Singapore PM Lee starts week-long China visit

The Singapore leader will meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang, who will host a welcome ceremony and a lunch banquet for the Singapore delegation in the Chinese capital city.

Tan Dawn Wei

Tan Dawn Wei

The Straits Times


PM Lee Hsien Loong (third from left) and his wife, Mrs Lee (centre), arriving in Guangzhou on March 27, 2023. Among those welcoming them were Guangdong vice-governor Zhang Xin (second from left) and China’s Ambassador to Singapore Sun Haiyan (fifth from right). PHOTO: MCI

March 28, 2023

GUANGZHOU – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in Guangzhou on Monday on his first trip to China in four years.

The Singapore leader, accompanied by his wife and a delegation of about 50 Singapore officials, was greeted on the tarmac at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport at around noon by Chinese officials bearing umbrellas under a persistent drizzle.

Among them were Guangdong vice-governor Zhang Xin, China’s Ambassador to Singapore Sun Haiyan, Guangdong Foreign Affairs Office director-general Liu Chenzi and Guangzhou vice-mayor Tan Ping.

The southern city of Guangzhou in Guangdong province is PM Lee’s first stop on his week-long visit to China, which will also take him to Hainan where he will speak at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference, as well as Beijing.

He is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping and newly minted Premier Li Qiang, who will host a welcome ceremony and a lunch banquet for the Singapore delegation in the Chinese capital city.

In Guangzhou on Monday, PM Lee first visited WeRide, one of China’s leading autonomous driving companies.

Founded in 2017 and now valued at US$5.1 billion (S$6.8 billion), the start-up has investments from Singapore’s SMRT urban mobility services subsidiary Strides, and K3 Ventures, a tech venture capital firm run by Mr Kuok Meng Xiong, the grandson of business tycoon Robert Kuok.

The company’s founder and chief executive Tony Han briefed PM Lee on WeRide’s operations and took him on a tour in a “robo-bus”, which is part of WeRide’s fleet that has been deployed on the roads of Guangzhou to test its autonomous public transport capabilities.

WeRide CEO Tony Han (left) giving PM Lee Hsien Loong a tour of the autonomous driving company’s operations in Guangzhou, on March 27, 2023. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Under an agreement with Strides, WeRide will be trialling autonomous vehicles such as its minibus, taxi and road sweeper in Singapore later in 2023.

In the evening, PM Lee met Singaporeans in Guangdong at a reception at the InterContinental Hotel, where they feasted on familiar favourites such as satay, chicken rice and kueh dadar.

Addressing the crowd of about 150 Singaporeans, who came from different parts of the province to Guangzhou for the event, PM Lee acknowledged the difficulties that they and others in Singapore went through during the pandemic.

PM Lee greeting Singaporeans living in Guangdong at a reception at the InterContinental Hotel on March 27, 2023. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

China closed its borders in March 2020 because of the pandemic and reopened them only in January 2023.

Describing the past three years as “qi qi fu fu”, or having plenty of ups and downs, he said it was “one of those experiences which, having gone through, you will never forget and you will never be quite the same again”.

Having emerged from this ordeal, “it doesn’t mean that we go on holiday”, he said, because the world will have to respond to the next challenge that comes along and prepare for the future.

“You know what worries us in the world?” he asked, before citing the Ukraine war, which he said has implications for the world and especially small countries like Singapore, as well as big power relations such as those between the United States and China.

“The main thing you have to understand is, the world is not in a very good shape. And Singapore must be in special good shape in order to survive.

“And I think that we are able to do that. Working together, dealing with external problems and dealing with what we’re doing to build Singapore, within the country,” he said.

PM Lee taking a group photo with Singaporeans who live in Guangdong, during a reception on March 27, 2023. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Ms Lena Gidwani, 41, who has lived in Guangzhou for 20 years and was at the reception with her husband and two children, said PM Lee’s visit was “assurance that things are looking up”.

“The fact he’s here shows readiness on China and Singapore’s part to resume life and business together. It means a lot to the Singapore community that he’s here,” said the director of communications and community relations at the Canadian International School.

PM Lee’s last visit to China was in April 2019, when he attended the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing.

On this visit, he is accompanied by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann, and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Law Rahayu Mahzam.

This week, he will also be hosted to lunch by Guangdong party secretary Huang Kunming, and will meet National People’s Congress chairman Zhao Leji, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference chairman Wang Huning and Beijing party secretary Yin Li.

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