subpage banner


Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, Singapore, on 4 June 2018 at Nanjing University, Nanjing, China

04 Jun 2018

尊敬的南京大学校长助理 濮励杰教授



1. 大家早上好!我很荣幸能受邀来南京大学,和各位见面。南京大学历史悠久,声誉卓著。百年来,南京大学以 “诚朴雄伟,励学敦行” 的校训,为中国的 政治,学术,工商财经和文化等领域培养了 许多人才。相信在座的各位都将为促进国家发展和社会进步 做出贡献。能和各位进行交流,我感到十分开心。你们精通双语,所以接下来,我将用英语发言。

China’s Reform and Opening Up

2. This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening up policy (改革开放), as well as the 40th anniversary of Mr Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore in 1978. 

a. Mr Deng visited Singapore in November 1978 shortly before China made a significant decision in December 1978 on reform and opening up[1].

i. Two years before that, in 1976, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, visited China for the first time.

b. This exchange of visits laid the foundation for cooperation between both countries. 

i. In Singapore, we have a sculpture of Mr Deng, inscribed with his famous line “发展才是硬道理” (development is of overriding importance).

(1) During Mr Deng’s visit to Singapore, he was impressed by Singapore’s development. He saw how an open economy had helped Singapore grow. He said, and I quote:

“ 新加坡共和国在李光耀总理的领导下,在发展国民经济方面,取得了显著的成就。在国际事务中,新加坡奉行不结盟政策,
坚持同 各国人民友好相处,坚持东盟提出的东南亚和平、 自由、中立区的主张,积极加强同发展中国家的团结和经济合作,注意同发达国家发展经济贸易关系。” 

(2) Mr Lee Kuan Yew had told Mr Deng that whatever Singapore achieved, China could do better. Mr Lee believed in China’s ability to dramatically transform itself, and that China is, I quote, “the biggest player in the history of the world”. 

3. I have been to China since 1990. Every time I come, it is a different China. Indeed, China has come a long way. 

a. The ancient Silk Road had its roots more than 2,000 years ago. It spanned thousands of miles, connecting Asia, Europe and Africa, facilitating trade and the flow of knowledge. 

i. It brought Arab astronomy, medicine and spices to China[2].

ii. China brought its four great inventions – papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass – to the rest of the world. 

b. China turned more inward-looking in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was left behind when the First Industrial Revolution began in Britain and spread to western Europe and the US. 

i. Income increased sharply for the West. The free market, entrepreneurship and technological progress unleashed innovation and productivity growth on an unprecedented scale.

ii. The West eventually overtook China. 

c. A key turning point for China was when it started to reform and open up (改革开放) in 1978, and that policy of Mr Deng Xiaoping was instrumental in China’s development. Since then, China has steadily opened up its economy, and achieved remarkable progress. 

i. Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, was an economic adviser on Special Economic Zones to China’s top leadership from 1985 to 1990[3].

ii. A significant step was when China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001. I was in Doha then, and witnessed it. 

(1) China’s opening up to world trade was a master stroke in stimulating domestic reforms. It was a bold move and it paid off. 

iii. Over 17 years from 1999 to 2016, China has quadrupled its per capita GDP[4]. No major economy has achieved this in such a short time. 

iv. China has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty over the past 4 decades[5].

d. China is now plugging into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is investing heavily in technologies. 

i. In fact, in areas such as AI and e-payments, China is leading many countries. 

ii. Just three days ago, I attended the Sino-Singapore AI Forum and saw how businesses are leveraging technology to drive innovation and create new products. 

e. China’s transformation over the past four decades has steered it into a new era of openness and engagement with the world. 

Heralding a New Era of Connectivity

4. In the next phase of China’s growth, China is “reforming and opening up” even further. Reform and opening up are two sides of the same coin. Reform is necessary for opening up. In turn, opening up stimulates more reforms. President Xi Jinping signalled very clearly China’s determination to embark on the next phase of reform and opening up when he said, and I quote “中国开放的大门只会越开越大”. President Xi’s statement is bold. It reflects the self-confidence of China.

5. Being open and connected to the global economy has its challenges. In many parts of the world, there has been a backlash against globalisation. People felt that they did not benefit from globalisation. 

