, who also spoke at the expo, reiterated China's commitment to resolving the territorial disputes peacefully through bilateral negotiations between the claimants and deepening maritime cooperation with ASEAN members.

In his speech, Mr Lee pointed out how China-ASEAN economic cooperation and interdependence have grown exponentially in recent years.

Since they signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in 2005, trade has tripled, and ASEAN is now China's third-largest trading partner, he noted. By 2020, the goal is to boost two-way trade to US$1 trillion (S$1.26 trillion), and mutual investment by US$150 billion.

Mr Lee welcomed China's proposals to deepen China-ASEAN economic cooperation, such as upgrading their FTA, setting up an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to lend to emerging countries for their infrastructural development needs, and reviving the ancient Maritime Silk Road that winds through the South China Sea. Singapore looks forward to working with China on details of these initiatives, he said.

While some view the proposals as a bid by China to edge out the United States and Japan in influence in the region, Mr Lee made clear that closer ASEAN-China ties complement, rather than compete with, interdependence and integration in the wider Asia-Pacific.

"Today, a lot of ASEAN-China trade is in intermediate goods, which go into final products that are subsequently exported to third-country markets like the US and Europe," he said. "Therefore, just as ASEAN-China trade grows, so does trans-Pacific trade. In particular, both China-US and ASEAN-US trade are growing."

He said he was glad that Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders will discuss how to realise a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific at their summit in Beijing in November. APEC leaders have pledged to negotiate this mega free trade area by building on the free trade agreements concurrently being worked out in the region. These are the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, spearheaded by China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, spearheaded by the US.

Yesterday, Mr Lee also attended a round-table dialogue with Chinese businessmen. The expo has designated Singapore as the country of honour this year. Mr Lee made a pitch for them to do business in Singapore, noting its business-friendly and globally connected environment, its understanding of both Chinese and ASEAN cultures, and ASEAN's huge growth potential.

He officiated at the opening of the Singapore Pavilion at the expo and met Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn on the sidelines of the expo. Mr Lee then left for Hong Kong, the last leg of his week-long trip to southern China.





PM optimistic about China's growth
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2014

AMID concerns over China's slowing economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong struck an optimistic note on the Asian giant's growth prospects.

"While China's economy will experience ups and downs, I expect China to grow strongly over the next decade and beyond as it implements needed economic and social reforms," he said at the opening ceremony of the 11th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning yesterday.

"This can only be positive for our region, because it will create more opportunities for win-win cooperation and greater prosperity for all."

Key economic indicators have grown at a slower-than-expected pace in recent months in China, stoking fears that the world's No. 2 economy will miss its growth target of 7.5 per cent for the year.

Observers also believe that its property sector is headed for a rigorous correction, if not a crash.

Yesterday, Mr Lee noted that while the global economy has not been in robust health for some time, Asia has remained a "resilient engine of growth" due to China's dynamism and China-ASEAN integration.

Singapore has benefited, he said: Sino-Singapore trade rose to US$92 billion (S$116.3 billion) last year from US$4.2 billion in 1990.

Also last year, China became Singapore's largest trading partner, while Singapore became the top foreign investor in China.

More than 5,200 Chinese companies have set up shop in Singapore, he added.









PM and HK leader reaffirm strong ties
It is PM Lee's first visit to Hong Kong since 2001
By Rachel Chang In Hong Kong, The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Hong Kong political and business leaders yesterday in his first trip to the city since 2001.

At an evening meeting with Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying before a dinner attended by other Hong Kong politicians, the two leaders reaffirmed strong bilateral ties, said a statement from the Prime Minister's press secretary.

Mr Leung told Mr Lee that he looks forward to continued support from Singapore to bring about an early conclusion of the negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement between Hong Kong and ASEAN, said a statement from the Chief Executive's Office. Talks began in July this year.

The two men also exchanged views on the challenges that the cities share in housing, land use and infrastructure development.

