Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Smoky ‘chemical’ smell in various parts of Singapore

Some Sengkang residents have complained of a strong acrid smell and smoke that permeated several areas in Singapore on Monday (Sep 25).

Several readers wrote in to The Straits Times from as early as 4pm on Monday afternoon to say they smelled a “burning”, “chemical”, or “petrol” smell.

Readers from various areas including Sengkang, Seletar, Yishun, and in other areas like Ang Mo Kio and Bishan, wrote in to ask about the smell, which one described as “choking”.

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SCDF, NEA investigating 'strong burning smell' in north-eastern Singapore
The view from Buangkok Crescent. (Photo: Angela Marie Oehlers)

Residents in Sengkang, Hougang, Buangkok, Bishan & Ang Mo Kio have complained of a strong burning smell that started on Monday afternoon (Sep 25), prompting an investigation by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) & National Environment Agency (NEA).

Despite the smell, SCDF said in a tweet at about 10pm that no toxic industrial chemicals were detected.

It earlier said that it has been receiving calls on the smell of gas or burning in the north-eastern part of Singapore.

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Caught a whiff of a 'gas-like' odour? Don't worry, say SCDF and NEA
Caught a whiff of a 'gas-like' odour? Don't worry, say SCDF and NEA

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has assured citizens that there has been no presence of "Toxic Industrial Chemicals in the air" in the North-Eastern part of Singapore, following calls about the smell of gas or burning material there.

Complaints about the foul odour appeared on the online forums such as Reddit & Hardware Zone at about 5pm. Many netizens said that the smell appeared to be largely confined to the North-Eastern parts of Singapore in areas like Sengkang, Hougang, Buangkok & Ang Mo Kio.

SCDF said it has deployed its "resources to investigate" and found nothing amiss, & is closely monitoring the situation together with the National Environment Agency (NEA).

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Monday, 25 September 2017

4 takeaways from PM Lee’s visit to China

PM Lee Hsien Loong wrapped up his visit to China today in Xiamen, Fujian Province.

Speaking to the Singapore media on his assessment of his trip, PM Lee made a number of points which we summarised below:
  • Chinese leaders are keen on improving relations.
  • Bilateral relations are good but changing.
  • Bilateral interests will never be perfectly aligned.
  • A relationship which needs to be nurtured and cultivated continually

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Lee Hsien Loong 19 September at 07:06

A fruitful meeting with Premier Li Keqiang today. We reviewed our extensive cooperation, and welcomed the progress in negotiations to upgrade the China-Singapore FTA. Also discussed collaboration in new areas, such as finance, judicial and legal matters.

This is a busy time for China as their 19th Party Congress is taking place next month. I appreciate their attention to our bilateral ties, as well as towards ASEAN. Singapore is currently the coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, and we’ll hold the ASEAN chairmanship next year. Will do our best to bring ASEAN and China closer together. 🇸🇬🇨🇳 – LHL

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Timing of visit noteworthy

Given that Xi and other Chinese leaders are likely to be preoccupied with party matters ahead of such a crucial internal political meeting, the timing of PM Lee’s visit to Beijing is somewhat unusual.

It would have been easier to read the significance of the timing of PM Lee’s visit to China if his trip was scheduled after the Party Congress, as it would be an opportunity for him to meet the new Chinese leadership line-up.

Nevertheless, the timing is still noteworthy, as the hosting of such a high-level visit by China can be seen as a signal of its desire to strengthen relations.

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway: Xinhua
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) speaks with PM Lee Hsien Loong during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Sept 19, 2017. FOTO: AFP

China hopes that Singapore will support Chinese enterprises that wish to participate in the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed railway project, Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday (Sep 19), according to state news agency Xinhua.

"China has cutting-edge, safe & reliable, cost-effective high-speed railway technology," Premier Li said during his talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Xinhua reported. PM Lee is on an official visit to China from Sep 19 to 21.

Singapore & Malaysia are building the 350km high-speed rail linking Singapore & Kuala Lumpur. Targeted to be operational by end-2026, the railway line will cut travel time between the 2 cities to 90 minutes.

related: China's rail ambitions run at full speed

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China hopes to ‘energise’ relations with Singapore, Asean, Li Keqiang tells Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore will assume chairmanship of the 10-member trade bloc next year.

“Singapore is an important member of Asean ... it is the country coordinator between China and Asean and will be [the group’s] rotating chair next year,” Li said. “I hope and trust this will inject new energy into not just China-Singapore relations but also China-Asean relations,” he said.