6. But globalisation has also enabled many countries to prosper. 

a. For Singapore, being connected to the global market has allowed us to ride the wave of globalisation. 

i. We grew from a third world city to a modern metropolis. 

ii. Globalisation opens up opportunities for our people. 

iii. DP Architects, one of our home-grown architectural firms, recently showed me a sketch of the Singapore cityscape. Let me share it with you. DP Architects is a Singapore firm. It has grown from a single office in Singapore to 15 offices worldwide, including 4 in China, and this is how opening up creates opportunities for our people.

b. China is expanding and deepening external linkages with other countries with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

i. China has stated that BRI cooperation would follow the Silk Road Spirit of “peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit”[6].

ii. It provides a path for shared development between China and the region. 

c. In fact, Singapore is an early supporter of the BRI. 

i. According to Chinese statistics, Singapore accounted for 85% of total inbound investments to China from Belt and Road countries. 

ii. Nearly one-third of China’s outbound investments to Belt and Road countries flow through Singapore[7].

7. In my opinion, the BRI opens up new frontiers of connectivity. The BRI promotes new areas of cooperation, especially for countries along BRI to advance the lives of our people. By enhancing connectivity in transport, finance and between people, and ensuring that these are inter-linked, we open up new possibilities for growth and development. Connectivity in all its different dimensions allows us to cooperate more closely, to advance peace and development. 

Transport Connectivity

8. I will now speak on the first area of transport connectivity. This is important to promote flow of goods and services and connect people. Countries will not be isolated despite their geographical circumstances. 

a. More roads, rail, maritime infrastructure will be developed to strengthen connectivity.

b. There is significant demand for infrastructure in Asia. 

i. World Bank reported that Asia will spend about 12 trillion RMB on infrastructure annually. The BRI will contribute to this momentum.

c. Singapore and China have been working closely in this area. The Singapore-China (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative (CCI) is a priority demonstration project for the BRI, Western Region Development and Yangtze River Economic Belt strategies. 

i. The CCI was launched by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping in 2015.

ii. The CCI-Southern Transport Corridor (CCI-STC) will enhance connectivity from Western China to Southeast Asia. 

d. Further liberalisation of the China-Singapore Air Services Agreement will also better connect the air networks of both countries with the world. 

e. Better infrastructure and connectivity and networks will improve the flow of goods and services and people in the region. 

i. China is Singapore’s largest trading partner. Singapore is China’s largest foreign investor. 

(1) We look forward to conclude a major upgrade to the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (CSFTA), implement the ASEAN-China FTA upgrade and achieve a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement.

ii. These are positive steps towards improving trade connectivity, during a period when protectionism is rising in other parts of the world. 

Financial Connectivity

9. Second, we can strengthen financial connectivity to support trade and investments so that our countries can grow and prosper.

a. China’s RMB internationalisation policy is a very significant step in China’s development and in the global economy. Singapore has been a strong supporter. 

i. We supported the inclusion of the RMB in the IMF Special Drawing Rights basket. 

ii. In June 2016, MAS was one of the first central banks that included RMB denominated investments as part of its Official Foreign Reserves.

iii. We were also one of the earliest countries to be recognised as a RMB Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor jurisdiction to facilitate investor participation in China’s capital markets. 

iv. Singapore was the first financial centre outside Greater China to have a RMB clearing bank. ICBC, as the appointed clearing bank in Singapore, has helped to support RMB financial transactions in Singapore and the region. 

v. With the support of the Chinese authorities, Singapore had also piloted cross-border RMB financing with Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing. This had helped Chinese corporates diversify their funding sources to raise offshore RMB financing. 

vi. As an international financial centre, Singapore is also among the top three offshore RMB centres in the world.

b. Singapore supports China’s “going out” strategy(走出去战略), and can help more Chinese companies expand into the ASEAN region. 

i. ASEAN is very diverse, with various economies at different stages of development. This opens up opportunities for many areas of cooperation. Chinese companies may find Singapore-based companies and financial institutions useful partners. 

(1) In particular, we recently set up the “Infrastructure Asia” office, to better match companies involved in infrastructural work with demand in the region. 

c. Singapore and China are working together in third countries along the Belt and Road.

i. Both sides have signed an MOU on third party market collaboration. This enables our companies to combine their unique strengths and create impactful projects in the region. We are also discussing an MOU on conducting joint training in BRI countries. 

