A friend in need is a friend indeed. China and Singapore reflect this well as COVID-19 has brought the two countries closer together as they commemorate the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.
Against this backdrop, a week ago, the two signed 10 memorandums of understanding (MOU) and agreements to deepen their cooperation on topics ranging from healthcare to fellowship exchanges.
The China-Singapore relationship has had an extraordinary journey over the past 30 years, setting examples of mutual respect and win-win cooperation – showing how big and small countries can respect each other on equal terms.
This once-in-a-century pandemic has redefined the world we live in. Both China and Singapore have worked closely together to confront new challenges. Other countries can examine their models to emulate successful regional and international cooperation strategies.
Since the two countries established the diplomatic ties, they have put together a pragmatic and forward-looking agenda for cooperation. Based on this agenda, the two countries have steadily promoted three government-to-government projects in the Chinese cities of Suzhou, Tianjin, and Chongqing. Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said these projects “best embody the vitality of our relationship … creating a bond that underpins our deep and long friendship.”
China and Singapore are working hard to enhance mechanism-based frameworks that will further improve their ability to maintain close communication and cooperation on multiple levels. This has led to the strong relationship they share today.
In the face of impacts from certain trends in de-globalization, trade protectionism, isolationism, and out-of-balance world governance, the China-Singapore relationship might face some challenges in the future. Both countries understand this, and thus should come together to squarely deal with future challenges.
The city state has long adhered to the “balance of powers strategy.” But increasingly complex international responses to the pandemic and its economic fallouts have put the squeeze to Singapore – some countries have exerted undue pressure on it related to the global powers game. It will have to continue to balance this as it maintains healthy connectivity with China.
Take the South China Sea issue, for example. Singapore doesn’t have any disputes in this regard with China, and is willing to maintain peace and stability in the waters together with Beijing. However, as a member of ASEAN (some members of which have disputes with China in the South China Sea), Singapore sometimes finds it difficult to distance itself from the issue.
In addition, some people in China think that Singapore should take China’s side, particularly when security matters are concerned. After all, over 75 percent of its population are ethnic Chinese. Of course, Beijing is well aware of and respects the city-state as sovereign nation representing itself. But such differences in perception might come to affect the two countries’ mutual trust.
Nonetheless, China and Singapore have laid a solid foundation for win-win cooperation over the past 30 years. They have cemented concrete connectivity and will also work hard to “strengthen cooperation in new areas such as healthcare and biomedical services, and modern services.”
Beyond this, both peoples are eager and willing to cooperate with and support their governments’ measures to counter the coronavirus.
This consensus will boost the abilities of both to take greater precautions against mass infectious diseases, treatments to these diseases, the R&D of vaccines, the training of healthcare personnel, and guarantees of medical supplies.
As Deputy Prime Minister Heng said, “Singapore is happy to support the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) by serving as a gateway for investment inflows and financial services for sustainable infrastructure development in Belt and Road countries.”
Cooperation over the BRI can be an epitome of achievements made during the past 30 years of China-Singapore ties. This proves that the two countries are capable of turning crises into opportunities amid profound global changes.
Working together, the two countries can take their relations forward for the next 30 years and beyond, while advancing their bilateral ties from one high point to the next.
The author is director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Global Times