They discussed how the massive transport infrastructure push by Beijing is bringing the region closer together, such as through a road link that would allow a driver to travel from Hong Kong to north Vietnam in 24 hours. This will be possible after the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, an ambitious 50km, 73 billion yuan (S$15 billion) structure across the Pearl River, is ready in 2016.

"The barriers are coming down. And the rest of the world and this region will follow suit," said Mr Leung.

Mr Lee noted that Beijing is also pushing for the revival of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, a trading route that winds through the South China Sea.

Singapore-Hong Kong trade has been growing steadily: In the first seven months of this year, bilateral trade grew 4.9 per cent over the same period last year to $35.4 billion.

Earlier in the day, Mr Lee met former chief executive Tung Chee Hwa, who is now vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

They exchanged views on the latest political and economic developments in Hong Kong, mainland China and the region, said the press secretary's statement.

Mr Tung also told Mr Lee that whenever he visits Singapore, he is impressed by what the Singapore Government is doing to position the nation for the future.

"We try to keep up because the region is moving and we have to keep abreast of it," said Mr Lee. "It's quite difficult, where we are, to try to move ahead. Just like Hong Kong, you can't go as fast as before, because it's more complicated."

On the last stop of his week-long tour of southern China, Mr Lee also attended a briefing by Hong Kong's city planners and took a night-time walk in its bustling Tsim Sha Tsui area.

He returns to Singapore today.





Automated passport clearance for S'poreans visiting HK frequently
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 18 Sep 2014

FROM next Monday, Singaporeans who travel frequently to Hong Kong can apply for a facility to avoid long immigration queues at the city's airport.

The two cities have agreed to allow mutual automated clearance of passports, said the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) yesterday. Machines at the airports read passports and fingerprints and travellers need not fill in embarkation or disembarkation cards.

Those eligible to apply are Singapore or Hong Kong passport holders aged 11 years and above who have visited the other city at least three times in the past year.

To enrol, Singaporeans can bring their passports and a colour photo to Changi Airport, Woodlands Checkpoint, Tuas Checkpoint or the ICA building. Applicants aged 11 to 17 must be accompanied by a parent or a guardian and passports should have at least six months' validity.

Enrolment is free, said ICA.

More information can be found on ICA's website at www.ica.gov.sg, or Hong Kong Immigration Department's website at www.immd.gov.hk.








S'pore seriously considering third China park project
It will focus on connectivity and modern services
By Chuang Peck Ming, The Business Times, 19 Sep 2014

SINGAPORE is seriously considering taking on another mega industrial park project in China, this time in the western region which will figure large in the next phase of the country's economic development, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told Singapore reporters on Thursday.

But he said Singapore has yet to make up its mind to go ahead with the project, which Chinese newspapers reported will focus on "connectivity and modern services". "We have not reached that point yet."

"The Chinese side is very keen and we're taking it seriously," Mr Lee said after wrapping up an eight-day official visit to southern China and Hong Kong.

While it's referred to as another government-to-government project, similar to the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and the China-Singapore Tianjin Eco City project, he said "the exact form will depend on the Chinese side and we'll be discussing with them". "It's a big decision. We have to consider that carefully."

The project must have a balance between policy and commercial goals, according to him. "To start a third government-to-government project, there has to be a clear understanding of what the objective is, the economic policy and, at the same time, how can we package it so that it's a commercially cogent and viable project," Mr Lee said. "Then also, (we) have to decide where we're going to do this. These are things we're studying and discussing with the Chinese side and we hope to come to a conclusion soon."

He agreed that connectivity and modern services should be the focus of the project. It "makes sense because you're talking about the western region, you're talking about vast areas, linking them together not just physically but also IT, financial services . . . and modern services is something which encompasses logistics and many other relevant things".

Mr Lee would probably like the project to follow the private-sector-led and government-backed model that is the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City project. After visiting this industrial park in Guangzhou last week, he suggested that, because government resources are already stretched to their limits, it is one model for future China-Singapore mega investment projects.

