Speech by Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
2016 was a tumultuous year for the world and a very busy year for MFA staff. The previous global consensus on the benefits of free trade and, on economic integration is broken. And unfortunately, political discourse in many countries, unlike in this House, has become increasingly nationalistic, anti-incumbent and even sometimes xenophobic. The threat from terrorism, radicalism and extremism has increased, and new media has also amplified this threat far and wide.
Quite frankly, we have to anticipate even more of such external challenges and challenges that will test our resolve, our unity and our agility. As a small city state, Singapore has no option. Isolation and protectionism is not an option for us. In fact, the world is even more interconnected than ever before. So we have actually to double down on globalisation. The economic headwinds and the global protectionist sentiments are not going to go away soon, and they will have serious implications on our trade-dependent economy. We are probably the only country where our trade volume is three and a half times our GDP. So for us, free trade is not a debating point – it is our lifeblood. So if you think about it, the larger context of this budget debate, of the COS, and of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) is that we have to enhance the competitive position of Singapore and Singaporeans. That is the only way we can survive and thrive in this uncertain world. Add to that, the fact that major power interactions and rivalry will impact the region, and will impact us and we have seen evidence of that.
So the question, therefore, that all of you have posed is: How will we navigate these challenges? Our fundamental realities remain. We are still a tiny island in an uncertain neighbourhood, we still have to try our best to build a wide network of friends. We have to be a relevant, valuable, reliable partner, and at the same time, be realistic about our place in the world. As former British PM and Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston once pointed out, nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.
Our key foreign policy principles therefore have not changed. First, we conduct an independent sovereign foreign policy in order to safeguard our independence and the interests of all Singaporeans. Second, we promote ASEAN unity and centrality. And third, we have to remain committed to a rules-based international system.
Finally, foreign policy begins at home. And the effectiveness of our foreign policy depends on us being a successful nation-state and on the continued support of a united citizenry. And one point which I want to commend today – I’ve listened to the very thoughtful speeches from Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Pritam Singh, and I am grateful for the bipartisan support that we have in this House. This unity of purpose is essential for us to pursue our foreign policy goals in this uncertain and volatile environment.
So all the Members of this House understand and appreciate these key tenets of our policy.
Maintaining our Long-Term Value Proposition and Relevance to Other Countries
Many of you have asked questions on Singapore’s long term value proposition and the relevance of Singapore to other countries. Ms Sun Xueling asked about Singapore-China relations. Mr Cedric Foo asked about US-Singapore relations under the new Trump Administration. Mr Amrin Amin, Mr Chia Shi Lu have asked for updates on our relations with Malaysia and Indonesia. All of these are key relationships.
Let me deal first with China. Singapore has been a steadfast and longstanding friend of China. Our bilateral relationship, right now, I will describe it as in “good working order”. In November 2015, when President Xi Jinping came here, we signed an agreement which characterised our relationship as an ‘All Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times’. Putting aside the words, the point is historically, our relationship has been built on the strong foundations laid by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping.
And over the decades, Singapore has supported and demonstrated in action and investment in China’s peaceful development and its progressive engagement of the region and the international community. And we do so because we believe that China’s success is good first for the citizens of China. It is also good for the region and it is good for us.
I am always amazed that tiny Singapore currently is China’s largest foreign investor, and we have been so since 2013. China is Singapore’s largest trading partner, also since 2013.
Several Cabinet members including myself just accompanied DPM Teo to Beijing. We came back just two days ago. We attended the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). It was a very good meeting and it gave both sides opportunities to explore ways to deepen cooperation especially in this flagship project of President Xi Jinping’s, the “One Belt and One Road” initiative. I also had a very good meeting with my counterpart, and I can say that this again is a reflection of the deep resilient nature of our relationship.
Our third and latest Government-to-Government project, the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, has been designated a priority demonstration project for the “Belt and Road”, and will play a catalytic role in linking up Western China – both to Southeast Asia as well as across to Central Asia and beyond.
Besides the JCBC, we also have candid exchanges and sharing of experiences through established platforms such as the China-Singapore Forum on Leadership; and the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum.
