Premier Li Keqiang has called on Singapore to play a constructive role in forging ties between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Li made the remarks while meeting his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, on Tuesday on the sidelines of the East Asia leaders’ meetings in the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
China considers Singapore a key partner for cooperation in the region, while close communications between the two nations’ leaders can help keep the development of China-Singapore ties on the right track, boost pragmatic cooperation and deepen the friendship of the two peoples, Li was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
The premier’s remarks came as the relationship between China and Singapore faces uncertainty over South China Sea disputes in recent months.
Singapore is not a claimant state of the disputed waters, but Lee said during a visit to the United States last month that the South China Sea ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which rejected Beijing’s claims over the water, was much better than seeing “whose guns are more powerful”. He also said that Singapore welcomed US engagement in the region.
In his talks with Li, the Singapore Prime Minister said the strained relations between Asean member countries and China because of the maritime disputes could be harnessed into continued economic growth.
“One such issue is the South China Sea. However, every crisis presents an opportunity,” he was quoted by Channel News Asia as saying. “This issue can be turned to our advantage in pursuit of the common goal of regional peace and stability, which are essential prerequisites for continued economic growth.”
Lee said Singapore – as a coordinator of Asean-China relations – would work with Beijing to “fast-track negotiations” to formulate a framework for a Code of Conduct for rules of engagement in the South China Sea.
“Therefore, let us keep our overall relations in the proper perspective. Our relations are much broader than any one issue,” Lee said. “We can continue to chart positive trajectory for ASEAN-China relations.”