Lee, who was starting a three-day trip to China, said he too hoped to “make a contribution to bringing Asean and China closer together”.

related: Why Singapore is a vital cog in China’s foreign policy

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Several ways for S’pore to work with Beijing
The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative will help China integrate into the global economy & benefit other nations, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he outlined how Singapore can work with the Asian giant on the mega project

In response, Mr Lee reiterated that Asean and China have deep economic & trade links, with China being the largest trade partner of the vast majority of the bloc’s members. He noted that if overall relationships are good between China & individual Asean members, as well as between China and the regional grouping as a whole, economic cooperation will naturally follow. But if problems in the relationships arise, then the mutually beneficial cooperation between countries could be affected, Mr Lee said.

As Asean chair, “Singapore will do its utmost to enhance ties between China & Asean, and promote cooperation among Asean members”, Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also spoke about the progress of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail project. An international tender — to be held in Singapore and Malaysia — is on the cards to be held in the coming months, he said. He added that he hopes to receive a proposal from a Chinese company, which will be accorded objective and serious consideration.

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China leaning on Singapore to keep ASEAN calm over South China Sea: sources

China is worried it could face fresh criticism over its actions in the South China Sea when Singapore becomes chairman of the Association of South East Asian Nations next year, and is putting pressure on the city-state to make sure that doesn’t happen, according to people familiar with the situation.

They say that Chinese representatives have told Singapore counterparts in private meetings over recent months that they don’t want trouble for Beijing when Singapore takes over the annual leadership of the 10-nation group in 2018.

Diplomats say they believe that Beijing has used its influence over countries who have chaired ASEAN in the past to dilute the group’s stand on the South China Sea row, potentially one of the most volatile disputes in Asia.

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China ties a priority when Singapore is Asean chair: PM Lee
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during an interview with Xinhuanet at the Istana on Sept 16, 2017. FOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS & INFORMATION

For Asean-China trade to flourish, both sides need to work at keeping overall ties strong, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Alluding to the need for rationality & restraint on thorny issues such as the South China Sea dispute, PM Lee said that frictions in the relationship will only affect mutually beneficial cooperation. This is why Singapore will do its best to positively advance Asean-China relations when it assumes the grouping's chairmanship next year, he said in an interview with Xinhuanet ahead of his official visit to China beginning on Tuesday (Sep 19).

Mr Lee was asked by Xinhuanet to take stock of ties ahead of next year, an important milestone for Asean-China relations.

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Singapore to promote stronger cooperation between ASEAN and China: PM Lee

Singapore will promote stronger cooperation between ASEAN and China when it takes over as ASEAN chair next year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Tuesday (Sep 19).

Mr Lee is on a 3-day official visit to China from Tuesday to Thursday.

While meeting in the Great Hall of the People, both leaders reaffirmed the warm ties between both countries & discussed the potential of working together in new areas, such as financial, judicial and legal cooperation.

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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with Wang Qishan in Beijing. Photo: Handout

In this context, it is interesting to note that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met four top leaders during his official visit last week. On top of meeting Xi, Li, and Zhang, Lee’s meeting with Wang Qishan, the head of China’s top anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, is even more intriguing, not only because Wang does not often meet visiting heads of state or government in his current role, but also because speculation is whirling over whether he will stay on for another five-year term after the Chinese leadership reshuffle scheduled next month. On Lee’s last official visit, in August 2013, he met only Xi and Li.

Chinese media reports have suggested Lee’s visit was sudden and unheralded. More importantly, the unusually high-level reception Lee received indicates that both countries want to turn the page on what have been strained ties over the past two years. Xi was quoted as telling Lee there were many opportunities to forge ties with Singapore in a “new historical chapter”.

Lee reportedly told Xi that Singapore would work closely with China to take relations to the next level and voiced support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which Xi said should be the focus of bilateral cooperation.

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Lee Hsien Loong to visit China as Xi Jinping vows to boost ties with Singapore

Observers said China would be cautious in handling its relations with Singapore as the city state would take the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations next year.

“China still hopes that Singapore can play a mediating role to lower tensions between Beijing and other [South China Sea] claimant states in Asean,” said Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian affairs expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“Beijing will push for Singaporean cooperation on the belt and road initiative and to boost mutual economic ties.”

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Singapore's PM Visits China to Cement Strained Ties

Singapore expects to be at the forefront of the region’s relations with China next year, when the city-state heads the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The bloc’s summits have sometimes become a platform for the airing of grievances with China, especially over its efforts to assert expansive claims to the South China Sea.

“The Lee administration and the current Beijing leadership have incentives to smooth over relations before Singapore rotates into the Asean chair next year,” he said. During a meeting with his Chinese counter, Li Keqiang, on Tuesday, Lee pledged to promote stronger Asean-China cooperation during Singapore’s chairmanship. The visit comes at a sensitive time for Xi, who’s preparing for a party congress next month in which as many as five members of the Standing Committee could be replaced. A key question is whether Wang -- the 69-year-old architect of Xi’s historic anti-corruption drive -- will be among the older members who retire to make way for new blood.

