Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Is Singapore trying to hop onto the China’s fast-growing economy?

China and Singapore have agreed to strengthen cooperation in several areas, including the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The two sides also agreed to set up an "Eco-City" in China. The agreement was reached between Chinese Vice-Premier Wu Yi and her Singaporean counterpart Wong Kan Seng at the 4th China-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) meeting in the city-state.

Wu is on a four-day visit to the city-state at the invitation of Vice-Premier Wong. The proposal for the "Eco-City" project had come from Singapore's Senior Minister of the Prime Minister's office Goh Chok Tong during his visit to China in April. He had said the proposed project could transform a city beset by water problems into an environmentally friendly, self-sustaining place, where housing units for lower-and middle-income groups could be built. Singapore suggested having a China-Singapore FTA last year that Beijing accepted, even though it had a "1+10" FTA plan with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

After the meeting, several memorandums of understanding on bilateral cooperation in human resources development, health, taxation and environmental and water resources were also signed.

"Total trade between China and Singapore reached $40.85 billion last year, accounting for one-fourth of China's trade volume with ASEAN countries. Singapore has become the sixth largest investment source of China," Wu said. The two vice-premiers co-chaired the ninth meeting of the Joint Steering Committee of Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), a high-tech industrial base launched in East China's Jiangsu Province in 1994.

In the past three years, the park has approved 1,500 foreign-invested projects, with actual investment of $6 billion. The two governments have said before that they would strengthen their joint efforts to make the industrial park as competitive as possible. The committee decided to optimize the second 10-year target for the park, adjust its structure and reduce its energy consumption to the level of developed countries.

Wu met with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the city-state's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. It will bolster China's ties not only with Singapore, but also with other ASEAN member countries.

Zhai Kun, a senior researcher on Southeast Asia with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, attaches great importance to the FTA. "It will enable Singapore to become the window to China in Southeast Asia and the world," he said. The "Eco-City" project, Zhai said, reflects Singapore's creative economic strategy when participating in China's development.

Will Singapore ever be the first largest investment source in China?