The various projects, the business engagements, the people-to-people ties – you’ve heard 2.8 million Chinese tourists to Singapore and I think for us, it would be 800,000 or so Singaporeans who have travelled to China in a year. The high frequency of interactions at senior leadership level have conferred a very high degree of resilience and I would add strategic trust in our relationship.
Therefore, even when we have differences over some issues, as I said in an earlier session, we should not overreact and we should, in a sense, anticipate that these incidents are not unusual even amongst close friends and neighbours, and we must recognise that our shared interests far exceed these differences. So we must not be distracted from the larger strategic imperatives or allow incidents to derail the substantive, longstanding and mutually-beneficial cooperation.
SMS Josephine Teo will elaborate on the more specific details of our relationship with China, as well as give you an update on the JCBC after this.
Let me turn now to the US. There is a new Administration. It is settling in. There’s always a period of uncertainty, a period of adjustment that goes on both domestically when a new Administration takes over, and also at the international level. Basically because the US is such an important superpower.
As far as Singapore is concerned, we believe that our many decades of consistent policies and interactions with the US, have created trust and I believe they consider us a reliable partner. I am confident that we will be creative and adaptable in developing win-win partnerships with the US even as President Trump pursues a new set of policies.
We have had a strong and enduring base of relations for the last 51 years. These mutually-beneficial ties have spanned five Republican and four Democratic Administrations. On the economic front, the US is Singapore’s 4th largest trading partner in goods and our top trading partner in services. The US is also Singapore’s largest foreign direct investor. And Singapore is the US’ 4th largest Asian investor (after Japan, Australia and the ROK).
On the defence front, our Air Force has training detachments in Texas, Idaho and Arizona. The US is a significant user of both Changi Naval Base and Paya Lebar Air Base. And Singapore also supports the rotational deployment of US Littoral Combat Ships and P8 Poseidon aircraft. These fundamentals of our relationship remain unchanged and their value is recognised by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.
Similarly, the strategic and economic imperatives that have underpinned America’s longstanding engagement of our region actually remain unchanged. We have to constantly look for new areas of convergence for win-win cooperation with the US. So for instance, one of the more recent things we are working on is cybersecurity, and we signed an MOU on Cybersecurity in 2016.
Mr Nair and Mr Low Thia Khiang also asked some searching questions about how the relationship between China and the US will impact Singapore. And indeed, this is the key bilateral relationship that will affect peace, security and prosperity in our region and indeed in the world.
Whilst competition between the US and China is inevitable, but what is different in historical terms is that never before have two powers been so interdependent, so intertwined economically. Even in the depths of the Cold War, remember, that the American and Russian economies were never intertwined to the same degree that the US and Chinese economy is. So therefore, we hope that both sides, after they have measured these imperatives will come back to the same conclusion that a constructive engagement and win-win cooperation is the right formula. If they can achieve this, this will provide space for countries in the region, including Singapore, to be part of a common circle of friends, and achieve win-win outcomes for all.
This is in fact a key reason why for the last 51 years, Southeast Asia, in particular the founding members of ASEAN, have enjoyed peace, security, prosperity over the last five decades. So we hope that they would arrive at this conclusion. But we should also bear in mind that we have no say. We cannot determine the dynamics of that relationship. Mr Low asked, “what do we do, if they don’t get along”. And the answer, is that number one, we have no say. Number two, we should avoid being forced to choose sides for as long as possible.
The third point is that we must always remain an honest broker. What that means is, whatever I tell the Secretary of State of the US, I must also be prepared to take the same consistent position with the Foreign Minister of China. I don’t say two different things and hope that they never compare notes. We have to be clear, consistent and transparent in our communications. And then the other point is to try to do as much as possible on a bilateral basis with both China and the US and if possible, in third party projects in other parts of the world. So again it is a matter of maintaining strategic consistency while having tactical agility. And I don’t want to trivialise and say that this will be very easy, it won’t be, but watch this space, we will come back to you and update you as things progress and I hope all members of the House including the Opposition will continue to support MFA.
