Exclusive interview with Tony Du Zhi Qiang, president of Singapore Tian Fu Association
By China Report ASEAN
BEIJING, Sept. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In recent years, southwest China’s Sichuan Province has accelerated its transition from an inland hinterland to a frontier of opening-up. Major national strategies such as the Chengdu-Chongqing Twin City Economic Circle and the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor converge and overlap in Sichuan, providing new opportunities for overseas Chinese to invest in new businesses there. Today, Singapore is the second largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Sichuan. Statistics showed that by the end of 2022, Singapore had set up 737 foreign-invested enterprises (institutions) in Sichuan, with a total FDI of US$4.18 billion.
The Singapore Tian Fu Association was the first new immigrants’ association founded locally after the establishment of China-Singapore diplomatic relations. Its founding members were mainly immigrants from Sichuan. Since its establishment, the association has actively integrated into local society and participated in various exchange activities, playing an important role in strengthening the business cooperation and personnel exchange between Chinese (especially Sichuan) and Singaporean enterprises.
At the beginning of this year, the Singapore Tian Fu Association organized a tour to take more than 30 of its members to Chengdu, Mianyang, and other Sichuan cities to engage in economic activities, trade, and cultural exchange. According to Tony Du Zhi Qiang, president of the association, more than 10 members have invested in new businesses in Sichuan.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the BRI, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Du on the advantages of Sichuan in China–Singapore economic and trade cooperation and the role of overseas Chinese in China–Singapore cooperation.
China Report ASEAN: The Singapore Tian Fu Association was the first new immigrants’ association to be founded locally after the establishment of China-Singapore diplomatic relations. Could you please describe how it came to be?
Du: I came to Singapore in 1991 to work in the Hup Heng Poultry Industries Pte Ltd. As a workshop manager, I worked and lived alongside other workers, doing everything from chicken slaughtering to equipment maintenance. I signed a contract with the company to work for eight hours a day, but my actual work hours were more than 12 hours every day. In Singapore, where labor was in short supply at that time, my labor skills were unanimously recognized. Many people asked me to recommend more skilled Chinese workers to work in Singapore. Within the next month, I introduced more than 50 workers from Sichuan to Singapore. Many of them quickly became the backbones of their companies.
I felt a strong demand for talent in Singapore and a business opportunity there. So I decided to set up my own business specializing in human resources. In 1994, I founded Asia-Link Technology Pte Ltd, Singapore’s first HR company founded by a Chinese person. I introduced Chinese workers to work in Singapore while also providing the necessary resources for Singaporean enterprises seeking to invest in China. Later, to help the new Chinese immigrants integrate into Singaporean society more quickly, I got the idea to establish an overseas Chinese social organization. In 2000, the Singapore Tian Fu Association was officially registered as the first new immigrants’ association founded locally.
China Report ASEAN: What role does the Singapore Tian Fu Association play in China–Singapore exchanges?
Du: The association serves new immigrants from various sectors living and working in Singapore by providing them a platform for communication and learning and helping them better integrate into the local multi-racial society. It has also built a bridge of cultural, scientific, technological, and commercial exchanges between the two countries and promoted information exchange and communication among its members.
The association has also actively responded to various commercial, trade, and exchange activities in Sichuan Province. With active participation from the association, Singapore and the Sichuan provincial government established the Singapore-Sichuan Trade and Investment Committee, which has organized events for investment promotion, science and technology exchange, and investment projects, building a bridge for people-to-people exchange and economic cooperation between the two countries. The association also looks after the people’s well-being in its native land. Over the years, it has organized donations of cash and supplies for the victims of the snow disaster in southern China in 2008, the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and the Ya’an earthquake in 2013. It donated funds to construct a school in Luojiang District, Deyang City. It provides long-term assistance for students of impoverished families in Luojiang and Ya’an. It also donated to the Shitai Township Primary school in Zitong County, Mianyang City, and established the Li Shiying Award & Scholarship as an “Overseas Chinese Love Project.”
China Report ASEAN: At the beginning of this year, the Singapore Tian Fu Association organized a fact-finding tour of Sichuan for its members. What did you think about it?