People-to-People Linkages

10. Third, we can strengthen the flow of people to promote exchange of ideas and meet the evolving needs of our people.

a. Today, Singapore and China have frequent exchanges, and our people-to-people ties are growing and deepening. 

i. Our people visit one another for work and leisure. 

(1) More Chinese tourists are visiting Singapore. We are seeing an increasing number of Chinese visitors travelling out of Singapore to the region, including by cruise.

(2) Business leaders, schools and universities on both sides have frequent exchanges. 

b. These frequent exchanges of people and ideas promote innovation. 

i. One example is in the area of urban development. As countries develop, the call for urban sustainability is more urgent. 

ii. When Singapore became independent, we recognised that economic development cannot be at the expense of environmental sustainability. 

(1) Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our founding Prime Minister, had the foresight and vision to make Singapore a Garden City. Today, close to 50% of our island is covered in greenery. A clean and green environment makes Singapore a more liveable city and endearing home for our people.

iii. City planning and urban sustainability are areas that that we have worked closely together. For instance, 

(1) The friendship between Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping sowed the seeds that led to the establishment of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) in 1994, the first Government-to-Government project. Over the years, SIP had adapted Singapore’s “software” to China’s context, to facilitate industrialisation efforts and address new developmental challenges. Today, Chinese officials have transformed the SIP into a successful modern integrated township. 

(2) The Tianjin Eco-City project was mooted by then-Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and then-Premier Wen Jiabao. The project was set against the backdrop of rapid urbanisation and increasing attention on sustainable development. It is now a vibrant and liveable city. The cooperation has broadened to include sustainable and innovative urban solutions. 

iv. Following the 19th Party Congress, China has identified pollution control as one of the “three tough battles”. There are serious efforts to build a “Beautiful China” (美丽中国)

v. We can continue to further our collaboration in urban development. 

c. Beyond this, there are also other shared challenges. By improving the flow of people and ideas, we can find innovative solutions. 

Singapore-China Friendship – Closer Ties through Each Generation of Leaders

11. I’ve shared about key cooperation areas between our two countries which reflect our longstanding and close friendship. Singapore is undergoing leadership renewal and transiting into what we call the “4th Generation (4G) Leadership”. The younger leaders in Singapore will build on the strong foundation that past and current leaders have built with China over the years. 

a. Former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli has described Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as 老朋友、好朋友[8]. It is our hope that as the younger leaders in Singapore step up to the helm, new friends (新朋友) will also become old friends and good friends (老朋友、好朋友). DPM Teo co-chairs our key bilateral platforms, through which we provide direction to our bilateral cooperation. 

b. Today, Singapore also has seven Provincial Business Councils with Guangdong, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Shandong, Sichuan, Tianjin and Zhejiang, to promote economic exchanges and cooperation. 

i. These Councils are co-chaired by the younger Singapore Ministers and Vice Ministers, and the Governors and Vice Governors of these respective Provinces[9]

ii. I am privileged to co-chair the Singapore-Jiangsu Cooperation Council with Jiangsu Governor Wu Zhenglong. I will be meeting Governor Wu later to continue our discussions. 

12. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Xi Jinping have affirmed that Singapore and China shared a demonstrative, strategic and forward-looking (示范性,战略性,前瞻性) relationship. They have aptly characterised our relations as an “All-Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times” (与时俱进的全方位合作伙伴关系). It is timely to explore how we can take our mutually beneficial cooperation to the next level. 

Leadership and Governance – Three Principles, One Common Vision (领导和治国之道 – 三大原则,一大愿景)

13. This cooperation will be based on important leadership and governance principles. It will first involve each of us, each country, dealing with our internal challenges and opportunities, and setting out our priorities. Yet, at the same time, we work closely with one another to advance our common interests. Let me share what Singapore is seeking to do in three areas:

a. First, governance and policies must change with the times, and remain relevant.

b. Second, to formulate polices with depth (深度), breadth (广度) and long-term view (前瞻性), that are informed through citizen engagement.

c. Third, governments need to actively collaborate with and learn from other countries, and maintain good relations.