Now, closer to home, our relationship with Malaysia is actually as good as it ever has been. More recently, we reached a milestone by signing the Agreement on the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) in December 2016. And this is a landmark agreement that will transform the way both countries interact and do business. It will bring our two peoples and economies even closer together. In addition to the HSR, we are also looking to sign a bilateral agreement on the Singapore-JB Rapid Transit System (RTS) this year. The RTS will improve the flow of people and business between Singapore and Johor, and bring both sides closer together. On the whole, our bilateral relations are excellent. Other than these connectivity initiatives, the economic, the people-to-people ties remain strong. We will continue to cooperate on security, defence and counter-terrorism.
Mr Baey Yam Keng asked about the Pedra Branca case and how this impacts our bilateral relations. Part of what underpins our good relations with Malaysia is a commitment by both sides to resolve disagreements amicably in accordance with international law, while allowing mutually-beneficial cooperation to continue in the meantime. So you will recall that in 2003, Singapore and Malaysia agreed to submit the case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca, Middle Rocks, and South Ledge to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its judgment dated 23 May 2008, the ICJ found that sovereignty for Pedra Branca belonged to Singapore, sovereignty over Middle Rocks belonged to Malaysia, and sovereignty over South Ledge belonged to the State in the territorial waters of which it is located. On 2 February 2017, Malaysia applied for a revision of the judgment under Article 61 of the ICJ’s Statute.
Under Article 61, an application for a revision of judgment must satisfy several criteria. These criteria include: first, it must be based upon the discovery of facts which were unknown to the court and to the party claiming revision when judgment was first given. And these newly-discovered facts must be decisive, and of such a character as to lay the case open to revision. An application for revision must also be made at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact, and within ten years of when the judgment was given.
Our legal team has studied Malaysia’s application carefully, including the three documents relied on by Malaysia to support its application. Our legal team strongly believes that the documents relied on by Malaysia do not satisfy the criteria under Article 61. We will submit to the ICJ our comprehensive and compelling rebuttal to Malaysia’s application by 14 June, which is the time limit fixed by the ICJ.
We are confident of our legal team and our case. We are very fortunate to still have Professor Jayakumar, and we have Senior Judge Chan Sek Keong, and Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh who led our original Pedra Branca team. They are also working very hard now, very enthusiastically, I may add. They are also working with a younger team of bright legal minds in AGC. This way, we are also using this episode as an opportunity to build up expertise and experience in the next generation. Succession again. This is important as I am sure there will be more international legal issues in future. And equally, we must ensure that the same whole-of-government spirit of unity prevails. These are crucial ingredients in order for Singapore to punch above our weight at international fora. Singapore is committed to resolving this issue amicably and in accordance with international law.
Bilateral relations with Malaysia therefore are good, will remain good, and we will continue with all our mutually-beneficial bilateral programmes. Singaporeans should not be disconcerted by these developments, because even with the best of diplomatic and personal relationships, we must expect other states to act in their own self-interests.
Our relations with Indonesia are also strong. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Jokowi (Joko Widodo) had a successful Leaders’ Retreat in Semarang last November. They jointly witnessed the opening of the Kendal Industrial Park, and agreed to set up an Indonesia-Singapore Business Council and to explore cooperation in the energy and tourism sectors.
The positive and stable partnership that we have enjoyed in recent times has been mutually-beneficial. Business ties and tourism continue to grow. Singapore remained Indonesia’s top foreign investor in 2016.
This year, we celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with Indonesia. The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Ibu Retno Marsudi, and I jointly announced the start of these celebrations last month during her official visit to Singapore.
We also marked a milestone in bilateral relations through the exchange of instruments of ratification for the Eastern Boundary Treaty on 10 February 2017. This was a demonstration of how both countries can work together to resolve bilateral issues in areas of mutual interest, in accordance with international law. This is an important principle that both sides share, because as neighbours, we must expect disagreements to arise from time to time, but what matters is how we resolve these disagreements.
Singapore and Brunei, of course, share a long-standing and a special relationship, anchored in deep mutual trust and respect, which has been built up over decades, over generations of leaders. This is epitomised by the Currency Interchangeability Agreement, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. We will continue to build on this special relationship with the younger generation of Bruneian leaders though platforms like the Singapore-Brunei Young Leaders Programme.
