China, Asean must double down on reviving economic, people-to-people links: PM Lee

SINGAPORE – Asean and China must redouble efforts to revive economic activity and people-to-people linkages which have suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Oct 26).

And as vaccines continue to be rolled out, cross-border travel must be progressively resumed gradually and safely, with greater flight connectivity and mutual recognition of health certificates.

PM Lee was speaking at the Asean-China summit attended by Asean leaders and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he outlined how the 10-member regional bloc could cooperate with Beijing in post-pandemic recovery efforts.

China still has some of the world’s toughest quarantine measures, requiring travellers to undergo up to a month of quarantine along with multiple tests before being allowed in.

It recently upped measures for travellers from Singapore, calling for an extra nucleic acid test three days before flight.

Singapore, meanwhile, has differentiated measures for countries based on their Covid-19 risk profile. Travellers from China only need to take a polymerase chain reaction test on arrival.

PM Lee said Singapore welcomes an Asean-China joint statement on cooperation in support of a Comprehensive Recovery Framework, which oversees sustainable regional recovery from the pandemic.

There are 185 initiatives under the framework, spanning strategies in health, security, economic integration and digital transformation.

The Prime Minister also suggested that the Asean-China free trade agreement be enhanced and the Asean-China air transport agreement be upgraded.

Noting that China was an early ratifier of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership along with Singapore, PM Lee reiterated calls made earlier on Tuesday for the remaining participating countries to do so.

The mega trade pact was concluded last year, but needs the ratification of at least six of the 10 Asean members and three of the five external partners that inked it – Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

“At the same time, we should not lose sight of global challenges like climate change and sustainable development,” PM Lee added.

He lauded Asean and China’s collaborative efforts in these areas and the designation of 2021 as the Asean-China Year of Sustainable Development, but also stressed the need to look further beyond to build a better future for their peoples.

In the area of public health, China has also been swift and consistent in supporting Asean’s Covid-19 response, including by contributing to a pooled fund that has helped the group procure much needed vaccines for people in the region, said PM Lee.

An Asean-China cooperation initiative on public health will also facilitate information exchange and strengthen capacities to tackle public health emergencies down the road, such as a future pandemic, he added.

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PM Lee noted that this year was also the 30th anniversary of Asean-China dialogue relations, with the partnership growing steadily over the years. In 2020, Asean became China’s top trading partner for the first time.

“Such achievements have been possible by both Asean and China actively contributing to and investing in an Asean-led regional architecture that is rules-based, open, inclusive, and promotes free trade,” he said.

“This provided the stable and conducive environment for both Asean and China to develop and prosper together peacefully.”

PM Lee said Singapore agrees in-principle with China’s proposal to upgrade relations with Asean to that of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” that would entail even deeper cooperation at multiple levels across multiple fields.

Singapore also agrees that officials on both sides should continue discussions, said PM Lee, adding that he was looking forward to a special Asean-China Summit in November with President Xi Jinping and fellow Asean leaders.

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