Despite occasional differences in views, Singapore and China share a greater common interest in the region's peaceful growth and development, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Teo Chee Hean said on Wednesday (May 24).
Speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations for the East Asian Institute (EAI), Mr Teo noted that both countries share similar views on most issues, and have worked together to advance their common interests.
He added: "But even among close neighbours and friends, there may be different perspectives on some issues, given that countries are of different sizes, have different histories, vulnerabilities, and geographical location.
"But the fundamental position of our two countries, that we share a common interest in the peaceful growth and development of our two countries and the region, remains the same. Our common interest in building a peaceful and growing region is much greater than any occasional differences of views."
Singapore has been a consistent friend to China over the years and will continue to be a supporter of its peaceful development, said Mr Teo. He highlighted the numerous government-to-government projects, including the Suzhou Industrial Park and Tianjin Eco-city, as well as top-level exchanges such as the Singapore-China Forum on Leadership.
"Singapore will continue to be a strong and principled supporter of China’s peaceful development and constructive engagement in the region," he added.
DPM Teo’s speech came amid mounting speculation over the state of Singapore-China ties, in the wake of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s absence from the recent One Belt, One Road summit in Beijing, which was attended by several regional leaders, including Tun Najib Razak of Malaysia and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo.
Singapore was represented by Minister for National Development and Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. When asked at the summit why PM Lee did not attend, Mr Wong told the media that it was China that had decided on the invitations.
The EAI was set up in 1997 within the National University of Singapore as a research institute focused on studying contemporary China and its neighbours. A public forum was held at the Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday to mark the anniversary.
In his wide-ranging speech, Mr Teo, the guest-of-honour at the forum, said East Asia was in the midst of another period of transition and change. Hong Kong is due to mark the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese-rule, while Japan and South Korea are anxious about an increasingly provocative North Korea.
Cross-strait relations have become more complicated on the back of changing domestic politics in Taiwan.
China, having grown economically and militarily, is expected to play a greater international role, such as via its Belt and Road initiative, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
"I am optimistic about China’s potential to continually reinvent itself and play a greater leadership role both within the region and globally," said Mr Teo.