VIEWING China as a location for low-cost production is outdated, said experts at a Singapore-China business forum.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore should now focus on the opportunities from the huge and growing consumer market, and the rapid pace of urbanisation in the country, they added.
He said: "Don't look at China for cheap production any more... Analyse the huge local market, and be prepared to spend some time and go there to see for yourself."
Mr Chua Kay Chuan, deputy chief executive of Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City Investment and Develop-ment Co, said it is important to consider the diversity in China.
"China is a huge country with varied and diverse regions... The north, the south and even the Yangtze Delta all have different characteristics, and are at different stages of development.''
The two men were speaking on the sidelines of the Singapore-China Business Forum, organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and held at its Hill Street headquarters on Thursday.
The forum discussed opportunities that local SMEs can tap in six Singapore-China joint-venture mega projects, such as the China-Singapore Jilin Food Zone and Sino-Singapore Nanjing Eco Hi-tech Island.
Speaking in Mandarin, SCCCI president Thomas Chua told the forum that the projects are like big ships "sailing the vast oceans of the China market".
"SMEs should learn how to leverage on the strengths of others in overseas expansion... If SMEs wish to reduce problems of navigating the China market, they can certainly utilise the advantages and conducive conditions of these huge liners," he said.
Mr Chua said that with rapid urbanisation in the country, Singapore SMEs can look at ways of supporting industries such as services, or even e-commerce.
Both Mr Chin and Mr Chua Kay Chuan echoed the views expressed by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say at a Business China event last week.
Mr Lim said Singapore's "linguistic and cultural affinity" with China is a head start but this advantage alone is not enough. He added that firms should capitalise on the growing markets in China.
Mr Chin agreed that while having a shared culture and language could help "break the ice" in negotiations, it is no longer enough to seal the deal.
He said: "It is now much more transparent... You can no longer hope to settle deals just because you speak the same language, or by buying someone a drink - you really need to have solid value to offer to the market."
Mr Chua Kay Chuan also said businesses in China are now much more professional and similar to Singapore firms in that they seek alignment in business - rather than personal - interests.