A reconstructed OCBC building in Xiamen yesterday was held up as a symbol of the longstanding ties between Singapore and China by Singapore’s Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat.
Noting that the bank has a long history in China – having opened its doors here in 1925, decades before China became a key global investment destination – Mr Heng said: “The China-Singapore relationship is similarly an enduring one that has stood the test of time.”
“We have a vibrant economic relationship – China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, while Singapore is the largest foreign direct investor in China. Our financial agencies have worked hard together to strengthen cooperation. We have made good progress and will strive to do better,” he said in a speech at the unveiling of the OCBC building.
SINGAPORE’S MULTIRACIAL IDENTITY
That there will be issues from time to time is to be expected. Partly, it is because we are two different countries, and never will you see interests perfectly aligned. Partly of course, there is another factor to this, which is that we are in South-east Asia, and we are a multiracial country.
From the Chinese point of view, yes, you are a different country, but you are also the one which has the most cultural affinity with China. So, for us to take advantage of that cultural affinity, and at the same time be able to maintain a distinct identity and be quite clear that we are multiracial and we are not a Chinese society, I think that is something which we will continue to have to manage, and continue to have to try to maintain in China.
It is one of the reasons why whenever I come, if at all possible, I bring along in my delegation non-Chinese ministers or appointment holders. It visibly shows that we are different, but we are friendly.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on the need to show to the Chinese that Singapore is a multiracial country.
RAPPORT WITH CHINESE LEADERS
The rapport is good, there is no need to have sparks, as we have met and talked with the Chinese leaders many times, and many Chinese leaders have had close cooperation and contact with us in the past.
For example, Mr Wang Qishan was one of the JCBC (Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation) chairmen, President Xi Jinping also visited Singapore when he was in Xiamen. There is a sense of cordiality.
Of course, there is a need to talk about specific, existing subjects (issues) when we meet, such as our third government-to-government project, regional stability and opportunities for cooperation.
But when we have the opportunity to interact, especially during meals, both sides can speak with each other in a more relaxed manner, sound out each other’s views and express our opinions more frankly and with no restraint. Then both sides will form a rapport imperceptibly.
PM LEE, on whether there is chemistry in the relationship between Singapore and Chinese leaders.
Mr Heng sees banks and regulators from both countries deepening ties as financial activity grows.
He said China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a plan to connect the country with Europe, Asia and beyond via infrastructure projects and trade, and the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, a Sino-Singapore project, provide more avenues to expand financial and economic cooperation.
He added: “Singapore will work with China to support the BRI, by promoting greater use of the RMB (renminbi) for regional infrastructure projects; strengthening capital market linkages between Singapore and China, such as in the bond markets; and working together to train officials from BRI countries in the area of finance.”
OCBC Bank’s group chief executive Samuel Tsien said in his speech that Singapore was “uniquely qualified to play a conduit role” in relation to the BRI.
He recounted the bank’s history in China, adding that Xiamen is its first entry point into China.
Its reconstructed building in Xiamen’s Zhongshan Road stands on the site of its former building, which was completed in 1947 and housed its Xiamen branch. The reconstructed building has retained the modern-classical architectural style, and its green glaze canopy is also a holdover from the original design of 70 years ago, said Mr Tsien.
Xiamen Deputy Mayor Han Jingyi also remarked on the links between Singapore and the city. He said economic, trade, cultural and other ties have been growing since Xiamen was picked as the site of one of four special economic zones 36 years ago, as part of China’s economic development drive. The first foreign firm in the zone was Singapore-funded Inhwa Tiles Products, “which took a leading role in Xiamen’s opening-up drive”, he added.
The two sides have maintained stable growth in trade, with trade volume reaching 8.06 billion yuan (S$1.65 billion) last year and 3.32 billion yuan in the first half of this year.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mrs Lee and Fujian province Deputy Governor Lee Dejin were at the ceremony, which was also witnessed by OCBC Wing Hang China’s CEO Kng Hwee Tin and other guests.
Mr Lee later visited ST Aerospace Technologies (Xiamen), a high- tech aviation engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility opened in 2011. The facility and another in Guangzhou are part of ST Aerospace’s global network of MRO facilities that have consistently won top industry honours, such as first place in Aviation Week Network’s biennial top 10 Airframe MRO service providers, a position it has held since 2002.