SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE HONORARY DOCTORATE CONFERMENT CEREMONY BY NANKAI UNIVERSITYON 1 JULY 2015

Tianjin Executive Vice Mayor Duan Chunhua

Principal of Nankai University Gong Ke

Vice Principal of Nankai University Guan Naijia

Excellencies

Distinguished Guests

Dear Students

Ladies and Gentlemen


It gives my wife and me great pleasure to join all of you here today. As a former Education Minister and university lecturer, I am pleased to be visiting Nankai University.  Nankai University is regarded as one of China’s best universities and has played an important role in the development of China’s tertiary education. Its achievements and dedication to providing a well-rounded education to its students are admirable. I would like to thank the University for conferring on me the Honorary Doctorate. This honour is recognition of the strength of Singapore’s relations with China and Singapore’s close cooperation with Tianjin, in particular through the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City project.

This year is a special year as Singapore and China commemorate the 25th anniversary of our diplomatic relations and Singapore celebrates its 50th year of independence. In fact, Singapore’s relations with China pre-date the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1990. The reciprocal visits by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping in 1976 and 1978 respectively laid the foundation for the close friendship between our two countries. It is upon this foundation that bilateral relations have progressed rapidly over a short span of 25 years.

Today, our bilateral relations are excellent. They are broad, deep and multi-faceted with both sides cooperating across a wide-range of areas. Singapore has become China’s largest foreign investor, while China is Singapore’s largest trading partner. Singapore was the first Asian country with which China concluded a comprehensive bilateral Free Trade Agreement or FTA. Our economic cooperation has expanded rapidly since our FTA came into force in 2009 and Singapore is keen to work with China to upgrade the FTA, to ensure that it remains up-to-date and benefits our businesses and peoples. Cooperation in financial services has become a new highlight in recent years. Singapore has now become the largest overseas Renminbi clearing centre outside Greater China.  

Relations between businesses in China and Singapore have also grown. This has culminated in several private sector-led government-supported projects, such as the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, Jilin Food Zone, Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park and the Singapore-Nanjing Eco High-Tech Island. Many Chinese companies have also chosen Singapore as the destination for their regional hubs. To date, there are about 6,200 Chinese companies in Singapore. These include familiar brand names such as Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi. Singapore companies have also established a strong presence in China. For example, CapitaLand is the largest foreign real estate developer in China. In Singapore, there is one Raffles City, but by 2017, there would be eight Raffles Cities in China.

Despite the disparity in geographical sizes between our two countries, mutual learning and sharing of experiences have been cornerstones of our bilateral cooperation. We have established platforms for such bilateral cooperation as well as exchanges of experiences in areas such as leadership and social governance. These platforms include the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation; the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership; and the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum. These three major platforms are co-chaired at the Deputy Prime Minister and Vice Premier level. Human resource development is another key pillar of our bilateral cooperation. Since the mid-1990s, close to 50,000 Chinese officials and cadres have visited Singapore for study trips and courses in areas such as urban and city planning, social governance, and public administration.  An increasing number of public servants from Singapore are visiting China to study and learn from China.

Over the years, Singapore and China have established deep and extensive educational linkages, formalised through a general Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on education cooperation signed in 1999. At the higher education level, the four universities in Singapore partner four Chinese universities for the Sino-Singapore Undergraduate Exchange (SSUE) programme, which takes place annually. Nankai University participated twice in this programme, in 2005 and 2010. Our universities have also signed MOUs and agreements on student exchanges with Nankai University. Such exchanges have not only created opportunities for our students, teachers and officials to interact and build strong people-to-people ties, but also to acquire a better understanding of each other’s economy, government, culture and society.

Most of you would be aware of the two flagship Government-to-Government (G-to-G) projects between Singapore and China, namely the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) and the Tianjin Eco-City (TEC) which continue to be the key highlights of our bilateral cooperation. These G-to-G projects provide another useful platform for us to work together, foster mutual understanding and deepen our friendships across different levels.

Marking its 20th anniversary last year, the SIP has achieved remarkable progress and is widely recognised as one of the top industrial parks and integrated townships in China today. In 2014, the SIP posted a healthy growth rate and its GDP grew to 200 billion yuan. Singapore’s cooperation with the SIP has expanded in recent years to include areas such as finance, research and education as well as smart city development. The SIP has also been designated as one of China’s pilot smart cities.

Similarly, our excellent cooperation in the TEC is a reflection of Singapore’s close and friendly ties with Tianjin. Tianjin is one of Singapore’s long-standing provincial partners and this is why I chose to make Tianjin my only stop outside of Beijing on this commemorative State Visit. Economic ties between Singapore and Tianjin are robust. In 2014, Singapore was Tianjin’s 3rd largest foreign investor and from 2012 to 2014, Tianjin was the 6th largest destination for Singapore investments amongst Chinese provinces and municipalities.

This strong relationship has been bolstered by the TEC which was established in 2007. The TEC had humble early beginnings. While the site today looks very well-developed, it initially consisted of mainly saltpans, barren land and polluted water-bodies. The TEC has been actively pursuing eco-developments which include rehabilitating its 2.6 sq km large wastewater pond, conducting research in green development and tapping renewable energy sources. Through collaboration between Singapore and China, the TEC today is a vibrant community with schools, parks and neighbourhood spaces. It is currently home to more than 20,000 residents and 2,000 registered companies. I am glad to hear that the affiliated Nankai High School will be setting up a branch campus in the TEC. 

I am looking forward to visiting the TEC after this event. It is an inspiring example of how, with hard work and innovation, a vibrant city that is a pioneer in eco-development and social governance can be built up from a wasteland. The TEC is also a prime example of how Singapore’s bilateral relations with China have evolved according to our countries’ changing needs. President Xi Jinping said during his visit to the TEC in May 2013 that the TEC should provide a model for building resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly societies. I am confident that with both sides working closely together, this would be achieved.        

Following the success of the TEC and the SIP, we are now exploring a third G-to-G project in China’s Western Region at the invitation of China. The aim of the project is to contribute to China’s Western Region Development Strategy and complement President Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to promote greater connectivity and trade in the region.

As a major Asian country, China is an important part of the region. China’s role in contributing to peace and stability in the region is crucial. It is also a major economic driver of the region as seen from the close economic and trade ties China has with every Asian country. There remains tremendous scope for further cooperation. Singapore was an early supporter of China’s initiative to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or the AIIB because we saw the AIIB as meeting a real and urgent need for infrastructure development and capital in the region. The ASEAN-China relationship also continues to hold tremendous potential, for instance, in enhancing trade in goods and services, promoting connectivity and boosting people-to-people exchanges. China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative has the potential to forge cooperation across regions, including Southeast Asia, and complement ASEAN’s existing initiatives including the development of an ASEAN Economic Community and the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity. As Singapore takes on our upcoming role as Country Coordinator for ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations this August, we look forward to strengthening the relationship between ASEAN and China.

As we look back at the past 25 years, we are also looking ahead to the next 25 years of friendship and cooperation. We must continue to explore new ways of collaboration as both our countries develop further. Singapore will continue working with China to strengthen our existing excellent bilateral relations. Many of you are sitting here today as students but you will become leaders in the near future and form another important bridge connecting our two countries. We look forward to seeing you play a part in the close bilateral partnership between our countries.

Once again let me express my heartfelt appreciation to Nankai University for conferring the Honorary Doctorate on me.

Thank you.