Han Fangming: Forty Years of Working and Learning Together | China-Singapore

By Wang Fengjuan

Han Fangming.

In the early years of reform and opening-up, China learned a lot from the successful experience of Singapore.

Today, with the immense economic and social development of China and the steep growth of China-Singapore cooperation, what is the status of the unique relationship between the two countries? What a role have overseas Chinese students played in promoting the development of bilateral relations? What does the future hold for China-ASEAN relations?

With such questions in mind, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Han Fangming, vice chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, vice chairman of the China Overseas-Educated Scholars Development Foundation and chairman of the Chahar Institute (a non-governmental think tank on diplomacy and international relations).


China Report ASEAN: During the process of reform and opening-up, what unique relationship has been established between China and Singapore?

Han Fangming: During China’s reform and opening-up, the older generation of reformers and strategists from Singapore, led by Lee Kuan Yew, shared their advanced experience in governance with China. Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s second deputy prime minister, once served as the first foreign economic adviser to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

Since Lee Kuan Yew’s time, an important tradition for China-Singapore relations has developed, in which Singaporean government leaders visit China regularly every year. The continuation of this tradition to this day is proof that this model of bilateral relations facilitating win-win cooperation is built on a profound foundation with potential for sound development. Singapore is very different from China in terms of size and population. It has insisted on independent development since its founding, exploring its own development path and political model for effective governance and considerable international influence.

In recent years, the rapid development of China has remained a popular topic around the world. The global dividends of this development, especially in neighboring countries, have continued to deepen the mutual interdependence between China and Singapore.

From mutual learning to cooperation, China-Singapore relations have developed into a model of cooperation and coexistence between big and small countries in the international community. As Chinese President Xi Jinping put it: “China-Singapore relations are friendly in tradition and fruitful in cooperation, as they move down a new path of mutual learning and cooperation in lockstep with the pace of the times.”


China Report ASEAN: Students going abroad is an important factor and symbol of China’s reform and opening-up. What role do you think overseas students have played in development?

Han: The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up as well as the 40th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s important instructions to send more students abroad to study. China’s efforts in this regard over the last 40 years have contributed greatly to the leapfrog development in education, science and technology, economics and social affairs. Its strategy has evolved from priority on education to strengthening China by developing science and education and training competent personnel, which has laid a solid foundation for China’s modernization. Countless Chinese scholars educated overseas have returned home to play pivotal roles.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, overseas education of Chinese students has reached a new stage. Overseas-educated scholars have performed excellently in developing the high-tech economy and promoting mass entrepreneurship and innovation. More importantly, they have become an important group in terms of China’s public diplomacy. These people disseminate Chinese stories abroad which help world understand China better. They are playing a positive role in building a community with a shared future for mankind.

I have a very long personal relationship with Singapore. My doctoral dissertation at Peking University analyzed the modernization process of the Chinese communities in Singapore and Malaysia. During my years of reading and writing at university, I often visited Singapore to explore the factors fueling its rise. To keep pace with the development of Singapore, I successfully applied for and received the Lien Ying Chow Legacy Fellowship of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2013. According to Singapore’s experience, whether countries are big or small, ideas never have borders. What the Chinese students should learn in Singapore is not the inherent experience or models, but the laws, ideas and spirit that Singapore has displayed during its development, which is the key to Singapore’s success.


China Report ASEAN: Since the beginning of reform and opening-up, China and Singapore have maintained an overseas training and scholarship program. What’s your opinion of the role and impact of this program? What do you expect from this program within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

Han: As the host of the China-Singapore overseas training and scholarship programs, the Nanyang Centre for Public Administration (NCPA) at NTU has trained over 17,000 professionals from all provinces and municipalities of China and Southeast Asian countries. The university has become a base for China and ASEAN countries to share their development experience. After nearly 26 years, many political and economic elites have emerged from the school, who have enhanced understanding of various national conditions.

Over the years, NCPA has trained many elites and effective officials for China, who have learned from Singapore’s experience in social management, astutely promoting the social development of China. Today, with the rise of China and the implementation of the BRI, China-Singapore relations are increasingly important. NCPA has become an extremely important link and bridge for the sound development of China-Singapore relations. China and Singapore can learn from each other to optimize their respective development.

Singapore is an important financial hub of the Belt and Road. There are plentiful opportunities for the two countries to cooperate in this realm. NCPA urgently needs to train more elites and competent officials who understand each other as well as more inter-disciplinary professionals with international vision to further upgrade the friendly relations between China and Singapore.


China Report ASEAN: As a renowned scholar of public diplomacy, what are your expectations for future China-ASEAN relations?

Han: As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi put it, “The China-ASEAN relationship has become the most successful and dynamic relationship in Asia-Pacific regional cooperation.” China and ASEAN have reached consensus on China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership Vision 2030, which was approved at the 21st China-ASEAN Summit in November 2018. This important document will guide the development of China-ASEAN relations and promote long-term and steady strategic cooperation between China and ASEAN.

In the future, we should always insist that cooperation and development remain a permanent theme and that differences be resolved amicably through cooperation and development. The prosperity of regional countries should be realized through cooperation and development based on complementary strengths. Innovation will be a source of vitality for further cooperation.

In this spirit, China and ASEAN countries should further strengthen cooperation and promote mutual trust through public diplomacy and people-to-people exchanges, especially youth exchanges. Since China-ASEAN cooperation has reached a crucial stage, the two sides must use innovative measures to face challenge and break through the bottlenecks with resolve and determination.

Copyedited by Tian Yuerong

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