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Singapore establishes formal diplomatic relations with China 3rd Oct 1990

Before Singapore established formal diplomatic relations with China, it was already enjoying close economic and political ties with China albeit on an informal basis. For instance, both sides had been exchanging regular official visits since then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s maiden trip to China in May 1976 and then Chinese Senior Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping’s visit to Singapore in November 1978.[1] Lee and Deng also signed a trade agreement on 29 December 1979 and set up  respective trade  representative offices in 1981 to  strengthen economic links between the  two countries.[2] In light of these developments, Singapore’s establishment of diplomatic relations with China was seen by many as a formality.[3] In fact, it could have occurred earlier but Singapore had decided to delay the process. This was because Singapore wanted its neighbouring countries, in particular Indonesia, to normalise relations with China first.[4]

After Indonesia and China announced their decision to resume ties on 8 August 1990, Singapore and China began talks to elevate their relationship to a more formal level.[5] In total, three rounds of talks – the first of which took place on 27 July 1990 – were held between Singapore and China to finalise the details of the establishment of diplomatic ties.[6] The joint communiqué stating the intent by both countries to establish formal diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors was signed by then Singapore Foreign Minister Wong Kan Seng and his Chinese counterpart Qian Qichen at the United Nations headquarters in New York on 3 October 1990.[7] Thereafter, both countries proceeded to upgrade their trade representative offices into embassies.[8]

China’s first ambassador to Singapore was Zhang Qing who was then a deputy director of the Asian Affairs Department in the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry, while Singapore’s first ambassador to China was Cheng Tong Fatt, then the ambassador to Japan.Zhang and Cheng assumed their posts in December 1990 and June 1991 respectively.[9]

1. Seah, C. N. (1976, May 11). Rousing Peking welcomeThe Straits Times, p. 1; Fong, L., & Muthu, S. M. (1978, November 13). Our future in S-E Asia – LeeThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. China opens office here. (1981, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 1; First commercial representative to Beijing picked. (1981, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 1; Singapore trade rep leaves for China. (1981, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 11; Hon off to sign trade pact in Beijing. (1979, December 24). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. A formal question. (1990, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG .
4. Chai, K. W. (1990, October 4). China ties come after long period of gestation.  The Straits Times, p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG .
5. S'pore, China ties likely in next few months: PM. (1990, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chinese team here for talks on setting up ties. (1990, July 28). The Straits Times, p. 2; Liak, T. K. (1990, October 4). Singapore and China establish formal diplomatic tiesThe Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Straits Times, 4 Oct 1990, p. 1.
8. Our embassy in China. (1990, October 5). The Straits Times, p. 2; Flag goes up at Chinese embassy. (1990, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. China's first envoy to S'pore presents credentials. (1990, December 22). The Straits Times, p. 2; First Singapore envoy to China presents credentials. (1991, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 1; Cheng Tong Fatt tipped to be China envoy. (1991, May 7). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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