Sino-Singaporean Collaboration: What lessons can Singapore teach China?

Photo: Donaldytong/CC BY-SA 3.0

Since the development of Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994, Government-to-Government projects between Singapore and China have enjoyed economic success. But there are more insights to be gleamed from Singapore than purely economic terms.  


In 2015, the regional GDP of Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) reached RMB207 billion (US$28.9 billion), delivering a year-on-year increase of 8%. The industrial park has highlighted valuable lessons to be learnt from Singapore, not only in economic development, but also in city planning and management, and public administration.

The industrial park was initially designed to attract foreign companies to boost the investment of foreign capital. Now it helps domestic countries to go abroad. In recent years, the industrial park has built a platform for the Chinese enterprises to invest overseas.

The Suzhou Industrial Park is drawing investment to the region.

In 2015, a total of RMB61.2 billion (US$8.9 billion) had been invested in SIP. More and more domestic and foreign enterprises are investing here, including hi-tech manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical companies, and new energy companies. The service industry, education industry and financial company are also booming with increased investment levels. By 2020, the total output of SIP is expected to exceed RMB500 billion (US$72.3 billion), with high-tech sectors, like biopharma and nanotech, expecting to exceed RMB200 billion (US$28.9 billion).

In the first 3 quarters of 2016, 992 enterprises were registered in Tianjin Eco-city, another joint Sino-Singaporean project, with a registered capital of RMB28.6 billion (US$4.1 billion). This brought the total number of companies registered in the city to 4297, and the total registered capital was RMB194 billion(US$28 billion).

(Source: Baidu)

The project created jobs for displaced farmers.

In 2016 there were already more than 70,000 people living and working in Tianjin Eco-city. It has shown itself to be a socially harmonious, environmental-friendly and resource-efficient city.

In Suzhou Industrial Park, the administration has always promoted stable employment. In 2016, the state-owned enterprises offered 4540 posts, more than 98% of the jobs went to land-losing farmers and the colleague students.

The two projects have shown what can be achieved when the two nations collaborate in economic terms. The industrial zones have bolstered the creation of jobs, the increased foreign investment, the growth of domestic enterprise and the construction of socially cohesive industrial cities.

The collaboration has also delivered valuable lessons to China.

Since 1978, after Deng Xiaoping returned from his Singapore visit, China has adopted Singapore´s economic model. During Deng´s visit, he was surprised to see Singapore’s great success at utilising foreign capital for her own interests. On his return, he opened China up to foreign investment and created the Chinese economy we can see today, in Singapore´s own image.

The decision to reform of state-owned enterprises was taken from Singapore. This process involved the separation of government functions from enterprise management. It modernised government owned companies and merged and streamlined central state-controlled industries.

The reform has yielded impressive results for the state-owned enterprises in China. State-owned companies like the Aluminium Corporation of China and Chery Automobile have gone from being failing companies to strong market competitors thanks to the reforms. Many state-owned enterprises now list part of their shares and taken on foreign investors.

We can also see high-tech industrial parks and economic development zones in many parts of China. This was also adopted from Singapore. Industrial parks like Zhongguancun Sience Park in Beijing and Zhangjiang Innopark in Shanghai have made a significant contribution to the economic development of the country.

There are still further lessons to be gleamed from Singapore.

China should adopt Singapore´s city management strategies. Singapore boasts of tidy and well-regulated cities. The development of SIP and Tianjin Eco-city used the Singaporean city model, but China still has a long way to go. Her urban sprawls are congested and with better city planning, the infrastructure and transportation could be streamlined. A well designed and decongested city also attracts more investment. China, being rich in natural resources with a large population, would benefit economically from better planned cities.

The modern waste-water treatment techniques of Singapore are striking. In Tianjin Sino-Singapore Eco-city, Singaporean water recycling techniques have been adopted. With impressive results. The Singaporean PUB have introduced water recycling plants, rainwater harvesting techniques and desalinated water to the city. The goal is to have at least 50% of the city using water from non-traditional sources.

Nearly 67% of the 660 cities in China face a shortage of water, 108 of them seriously lacking water. If they can apply the Singaporean techniques of water recycling in some of these places, this will solve a big problem in China.

Is China modest enough to learn these lessons?

Whether a country can be modest enough to learn from another nation is crucial to the nation’s progress and modernisation. With increased globalisation, no country can avoid the influence of other countries. China is no exception. The adoption of Singaporean economic models and the success of the joint projects show that China can, and is willing to, learn from other nation states in the economic field. As city planning and water supply become more pressing issues, China will have no choice but to look to other players in the region for solutions.

While Singapore continues to innovate, China will continue to learn from them. China’s past successes were built learning and exploring, her future successes depend on the same values.

China has made great strides in her economy and other fields, but that is not enough for China’s modernization and further development. As the society develops, we are facing more and more challenges to relations between development and social order. The words of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 are just as relevant now as they were in 1992, “Singapore´s social order is rather good. Its leaders exercise strict management. We should learn from their experience and we should do a better job than they do”. The construction of social order and the modernization of utilities and cities is just what China needs to learn from Singapore today. After a country has learned how to develop their economy, the next step is to learn about streamlining existing systems to move forward. As long as her ego doesn´t get in the way, China will find Singapore to be a valuable teacher.