Du: Over the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for overseas Chinese to communicate with the people in China in person, but it has not blocked the desire of the enterprises and people of the two countries to get to know each other and strengthen exchanges. With the adjustment of pandemic response measures, the Sichuan provincial government invited more than 30 Singaporean Chinese businessmen from the sectors of finance, construction, and banking on a five-day fact-finding tour of Chengdu, Mianyang, and other destinations in the province. We found that Singapore and Sichuan Province have extensive cooperation opportunities in developing microelectronic equipment hardware and new energy development. Several association members conducted in-depth discussions with local enterprises during the trip. We expect cooperation projects in the three major fields of food processing, medicine, and science and technology to materialize.
Fact-finding tours like this help us gain a deeper understanding of local policies and enable us to conduct face-to-face discussions that are beneficial for cooperation between entrepreneurs from the two countries. I think that China’s improved economic situation will attract more overseas Chinese businessmen to seek cooperation in China and that more transnational projects will materialize. The Singapore Tian Fu Association will play the active role as a bridge in bilateral economic and trade cooperation.
China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 45th anniversary of reform and opening-up in China. What do you think of the development and changes over the last 45 years?
Du: I enrolled in college right after the college entrance examination was resumed in China in 1977. I came to Singapore in 1991. I have witnessed the tremendous changes in China over the last 45 years of reform and opening-up first hand. In the 1980s and 90s, China was still lagging far behind Western countries in many ways and had a strong desire to open the market and attract foreign investment. Since then, epoch-making changes have taken place in China, which now leads the world in telecommunications, high-speed rails, and many other areas. The achievements of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are there for all to see and marvel at.
Overseas Chinese have enjoyed the “dividends” of China’s reform and opening-up. They also shoulder the responsibility of promoting the development of their native country. Overseas Chinese should play a role as a “bridge” between China and foreign countries and contribute to promoting economic and people-to-people exchanges. For me, I will continue to contribute to the friendship and cooperation between China and Singapore by promoting talent exchange between the two countries. At the same time, I think overseas Chinese social organizations should further develop and enhance their influence as hubs and cores of overseas Chinese communities to contribute more to the development of their native country.
China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI. What do you think of the achievements that China and Singapore have achieved in Belt and Road cooperation?
Du: Thanks to its strategic location as a crossroads between East and West, Singapore will assume an even more important role as a southbound channel for Chinese enterprises to expand their overseas markets. It will also be able to support the advancement of the BRI in finance, law and international affairs. At the same time, Singapore can benefit from its participation in the Belt and Road projects alongside other countries along the routes and enjoy common development and prosperity.
Over the last 33 years of diplomatic relations, China has become Singapore’s largest trading partner, while Singapore has become China’s largest source of new foreign investment. Against the backdrop of the volatile global economic situation, the achievements have not come easily. The BRI has proposed a number of mutually beneficial projects. To make all these things happen, I think we should not only cultivate more talent, but also get to know more about the laws and regulations of the relevant countries. To achieve steady and long-term development, we must stay dedicated to the cause while standing fully prepared for danger in times of peace.
China Report ASEAN: This April, China and Singapore announced that they would upgrade their bilateral relations to “an all-round high-quality future-oriented partnership.” In what areas are you most interested for future cooperation?
Du: Talent is crucial for economic development. Nowadays, more and more overseas talent has been attracted by China’s excellent business environment. In the process of building the Chengdu-Chongqing Twin City Economic Circle, talent has been of great significance for innovation resource agglomeration, key technological breakthroughs, industrial structure optimization, and high-quality development.
I’m ready to contribute more to the development of my native land. I am also happy to assist Chinese companies seeking to invest in Singapore. In the future, the Singapore Tian Fu Association will continue to play a role as a bridge and link to the world’s most advanced technology, management modes, and development experience. We will try to help more Sichuan enterprises “go global” and provide services to outstanding Singaporean enterprises seeking to invest in China. I hope that our efforts will promote economic and people-to-people exchanges as well as production capacity cooperation between Sichuan and Singapore and other countries and regions along the Belt and Road.