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Chinese Senior Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping visits Singapore Nov 1978

In November 1978, then Senior Vice-Premier of the People's Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping, made his first and only official visit to Singapore – the last stop on his three-nation tour of Southeast Asia that included Thailand and Malaysia.[1]

Arriving on 12 November, Deng and his 36-member delegation were met at the Paya Lebar airport by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his cabinet colleagues, including Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee, Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam and Finance Minister Hon Sui Sen.[2] Following a ceremonial welcome, the visitors were taken on a state drive to the Istana where the first meeting between Deng and Lee, together with their respective teams of ministers and officials, took place that afternoon in the Cabinet Room.[3]

Both the Chinese and Singapore governments met in face-to-face discussions for a total of five-and-a-half hours over two days, during which they discussed the threat posed by the Soviet Union, its alliance with Vietnam, and the implications for Southeast Asia and China.[4] At the time, Vietnam had gained a reputation as a formidable military force in the region and with Soviet support, was poised to expand its control by first invading Cambodia.[5] There were fears that a domino-like collapse of the countries lying southwards of Vietnam – Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore – would ensue.[6] In light of this threat, the question of what China would do in the event of a Vietnamese takeover of Cambodia was of utmost concern to the Singapore government in the talks with Deng.[7]

During his brief stay, Deng also visited the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) to learn about Singapore’s public housing and industrialisation programme.[8] From the JTC headquarters, Deng proceeded to Jurong Hilltop, where he was invited to plant a pong pong tree to mark the historic occasion.[9] Deng's 1978 visit laid the foundation for close ties between Singapore and China well before diplomatic relations were formalised in 1990.[10] The visit also sowed the seeds for the replication of the Singapore model of industrial development in China that led to the joint establishment of the Suzhou Industrial Park in 1994.[11]

1. Ties will improve with mutual visits: Teng. (1978, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. The Straits Times, 13 Nov 1978, p. 1.
3. The Straits Times, 13 Nov 1978, p. 1.
4. Airport send-off for Teng. (1978, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, K. Y. (2000). From third world to first: The Singapore story, 1965–2000: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. (pp. 660–667). Singapore: Times Editions and the Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 959.57092 LEE.
5. Lee, 2000, p. 661; Goh, K. S. (1997, February 21). The little-known role Deng played in S-E Asia. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Goh, K. S. (1997, February 21). The little-known role Deng played in S-E Asia. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. The Business Times, 21 Feb 1997, p. 1.
8. Ngoo, I., & Muthu, S. M. (1978, November 14). Singapore's success: Teng sees for himself. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. The Straits Times, 14 Nov 1978, p. 8.
10. Ng, G. (2008, December 16). Taking a leaf from the Lion City. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Suzhou project: How it all began – SM Lee. (1994, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 28. 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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