More broadly, Southeast Asia is our immediate hinterland. And as many of you have said, ASEAN serves a crucial role as the main platform for regional cooperation. ASEAN has kept our region peaceful and allowed our Member States to focus on growing our economies and improving the lives of our people. Dr Teo Ho Pin, Mr Liang Eng Hwa, and Mr Low Thia Khiang asked very timely and important questions about ASEAN’s relevance, the pace of integration, the future of ASEAN unity and the key achievements as we celebrate its 50th anniversary. Mr Cedric Foo and others also asked about our coordinatorship of ASEAN-China dialogue relations.
ASEAN enables us to more effectively shape our external environment and to have our views taken into account by bigger players. In an often turbulent world, ASEAN is, as Mr Low puts it, Singapore’s anchor and a cornerstone of our foreign policy.
ASEAN has a strong value proposition. We are now already the seventh largest economy in the world and barring any mishaps, we are projected to become the fourth largest economy by 2050. Today we have 628 million people, our combined GDP US$ 2.5 trillion, and by sometime between 2030 to 2050 we hope that this will quadruple to US$10 trillion. What’s important also is that we will have the third largest labour force in the world, and more important than that, more than half of the population of ASEAN is under the age of 30. So we have a demographic dividend that is not yet harvested.
To maintain our relevance, ASEAN must continue to be neutral, united, and committed to an open and inclusive regional architecture, and that means that we will continue to consolidate and to deepen our economic integration. We adopted the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the three Community Blueprints in 2015.
We must do more to help Singaporeans better understand and to identify with ASEAN. We must also explore ways for ASEAN to ride the technological wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We will continue to partner with organisations like the Singapore Business Federation and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to help our businesses maximise the economic opportunities that ASEAN presents.
We will also work closely with the Philippines to ensure the success of its Chairmanship this year, and to begin preparations for our own ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018.
It is important that we strive for an integrated, outward-looking and confident ASEAN. To that end, we also hope to build new links with other regional organisations, for instance the Pacific Alliance and the Eurasian Economic Union.
At the same time, the events unfolding in the EU are also a salutary reminder for us not to reprise their problems, and ASEAN must remain pragmatic and practical in managing the pace and the scale of the implementation of our economic integration. The sequence, the pace and the scale - the implementation of all of these are very important.
ASEAN’s cohesion and unity, to be frank with you, have been tested by difficult issues, not only just last year but many times before. Nonetheless, we have endured and we have even thrived over the past 5 decades.
Looking ahead, I can tell you that ASEAN will become more, not less, critical to our foreign policy. I totally support Dr Teo Ho Pin’s three suggestions on strengthening unity, promoting partnerships between businesses and encouraging more people to people ties.
Now let me turn to our role as the dialogue relations coordinator between ASEAN and China. Again I want to stress that we have to be honest brokers and we have to do our best to manage this strategic partnership based on mutual benefit and respect. We upgraded the ASEAN-China FTA in 2015 and we facilitated a successful and substantive ASEAN-China 25th Anniversary Commemorative Summit last year. We will continue advancing other initiatives such as enhancing connectivity and making progress on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea in the remaining one and a half years of our coordinatorship.
Relations with other countries - Japan, India, Australia and the EU - are also important, and I am glad to report that relations are also good and will deepen.
We commemorated 50 years of diplomatic relations with Japan in 2016. We had a series of high-level exchanges including a State Visit by President Tony Tan. We are working towards upgrading the Japan-Singapore Economic Partnership Agreement and our Air Services Agreement, and we hope to strengthen bilateral cooperation in air, land and sea transport and infrastructure through the inaugural Vice-Ministerial Transport Forum this year.
In India, steady progress has been made under the Strategic Partnership signed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited us in November 2015. The Strategic Partnership has allowed us to broaden and to deepen relations in diverse areas, both at the central level as well as in selected states in India.
And this was reaffirmed during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to India in October 2016, when he launched the Centre of Excellence for Tourism Training (CETT) in Udaipur. The master-planning of Andhra Pradesh’s new capital city, Amaravati, by Singapore experts has been completed, and a Singapore Consortium is now bidding to be a participant in the “seed development” of this brand new city.
Singapore has a close and longstanding bilateral relationship with Australia. This was elevated in June 2015 with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP), and this is a substantive undertaking with over 40 bilateral initiatives that will be delivered through the period to 2025.
