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Late Lee Kuan Yew inspecting the construction of the Suzhou Industrial Park

Why do we keep saying that the Suzhou Industrial Park was a great success?

I refer to the article “Singapore can play key role in China-led Belt and Road Initiative: Chan Chun Sing” (Jan 25).

The article wrote,

“During the hour-long discussion, Mr Chan also cited the example of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) project, jointly developed by China and Singapore in the 1990s. What was more important than the physical structures of the industrial park was the intangible “software transfer” that took place behind the scenes.

The number of delegations that came to Singapore to learn about the system, and the number of delegations from Singapore that went to China to help build the project and transfer the software was as important as the park that was built. These were critical in ensuring the success of the project, and to replicating it elsewhere afterwards, he said.

Singapore, he added, had had to work closely with its partners on the ground and consult them on what was needed at different stages of China’s development, so that Singapore’s efforts could continue to be relevant and add value to China.

After the industrial park development of the 1990s, Singapore moved on to focus on addressing China’s growing environmental and sustainablity concerns in the Tianjin Ecocity”.

According to the article “Suzhou Industrial Park ex-CEO probed for corruption” (Sunday Times, Sep 21, 2014) – “Suzhou Industrial Park’s former chief executive officer Bai Guizhi, a Chinese national, has been investigated for graft, in the most serious scandal to hit the first bilateral project between China and Singapore”.

And according to the article “S$16 to 20 billion already spent on Singapore Tianjin eco-“ghost” city?” (The Independent, Sep 11, 2016) – “Targeted for completion over 10 to 15 years, the Tianjin eco-city is planned to support a population of 350,000.

However, according to a recent report from Worldcrunch, quoting its source from French mainstream newspaper Le Monde, presently only 30,000 or less than 10% of the targeted residents live in the eco-city. This is 8 years into the development, not too far from the completion targeted timing.

The cost of the whole eco-city project has greatly exceeded expectations. Between 80 and 100 billion yuan (S$16 to 20 billion) have already been spent, according to Le Monde. If this is true, that means the amount spent has immensely exceeded the original projection of S$9.7 billion and the project has yet to be completed. Le Monde reported that the final bill “should climb to 230 billion yuan (S$46 billion)”, citing the Tianjin eco-city’s officials.

In this regard, the opposition party in the parliament needs to question the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) government on the actual amount of investments that have thrown into the Tianjin eco-city project thus far. After all, all these investment monies belong to the Singapore public.”

I remember that there were issues about transparency and accountability, as to how much losses were incurred on the SIP?

In the article “Suzhou Industrial Park: 10 things to know about the China-Singapore project” (Straits Times, Oct 25, 2014) – there is no mention of any losses in connection with the SIP.

Makes you wonder why our Press Freedom ranking is 151st in the world!

So, is this an example, arguably, that “no news” may kind of be like “fake news”, in the light of the current hoo-ha about “fake news”?

I had googled “Suzhou Industrial Park losses” and did find the following:

“Singapore has accused the Suzhou authorities of directing investors to their own wholly owned, nearby industrial and economic zone where land and service charges are cheaper.

The decision to pull forward the transfer date is the clearest evidence so far that Singapore wishes to reduce its involvement in the ailing venture.

It would cover a total of 70 square kilometres and be developed over a 20-year period at a total investment cost of US$20 billion, according to the original plan. So far, eight square kilometres have been completed.

Just 48 companies moved to the park in its first three years, bringing in total investment of $3.24 billion. Another 30 are said to be building facilities there, but the Singaporeans fear interest may have already peaked.

Lim Neo Chian, chief executive of China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park Development, has appeared on Singapore’s Insight television programme and complained that the commercial and residential aspects of the township had been a complete flop.

“We’ve hardly made any progress at all,” Mr Lim said.

The original plan envisaged more than 100,000 people living within the hi-tech industrial town. Instead, its population stands at just 500, providing little in the way of a workforce.

For several years there have been rumours of discontent over Singapore’s flagship venture in the mainland, but no-one dared speak out.

That silence was finally broken in December last year when Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew visited the mainland and delivered a blunt message to the Suzhou municipal authorities about their attitude toward the high-profile joint venture.

He told them they needed to decide whether to back the Sino-Singapore park or its rival municipal project, where costs were lower.

Mr Lee warned if Suzhou authorities decided on the latter, “then it should devote all its resources to it and the SIP will bow out”.

President Jiang Zemin subsequently came out and pledged the mainland’s support for Singapore’s multi-billion dollar venture, offering a ray of hope.

Lim Chee Onn, the park’s former chief, told Insight that Suzhou officials “did not quite understand the purpose” or had “lost sight of the original goal” of the project.

Singapore officials also said they felt an “investor-friendly mindset has not been internalised” by mainland workers in Suzhou.

To aid in the park’s transfer, Singapore officials now intend to accelerate the transfer of know-how and software so that the park and companies within it can continue under mainland management control.

A Singapore consortium owns 65 per cent of SIP, while mainland companies hold the rest.”  – (“S’pore govt loses patience with Suzhou park”, South China Morning Post, Jun 4, 1989)

So, were Singaporeans ever told how much we lost?