14. Let me begin with the first principle: governance and policies must change with the times, and remain relevant (治国方针和政策必须与时俱进, 具有适用性).

a. No policy is applicable to all contexts and all times. Our operating environments are always changing. People’s aspirations evolve. These changes may become faster and more complex with time in the future.

b. Looking ahead, there are three major shifts that many countries will have to prepare for: the shift in global economic weight towards Asia, the emergence of new technologies, and ageing populations. These will interact in different ways, bring new challenges, but also new opportunities. 

c. Government policies must adapt to these changes to best serve our people’s needs.

i. An example is managing an ageing population, a trend that is common to Singapore and China. 

ii. In Singapore, we are thinking of ways to manage rising healthcare costs. We are putting emphasis on prevention through healthy lifestyles and early intervention, and reviewing our policies on medical facilities and medical benefits.

iii. We are also finding ways for our elderly to remain engaged. For example, we have set up a Silver Generation Office. We have trained volunteers, many of whom also belong to the silver generation. They go door-to-door to explain government schemes, and connect the elderly to active ageing groups, befriending and aged care services.

d. Governments must also be prepared to make bold changes, sometimes even against conventional ways. But, always with a well thought-through manner, with a devotion to finding what works best for their countries.

i. Singapore’s education policy is an example. As mentioned earlier, I was the Education Minister for about five years. In the past, it was more focused on academic achievement as our people were less educated. We provide basic education to enable our people to have the literacy and numeracy skills, and take up job opportunities.

ii. As our country developed, our people became better-educated. The skills that our people needed and their aspirations also evolved. Our policies had to shift decisively.

iii. When I was the Education Minister, I was privileged to work with educators, to make “Every School a Good School”. Every school has to bring out the best in every child. When I said“每所学校都是好学校”, we do not aim to have a few good schools but many good schools. We help students across the board acquire strong fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, and develop them holistically.

(1) Many of our students are top performers but another reason why Singapore ranks so well is that we have one of the smallest proportions of low performers in The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) across different domains.

(2) We are also facilitating multiple pathways to success, in areas like sports and the arts. As the saying goes, “行行出状元”.

iv. Now, through our SkillsFuture initiatives, we help Singaporeans to build industry-relevant skills throughout their lives. 

(1) Lifelong learning is a bold shift towards learning (学无止境). As technology and jobs will continue to evolve, our people will need to keep upskilling. As the Chinese saying goes, “活学活用,学以致用;终身学习,终身受用”.

v. I understand that China, too, is embarking on education reforms, including reforming teaching methods and education models, and fostering greater integration between industry and educational institutions.[10]

15. Second, as government policies adapt to changing trends, they must be formulated with depth (深度), breadth (广度) and a long-term view (前瞻性), that are informed through citizen engagement.

a. Good policies must be based on a good understanding of issues and their complex inter-connections. This demands a good knowledge of different domain areas. This does not mean that one person knows everything. It is not possible. Rather, it calls for us to mobilise the knowledge and energy of all our stakeholders.

i. As an example, to restructure the Singapore economy, we launched the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). Companies, trade associations, unions, and government agencies form partnerships to understand their specific challenges and opportunities. This enables industry-specific strategies to be developed.

b. Good policies must also take into account the breadth of their potential impact.

i. Take for instance Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. It is called Smart Nation because digitalisation is not confined to one particular segment of society, but requires a national effort: 

(1) A Digital Government that leverages technology to deliver services and improve policies. 

(2) A Digital Economy that harnesses technology as a key competitive advantage, and

(3) Digital Readiness throughout our society, young or old, so that our people use technology to improve their lives.

c. To make good policies, governments must strive to take a long-term view.

i. Polices should benefit future generations. Here, I am talking to a group of very young people. Whatever policies we make now will affect you for the rest of your lives.

d. For policies to have depth, breadth and a long-term view, governments need to engage citizens actively (积极性), widely (广泛性) and in a multi-faceted(多面性)way. 

i. By engaging in frank and serious discussions with citizens, we understand their needs and aspirations, and design better policies.

(1) In Singapore, we have organised regular initiatives to hear our people’s ideas and concerns. Such engagements must continue. 

(2) This way, we draw on diverse views and expertise, and can develop new bold ideas to advance the country.

ii. Citizen engagement is also important to foster public consensus and ownership of policies.