Exchanges between the leaders were sprinkled with personal touches that emphasized familiarity between the two sides. Xi’s remark about “previous generations” appeared to be reference to Lee’s father, the late Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, who was vocal advocate for China’s rise. Meanwhile, Lee is due Thursday to visit Fujian, a coastal southern province where Xi worked for more than 17 years.

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Premier Li hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway

China hopes Singapore will support Chinese enterprises who wish to participate in the Singapore-Malaysia high-speed railway project, Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday.

"China has cutting-edge, safe and reliable, cost-effective high-speed railway technology," Li said in his talks with visiting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Malaysia and Singapore have agreed to build a 360-km high-speed rail link between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which is expected to start operation by December 2026 and cut travel time to about 90 minutes. Singapore welcomes Chinese businesses to the project, Lee said.

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang hopes for Singapore support in high-speed railway: Xinhua

During his meeting with Mr Li, Mr Lee said that Singapore welcomes Chinese businesses to the project. In an interview with Xinhuanet, Xinhua’s official website, last Saturday, Mr Lee said: “We hope to receive China’s proposals.”

“I think China’s bid will be a high quality one,” he added,  noting that the joint railway project is “very significant” for Singapore and Malaysia. He said China has advanced technology and rich experience in high speed railway construction and operation, boasting a domestic network of tens of thousands kilometers in length.

The Singaporean prime minister praised China’s high speed railway service for providing passengers with convenience and comfort. “Very convenient, smooth and comfortable,” Mr Lee recalled his previous experiences of taking high speed trains in China.

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China touts railway tech for Singapore-KL HSR project
A Chinese high-speed train in Shijiazhuang. AP file foto

China is stepping up efforts ahead of a tender for the proposed 350km high-speed rail (HSR) project linking Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.

China Railway Corp deputy chief engineer Zhao Guo Tang highlighted China’s strengths in railway engineering during a recent interview with journalists from Asean in Beijing.

“One of the benefits of procuring our railway signalling technology is that it compatible with many existing systems. When we design & build HSR lines, we keep in mind that the alignment has to serve as many passengers as possible & on the fastest route,” he said.

related: China’s railway diplomacy hits the buffers

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MTR, China Railway to bid for HSR project

Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) operator is planning to join hands with a Chinese rail giant to bid for the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, a top official has told the South China Morning Post.

Mr Frederick Ma Si Hang told the newspaper that the company was interested in partnering with China Railway to bid for a contract to build the 350km high-speed rail link. The Hong Kong newspaper, in an exclusive report yesterday, said the planned joint bid would be MTR's first investment under China's "Belt and Road" plan.

The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR project is slated to be completed by the end of 2026 and will cut travel time between the two cities to 90 minutes.

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Will high-speed rail between Singapore and China ever be a reality?

The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail link is now at an advanced stage of planning. China’s railway company CRH will set up a regional train manufacturing centre in KL and will invest in a new Central Station called ‘Bandar Malaysia’ south of KL near Subang Airport.

The high speed train station in Singapore will be located at Jurong East.

In all, the missing links in the Kunming-Singapore rail network are:
  • A 620km section from Nakhon Ratchasima to Vientiane.
  • Southern section from Hua Hin to Malaysia’s border (Padang Besar).
  • Padang Besar to Kuala Lumpur (the route is electrified but may need to be upgraded to accommodate fast trains).
  • There’s no set timeframe for the construction of northern and southern extensions in Thailand. My best guess is they will only do dual tracking for that section. The government’s priority seems to be developing other high speed routes first between Bangkok to Rayong and Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

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Minister Vivian: We welcome China to bid for SG-KL High Speed Rail and recognize China’s experience and expertise

In a change of tune, Minister Vivian now welcomes Chinese companies to submit bids on the Singapore-KL High Speed Rail. This was reported by China Daily today (12 Jun).

In a written interview with China Daily, which is run by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CCP), Minister Vivian said Singapore “recognizes China’s experience and expertise” in high speed rail.

The international request for bids will be jointly put out by Singapore and Malaysia later this year, he said.

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Singapore FM invites Chinese bids on project

Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan [Photo/China Daily]

Singapore welcomes Chinese companies to submit bids on the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail, Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan has said.

In a written interview with China Daily, he said Singapore "recognizes China's experience and expertise". The international request for bids, to be conducted in a fair and transparent manner, will be jointly put out by Singapore and Malaysia later this year, he said.

The minister, in an official visit to China from Sunday to Monday, noted that the project aims to improve connectivity among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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KL-Singapore high-speed rail project: China on board

A move to build a high-speed rail (HSR) line linking Kuala Lumpur & Singapore has attracted interest from various countries with this kind of technology.

