THE interest of China's cities in working with Singapore will survive into the next decade only if the city state keeps abreast of them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He cited China's rapid development as an example of the large and fast changes taking place all around, which Singaporeans must be aware of and take into account as they meet to talk about their dreams for the future, as part of the Singapore Conversation.

In his speech to PAP activists at the party conference, Mr Lee said: "We are small and we are open and the changes happening around us are so large and so fast that they're going to have a huge impact on Singapore.

"We must factor them into our conversations for us to have any chance of making realistic plans and achieving what we dream of."

He recounted his visit to Tianjin last year. It is the site of a flagship Sino-Singapore project known as the Tianjin Eco-city.

Tianjin has 15 million people. Its mayor told Mr Lee he planned to increase the city's population to 25 million, essentially "adding two Singapores".

He would do so by attracting bright people from other parts of China. His plan was to target those who sit the national university entrance exam but fail to get into the institution of their choice, and offer them a chance for a good education in Tianjin.

His aim: to grow Tianjin into a city that can rival Beijing and Shanghai in the future.

Yesterday, Mr Lee said: "There are many other cities like Tianjin in China, with big ambitions. Today they want to cooperate with us, they think there is something valuable to learn from Singapore.

"Ten years from now, what will the situation be? That depends on where we will be, at the same level, abreast of them. That depends on us, whether we make the effort."

In thinking of what they want in the future, Singaporeans also need to think of the world their children would be living in. It is about "gearing ourselves to do well in that future world".