Mr Lee, who had spoken to some of the Singapore investors in southern China in the past week, said they are taking the China market very seriously. "One of them told me (that) working in Guangxi, which is not quite so developed, not quite so well known, there's advantage being there because there are more untrodden paths where you can break new ground and find new opportunities."

The Singapore businessmen were happy to see him there. "They said, 'How about you come twice a year because when you come then we have links. We make contact with the party secretary, with the governor, or the chairman in the case of Guangxi, with the mayors'," Mr Lee said.

"And they get the visibility and everybody knows that there's blessings from the two governments."

On the new Chinese political leaders he met, Mr Lee observed that they are "very driven, know their job and are very anxious to get ahead and to make an impact in their province, of in their city or in their area".

"Whether you're in Guilin, which is a tourism area, or in Shenzhen, which is a 10-million population city, they all are on the lookout for ideas and they all want to show results," he said. "And they would like to work with Singapore. Our brand name is good. They think it's a plus to be associated with us, to have projects where they can say, 'This is a Singapore project'."

In Hong Kong, which he last visited in 2001, Mr Lee found that the former British colony has built "even closer ties with China and (is) contemplating its next steps forward".

"They are planning for the next 30 years and we have to be part of this - and our attitude must be that it's good that the region is prospering, so long as we are also moving with it," he said.





HK's way forward 'tied to one country, two systems'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2014

THERE is no other way forward for Hong Kong but on the basis of its Basic Law, which binds its sovereignty to China, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters in the city, which has been divided over China's proposed rules for the 2017 chief executive election, Mr Lee noted that the political starting point in Hong Kong is the "one country, two systems" principle, a unique arrangement that Beijing and Hong Kong "must make work".

Whatever solution emerges from the stand-off between Beijing - which allows only very controlled elections in Hong Kong - and political activists who want a direct nomination process for candidates, Mr Lee said, "it has to be on the basis of 'one country, two systems' as the Basic Law says". The Basic Law is often seen as Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

Beijing's stringent rules announced last month essentially rule out candidates from Hong Kong's pan-democracy parties.

"There's really no other way forward. I think if you understand that, then you know what are the possible ways forward, and which ways don't really lead to any practical, sensible outcome," said Mr Lee.

He added that the current disquiet cannot fundamentally change the basic structure of Hong Kong's system, which is that it is not an independent country.

Asked what lessons there are for Singapore, Mr Lee said countries must evolve, adapt and have a good sense of the overall geo- strategic circumstances they face.

While Hong Kong has one very large neighbour with whom its sovereignty is bound, Singapore is an independent country surrounded by several larger neighbours.

"We have to make our way forward and be able to prosper in friendship and in cooperation with our neighbours," Mr Lee said. Hong Kong was the final stop of his week-long visit to southern China.





Anti-ISIS coalition: Govt mulling over support
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2014

THE Singapore Government is taking seriously the threat that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) poses to the region, but it has not yet decided whether to join the United States-led international coalition to counter the group.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted yesterday that Singaporeans, Malaysians and Indonesians are among the 12,000 foreign fighters who have gone to join the ISIS.

"We are happy that the Americans have taken a stand against ISIS. This is a threat to people all over the world," Mr Lee told reporters in Hong Kong.

But the situation is a difficult and complicated one, he noted.

"How we can support the American-led effort? That's something we can discuss. We have not reached a point of making a decision yet. Even how the Americans are going to pursue this and what they're going to do, they haven't quite decided yet," he said.

"They're not going to put troops on the ground. It's not one of those situations where you can say, 'Those are the bad guys, let's knock them out'. You're talking about 30-something thousand fighters, they command a very substantial piece of land, they have resources... they've got oil.

"And they were also fighting the government in Syria, which, (until) very recently... was seen as the bad guys. (They're) also fighting against the Iranians.

"In the Middle East, things are never so simple and you can't come riding in on a white horse, knock out the bad guys and tomorrow, peace breaks out."


Related
Guangdong signals support for Knowledge City
PM: Exciting options for S'pore businesses in Guangxi

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