Among these countries is China, which aims to build and perhaps help run the proposed 350km-long track in Malaysia & Singapore.

Though somewhat of a latecomer to the scene (its first HSR line was built in 2003), China has aggressively pushed these trains across its country.

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Hong Kong's MTR eyes joint bid with mainland rail giant for Kuala Lumpur-Singapore link
MTR Corporation Cairman Frederick Ma Si-hang (center). [Photo/en.people.cn]

The chairman of Hong Kong's rail operator MTR Corporation, Frederick Ma Si-hang, said his company "was interested in partnering with China Railway" to bid for the 350-kilometer rail project linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Ma made the statement while attending the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which convened in Beijing on May 14 and 15, South China Morning Post reported.

Thepaper.cn confirmed the news, reporting that MTR insiders said the company would "provide any assistance" to the Chinese rail giant's potential bid for the multi-billion-dollar rail line.

If the bid is successful, the project would be MTR's first attempt to capitalize on China's global trade and commerce strategy. It would also be MTR's first investment under the umbrella of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

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‘Warm, long-standing’ ties reaffirmed as PM kicks off China visit

“I’m very grateful for your attention to our bilateral relationship, & also for the opportunity for us to discuss how we can work together in the regional context and with Asean,” Mr Lee said.

“Singapore is the coordinator for Asean and China relations currently. Next year, we will be the Asean chairman, & we hope that in these capacities, we can make a contribution towards bringing Asean & China closer together,” he added.

Echoing Mr Lee’s remarks, the Chinese Premier said he hoped Singapore’s chairmanship of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) will “inject new vitality” into Sino-Singapore & China-Asean relations.

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“Lee Hsien Loong is not as skilled as LKY” – Chinese state media declares amid PM Lee’s visit to China

As Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes his first official visit to China in the last three years, the Global Times – a newspaper with links to the Chinese Communist Party – declared that PM Lee “is not as skilled as his father” in balancing ties with China and the United States of America in an opinion piece that also called Singaporeans insecure:
“Singapore was once called a “little red dot” by former Indonesian president Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie. The term is also adopted by Singaporeans to express their sense of insecurity. It is believed that Singapore has no intention of challenging China and Lee Hsien Loong is just not as skilled as his father in controlling the risks and striking a balance between China and the US.”
Relations between Singapore and China have been fraught with tension in recent years, with the Global Times calling this period the worst in the Sino-Singapore relationship since 2016.

Singapore has been accused of tilting towards Washington in its foreign policy, especially when Singapore sided with Washington and Tokyo during the South China Sea territorial dispute arbitration and when Singapore was the only ASEAN nation to urge all parties to fully respect the tribunal ruling that followed.

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Singapore's Lee looks to patch up China relations on official visit
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang with Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, on September 19, 2017 in Beijing, China

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives in China Tuesday amid tensions with Beijing and unease in southeast Asia over China's increasingly muscular foreign policy.

Lee was not invited to China's One Belt, One Road conference in May, despite the city state's strong support for Beijing's sprawling economic and trade initiative.

That came after a prolonged stand-off after nine armored troop carriers were seized by customs officials in Hong Kong en route from Singapore to China's historical rival Taiwan.

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo: EPA
The Lion City prime minister’s welcome in Beijing is not a sign the countries have put differences over the South China Sea behind them – the conditions that underpinned their once warm relationship have changed forever

Amid such geopolitical disputes, China and Singapore remain at odds on several key security and strategic issues. For instance, Beijing believes Singapore – a tiny state with a majority ethnic Chinese population – should be pro-China diplomatically, or at least maintain neutrality on issues relating to China. However, the city state has long rejected such an idea, fearing that such an alignment could seriously undermine its status as an independent nation.

Beijing also wants Singapore to use its leadership status in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to promote China’s influence in the group – a mission that violates members’ interests, particularly so given Asean was formed to help the countries stand up to world powers.

At issue is Singapore’s discord with Beijing over maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Though the city state is not a claimant in the South China Sea feud, it operates one of the biggest ports in the world and its economy relies on trade and thus freedom of ocean navigation. For this reason, Singapore – which hosts a key US navy logistic base and other US military assets – hopes to maintain US influence in the region, potentially making it a strategic adversary to China.

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Singapore - China Bilateral Ties
Singapore China G-to-G Projects
Singapore Stumbles on China's Road
Singapore military vehicles seizure in Hong Kong
The Historic Ma-Xi Summit
The New Silk Road 新絲綢之路
The "One Belt, One Road" 一带一路 initiative
Singapore as a 21st century maritime silk road
Singapore And The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
Embracing, Leaning & Tilting towards China
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Sunday, 24 September 2017