A key requirement for the success of the Maritime Silk Road – which envisions linking China by sea with Europe by way of various Asian and African countries – is to keep critical sea lanes open and safe for shipping, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

This involves making sure that transit passage through the straits of Malacca and Singapore is not suspended or impeded, as these waters are crucial to connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans and are used by vessels from all countries.

Also, the straits of Malacca and Singapore hold the status of “straits used for international navigation”, which means passage through them is provided for in international law, he added.

Mr Teo made these points in his opening address at the FutureChina Global Forum yesterday, when he gave Singapore’s position on the right of transit passage for ships and planes of all countries through the straits of Malacca and Singapore.

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The forum, which was organised by Business China and attended by more than 500 business leaders and academics, also discussed topics such as the future economy and China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Mr Teo said that Singapore is a strong proponent of the right of transit passage, adding: “This is a key principle of vital interest to us as trade is our lifeblood.”

He said that sticking to this principle is key to the success of the Maritime Silk Road as it ensures smooth flow of trade and traffic through the straits of Malacca and Singapore.

“Singapore will continue to uphold this right of transit passage for ships and aircraft of all countries, and will not support any attempt to restrict transit passage to ships or aircraft from any country,” Mr Teo said.

The Maritime Silk Road is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative, which envisions connecting Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of roads, ports, bridges, tunnels, pipelines and other projects.

Mr Teo pointed out that in 2006, Singapore disagreed with Australia’s proposal to place certain restrictions on vessels transiting through the Torres Strait between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

The restrictions require ships of more than 70m in length or loaded with certain cargo to have a licensed coastal pilot to guide the ship through the strait, and were meant to protect the sensitive marine environment in those waters.

Singapore disagreed with this, he said, even though it is a strong advocate of marine environmental protection. China had also disagreed with the Australian proposal, he noted.

Mr Teo added that Singapore naval ships and aircraft also work together in the Gulf of Aden with ships from the navies of China, the United States, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) members, Japan, South Korea and other countries, to ensure sea lanes there remain safe from piracy.

Similarly, “working together to keep the key sea lanes open and safe for shipping from all countries, and for all countries, is a key prerequisite for the modern Maritime Silk Road”, he noted.

Yesterday, 10 agreements in areas such as finance and tech- nology were signed between Business China and various Chinese organisations.

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