Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China snubs Singapore trade delegation


A diplomatic spat between China and Singapore deepened yesterday after Beijing delayed an invitation to a Singaporean trade delegation to protest a visit by the city-state's future prime minister to Taiwan.

Beijing has responded with fury since Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) met Taiwan's leaders from July 10 to 12 in a visit that Singapore insists was unofficial but which Beijing has said has consequences.

Analysts, however, said the diplomatic row was unlikely to affect trade or business ties.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified Singapore it was "delaying" an invitation to National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan to lead a delegation to Chengdu from July 28 to 30, a Singapore government official said.

The snub follows Beijing's decision last week to cancel a trip by its central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川), to Singapore, where he had been due to speak at the city-state's central bank, which Lee heads as chairman.

Still, analysts say Beijing's actions appear mostly symbolic and business ties look strong, noting a multi-million dollar deal announced yesterday by a Singapore-based company to buy 30 percent of China's largest ship repair company Cosco Shipyard.

SembCorp Marine, which is partly owned by the Singapore government, bought the stake for US$30 million from China Ocean Shipping Co.

"In terms of the response, it hasn't really been too severe from an economic standpoint. Although they are stopping people from speaking engagements, etc, real life goes on," said Song Seng Wun, an economist at stockbroker GK Goh in Singapore.

"This issue will settle down after a while," he said.

In Beijing, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said: "Under the current situation, the exchanges between China and Singapore will be affected unavoidably."

Mah's Singapore-Sichuan Trade and Investment Committee was to attend a ground-breaking ceremony for a township built by a Singapore company and to meet local leaders, the Singapore government official said.

China is Singapore's second-largest trading partner, with two-way trade totalling nearly US$40 billion last year.

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