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Singapore firms still bullish on China

2009. 8 June

( Singapore companies, which have expanded their presence in China, have continued to stay bullish about the prospects of the emerging Asian economic giant, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Wrapping a four-day working trip to China's Zhejiang Province and Shanghai yesterday, he said the government would keep pushing for Singapore companies 'to build links with Chinese firms, seek out attractive business opportunities and work together for mutual benefit'.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the beginning of work to build the Singapore Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010, Mr Lee said: 'The global economic crisis has affected all countries, but we think China will recover faster than most economies and will help to lift Asian economies.'

He noted that Singapore and China go a long way back - and have tied up in many projects, including the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-City.

Mr Lee told Singapore reporters just before the ceremony yesterday that Singapore's private sector now has many projects in China.

'The are carrying the ball and running and it's in a broad area,' he said. 'In Zhejiang - I went to Hangzhou - we had the Ascendas project which is done purely on a commercial basis with the support of the Hangzhou city government.'

And then in Ningbo, there is a Raffles City project which is a CapitaLand project.

'I think CapitaLand is in 40-something cities across China,' Mr Lee said. 'They told me they have a hundred plus projects, active. So I think the scope has broadened. We are in more places and our business people are more confident.'

The Singapore government is at the same time cultivating relationships with several of the Chinese provinces where there is greater potential, according to him.

'If you have a good relationship with the officials, it helps a great deal to open doors and to open up opportunities for our business people, which is why I went to Hangzhou and Ningbo this time - and brought Lim Hwee Hua along with me,' Mr Lee said.

Mrs Lim, who is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, is also the Singapore chairman of the Singapore-Zhejiang Cooperation Council.

Mr Lee did not see the risk of Singapore over-concentrating its investments in China.

'We put eggs in all the baskets we can find,' he said. 'There are lots of opportunities here but there are also opportunities in India, the Middle East and also in the developed countries. We will go wherever the opportunities are. But I think China is a major growth story for Asia and for the world and we have to be present in China.'

Speaking to government leaders and seeing first-hand the changes in cities he visited on his current trip, Mr Lee said he was most impressed by China's dynamism, transformation and 'the confidence that they will overcome these problems (the global economic crisis) that are besetting us now'.

'They are on the move, they are determined to go ahead. We have every reason to think they will succeed,' he said.

Mr Lee said the Singapore 'brand' is well-respected in China - and Singapore businessmen must not squander this reputation.

'The Chinese are impressed with the way we manage traffic and we were talking about ERP and COEs,' he said. 'They admire the way we are able to make things work in Singapore.'

So Singapore businessmen in China must uphold and boost that reputation, Mr Lee said. They must show Singaporean businessmen are capable, can deliver and are trustworthy.

'Then I think we strengthen our Singapore brand and we can do better in the long term,' he said.

'If you let the side down, and it turns out we are not so special after all, I think it's a loss for Singapore over the long term.'