(1) When citizens hear different points of view, they can better appreciate different interests and find common ground.

iii. This fosters consensus, and builds a sense of national unity and trust.

e. Of course, good policies must have good implementation.

i. Policies need to be implemented effectively to deliver results.

ii. For example, in economic development, Singapore has always strived to create a conducive business environment that offer business certainty and instil investor confidence. 

iii. Although we are ranked second among over 100 economies in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business Index”, we continually seek to improve. 

(1) Recently, we merged two government agencies that supported different aspects of enterprise development into a single entity, called Enterprise Singapore. This provides better holistic support to businesses.

16. Third, even as we formulate domestic polices, governments need to actively collaborate with and learn from other countries, and maintain good relations (积极和其他国家互学互鉴,保持良好关系)

a. In a world that is rapidly changing and increasingly inter-connected, countries need to collaborate. No country has all the expertise it needs. Collaborations can achieve win-win outcomes. 

i. This is reflected in Mr Deng Xiaoping’s policy to reform and open China 40 years ago, and President Xi’s leadership for the BRI.

ii. Earlier, I also highlighted the areas that Singapore and China have collaborated on, and the many further opportunities under BRI.

b. To facilitate international collaboration, a stable and favourable global environment is key. Developments iactions by one country can affect other countries.

c. This is especially the case for a small, open economy like Singapore’s, but big nations are not immune.

d. Singapore seeks to build good relations with other countries. 

i. Singapore aims to be a friend to many countries and an enemy of none.

ii. As a founding member of ASEAN, we have sought to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in Southeast Asia, and contribute to regional peace and stability. 

(1) As ASEAN Chairman this year, Singapore will collaborate with ASEAN members, and dialogue partners. Singapore is also the coordinator for ASEAN-China relations. We hope to deepen the cooperation and we are looking into specific projects such as developing a resilient and innovative ASEAN, building smart cities across the region, and deepening cybersecurity cooperation.

iii. Singapore seeks to be a credible and consistent partner, playing constructive roles in international affairs. 

17. I have spoken about three key principles that help to define good governance. For these to be aligned, they must be focused on one common vision (一大愿景) to build better lives for our people, united by shared values.

a. Every society has its own values. 

i. In Singapore, some of our shared values are our commitment to openness, our embrace of diversity, and our spirit of self-determination. Other societies may have other values. 

b. Whatever they are, shared values are what engender trust and togetherness in a country.

c. Hence, leaders of a country need to live by these shared values, and to promote them throughout the society. 

18. United by shared values and guided by the three principles of good governance, we can work towards the vision of building better lives for our people. 

a. This is an unwavering vision that is at the heart of every generation of leaders in Singapore. I am sure this is the case in China too. 


19. Let me conclude. Since China’s reform and opening up, Singapore and China have developed many areas of all-round cooperation. The BRI is very much in line with Singapore’s development priorities. We are enhancing our cooperation even further to meet evolving needs. We have a long friendship that goes back many years, and we look forward to more win-win partnerships in future.

20. I look forward to hearing your views on how the two countries work together. Thank you.


[1] Source: The decision was made at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Party in December 1978. <2a ending>
[2] Source: Xi Jinping’s speech at the opening of Belt and Road forum in 2017. <3ai ending>
[3] Source: Speech by George Yeo, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the 35th Anniversary of the Singapore-China Business Association, 29 Dec 2005.<3ci ending>
[4] Source: World Bank data. China’s GDP per capita grew from US$1,646.0 in 1999 to US$6,893.8 in 2016 (constant 2010 US$). <3ciii - GDP>
[5] Source: <3civ ending>
[6] Source: Xi Jinping’s speech at the opening of Belt and Road forum in 2017. <6bi ending>
[7] Source: MFA’s COS Speech 2018. “Singapore accounted for 85% of total inbound investments to China from Belt & Road countries, and nearly one-third of China’s outbound investments to Belt & Road countries flow through Singapore.” <6cii ending>
[8] Source: <11a Teo Chee Hean ending>
[9] Source: DPM Teo Chee Hean’s Written Interview with Xinhuanet, 26 February 2017: “New Initiatives to Deepen Singapore-China Friendship” <11bi ending>
[10] <14dv ending>