We have moved quickly to implement the CSP. Key agreements were signed during PM’s visit to Australia in October 2016. The MOU on Military Training and Training Area Development gives the SAF significant enhanced access to training areas in Australia over the next 25 years. Areas which, I may add, are multiples the size of Singapore. This will add significantly towards addressing the SAF’s evolving training requirements.
The upgrade to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement is expected to come into force this year. It will create many more opportunities for Singapore businesses and professionals to access the Australian markets.
Brexit notwithstanding, we continue to engage Europe and the EU, for example through the EU-Singapore FTA. Yes, it has been delayed by certain legal hurdles that we have to go through, but so far all the countries that we have engaged within Europe have expressed support for this free trade agreement. We are also working on the EU-ASEAN Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement.
Singapore will also continue to seek economic links and opportunities for our companies in emerging markets such as Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, and SMS Maliki will elaborate on this, after I finish my contribution. But let me just say the following short points on the Middle East.
We are one of few countries that engages in a principled way with all of the protagonists in the Middle East. In the short one and a half years I have been here, I have accompanied the PM to Jordan, to Israel and to Ramallah, under the Palestine National Authority (PNA). We have gone to the Temple Mount, visited the Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, been welcomed by all parties. And it is amazing again if you think about it: us, tiny little Singapore is welcomed by all parties. I believe we have this special position because we take a principled position. And we also work in a win-win way to support all parties. So for instance, with the Palestinians we have extended our technical assistance with the PNA. But more importantly I think one of the key secret ingredients is the fact that Singapore itself, is a successful model of multi-racial multi-religious integration. Because that gives us a special moral standing to be able to engage, and to speak, and to interact with all parties. Very few countries have this special role that we have.
And so, apart from all these engagements, bilateral and regional, we need to continue to support international groupings and arrangements. These arrangements increase opportunities for Singapore companies and Singapore to do more in the face of a world which is sometimes at risk of insularism and protectionism.
We will work towards the expeditious conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and will continue to further the development of the ASEAN Economic Community. We will explore ways to take the TPP forward, despite the US’ withdrawal.
PM attended the G20 Summit in China last year at President Xi’s invitation, and he will attend the G20 Summit in Hamburg in July this year at German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s invitation. This will be the seventh time that Singapore is invited to attend a G20 Summit.
An Independent Foreign Policy
The next aspect that I want to talk about is about how we pursue an independent foreign policy. This means having a foreign policy that serves Singapore and Singaporeans’ interests first and foremost.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin spoke about the importance of a rules-based international system. And this is critical for a small state like Singapore. And you asked how we can strengthen the multilateral system. As a small country, the rule of law is crucial for our survival. The UN, and other international organisations and fora are key components of a rules-based international system. They create a stable framework for cooperation, for managing tensions and addressing global trans-boundary problems. The multilateral system must become more inclusive, more transparent. Global solutions must have broad-based support from countries to be effective. On our part we play our role by initiating or by catalysing the work of organisations like the Forum of Small States (FOSS), that we actually initiated, and the Global Governance Group (3G), and we work closely with many other small states to have a greater collective voice on the international stage.
We also contribute to the multilateral system through technical assistance to developing countries. I think we have trained over 112,000 officials from many other countries because they want to understand how Singapore works, and how these lessons can be brought back home. And humanitarian assistance is important and we do contribute when there are disasters and actually it is this training, this development that makes a longer term impact on many other countries.
Foreign Policy Begins at Home
Finally, I want to stress and repeat that foreign policy begins at home. We need the support and understanding of a united citizenry. Ms Joan Pereira’s question about how MFA can better engage the public on Singapore’s foreign policy is very timely.
While MFA takes the lead in foreign policy, the issues are becoming more complex and cross-cutting in nature. Other Ministries and government agencies play an increasingly vital role in Singapore’s external front. MFA must therefore act as a coordinator to work closely with other Ministries and agencies to pursue a ‘Whole of Government’ foreign policy and to strengthen our domestic resilience in the face of an uncertain and sometimes hostile external environment.
This also means convincing Singaporeans of the need for consistent and principled diplomacy for our long term interests instead of taking the path of least resistance in order to achieve short term gains. The events of the last six months actually is a reminder of this. And I am grateful for the support of Singaporeans and of members of this House.
