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Lots of wefies and Singapore food as DPM Lawrence Wong visits Shanghai

SHANGHAI - Singaporeans in Shanghai got two “firsts” on Sunday when they met Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and newly arrived Singapore Ambassador Peter Tan.

It was Mr Wong’s first trip to China as Singapore’s No. 2 leader, and it was also the first official public engagement for Mr Tan after he started his job as Singapore’s top diplomat in China two weeks ago.

About 350 Singaporeans based in the Chinese financial capital mingled with the special guests from home, who included Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann; Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Defence Zaqy Mohamad; and Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Culture, Community and Youth Low Yen Ling, at a reception in the Shangri-La hotel in Pudong.

Those who came to meet and greet the Deputy Prime Minister wasted no time in surrounding him with wefie requests, which he gamely obliged, and later feasted on a generous spread of familiar favourites such as satay, laksa and chicken rice.

Mr Selvaraj Bala, who moved from Singapore to Shanghai with his wife and daughter a month ago, said he chose a posting to China instead of Europe with his company because he wanted to “harden ourselves”.

“Singapore isn’t the world. We’ve come from a place where everything is set up for us. But it’s okay to fail, and I want my daughter to learn that,” said the 44-year-old, who is regional head of German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, looking after environmental, health and safety issues.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, was last in mainland China in 2018. He has been doing the rounds of countries, going to Malaysia, India, Brunei and Indonesia to build personal connections with these countries after he was picked as successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He was named deputy prime minister in June 2022 in preparation for the role of Singapore’s next leader.

The visit to China, which will also take Mr Wong to Beijing, comes shortly after PM Lee’s visit in late March, when he and new Chinese Premier Li Qiang announced the upgrade of bilateral ties to an “all-round, high-quality, future-oriented partnership”.

Importantly, this trip gives Mr Wong the opportunity to establish relations with China’s new leadership, which was ushered in two months ago at its annual parliamentary session.

In Beijing, he is slated to meet Mr Li and Executive Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang, as well as the head of the Communist Party of China’s organisation department Li Ganjie, who is in charge of party personnel, and Minister of Finance Liu Kun.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Wong also visited the headquarters of Alipay, the digital payment provider owned by Ant Group, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba. Singapore is the headquarters of Ant Group’s international business arm, which has been expanding its footprint in the region.

In the evening, he also met Shanghai Mayor Gong Zheng. The two had met only in April in Singapore when Mr Gong visited for the 4th Singapore-Shanghai Comprehensive Cooperation Council meeting to discuss and ink deals between the financial city and the island state.