China's Xi says ties with Singapore set benchmark for region
BEIJING (Reuters) - Relations between China and Singapore have set a benchmark for countries in the region, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during talks in Beijing on Friday.
China is willing to work with Singapore in further building new "channels" by land and sea, Xi told Lee, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
During the meeting, Xi said hegemony and bullying must be opposed and that no other nation should be allowed to deprive Asian people of their right to pursue a better life, without naming any third country.
The warm words for Lee, who last met Xi in person in the Thai capital of Bangkok in November, came amid increased strains between China and Western nations, especially the United States, over issues ranging from the Ukraine war to human rights.
"Other countries must be able to accept that China today is not what China used to be," Lee told CCTV in an interview ahead of his visit.
"It is much more prosperous, its contribution to the world economy is much more, and its voice in international affairs is much more."
China and Singapore aim to sign an upgraded free trade agreement within this year based on negotiations initiated by a protocol signed in 2018, according to a joint statement of the two countries published on the website of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday.
China is Singapore's largest trading partner, while the island-state is China's biggest foreign investor.
Lee's visit to Beijing was his first trip to China since 2019, before the global COVID pandemic broke out.
(Reporting by Zhang Yan and Ryan Woo; Editing by Gareth Jones and Raju Gopalakrishnan)