So we will continue to work with all stakeholders to raise awareness amongst our fellow Singaporeans of the stakes for us, of the principles behind our policy, and of the sometimes difficult positions that we have to take, despite the pressures we will face from time to time.
Terrorism still remains a real and present threat. This is evidenced by the high-profile attacks in parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, and we are actually at even higher risk, even as ISIS loses its strong hold in the Middle East. So MFA and MHA will continue to monitor security and terrorist threats, and we stand ready to assist Singaporeans in distress overseas. We have had Singaporeans injured or otherwise involved in terrorist incidents overseas. Singaporeans are one of the most widely travelled people in the world. One of our top challenges is to strengthen our consular assistance. Dr Maliki will elaborate more on this later on.
A united citizenry allows us to pursue effective foreign policy. We may be small, but the unity of our people is a source of strength. Our stability, our consistency,our reliability are all the more valuable in an increasingly fractious world, and people respect Singapore for that. Such respect is hard-earned, but it allows our voice to be amplified and heard on the international stage.
I am grateful to Dr Teo Ho Pin and Mr Pritam Singh for your support for the staff of MFA and for adequate resources to be provided in the light of all these challenges. I totally agree with you that MFA staff must be well staffed and must be well resourced. Our MFA officers actually are the real key assets. Our budget may be, I think, the second smallest or the smallest budget of all the ministries but I think you will agree with me it is the staff of MFA.
We have a rigorous selection system. We continue to recruit high-quality people. But we also provide continuous training to nurture our staff and to develop their leadership potential. We also regularly review our manpower resources and our work functions to ensure that this precious manpower is deployed in an optimal way.
The work in MFA is very demanding and very labour-intensive and eats up all hours of the day and night. Our officers work under very challenging conditions and at great cost to their personal and perhaps even more so to their family lives. I would like to express my appreciation especially to the spouses, of MFA staff and to the children who probably have absentee parents because their parents are out there looking after the longer term interests of our nation and they sacrifice so much for Singaporeans.
But our officers have proven themselves to be dedicated and professional. They are driven by their mission to advance the interests of Singapore. They understand our vulnerabilities and what we need to do in order to remain relevant. I think Members of this House who have ever travelled with MFA staff - I am very sure you can attest to their professionalism and their hard work and I want to thank Members of the House for your continued support of MFA.
Let me conclude. The events of the past year have been a stark reminder of the reality that Singapore faces. But it has also provided lessons on how we can overcome these challenges. I think in a way, the pressure that we have come under has made us stronger and more united. So we will face another year of uncertainty ahead, MFA will continue to enhance Singapore’s long-term value proposition and relevance to other countries; we will maintain our commitment to an independent and principled foreign policy in a rules-based global order; we will continue to work with all Members of this House to build a deeper appreciation of the hard truths that underpin our foreign policy.
Speech by Senior Minister of State Mrs Josephine Teo
Thank you Mr Chairman.
Strengthening Engagement with Neighbours in the Region
Let me start by addressing Mr Liang Eng Hwa’s question on links with fellow ASEAN countries.
We have kept up strong links with our Southeast Asian partners through high-level exchanges. Last year, we hosted visits by newly inaugurated leaders such as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang and Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Often at the request of our friends, we shared our developmental experiences in diverse areas. For example, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is keen to relocate street hawkers and upgrade wet markets in Yangon. Therefore, when Minister Vivian hosted her to breakfast, the location was at Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre so that Daw Suu could experience a typical Singapore hawker centre for herself.
Besides hosting incoming visits, our leaders make regular visits to ASEAN neighbours. These include President Dr Tony Tan’s recent State Visits to Cambodia and Laos and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s introductory visits to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
In October last year, both President and Prime Minister visited Thailand to pay their last respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Reflecting our strong people-to-people ties, many Singaporeans joined in to mourn the revered late King. Our leaders also warmly congratulated the new King` Maha Vajiralongkorn when he was anointed.
Mr Baey Yam Keng asked about strengthening our economic ties with Southeast Asian countries and how businesses can help. We made good progress on this last year. For example, Singapore and Myanmar mutually lifted visa requirements last December. There are now no visa requirements for all ASEAN nationals travelling to Singapore.
Similarly with Laos, the launch of SilkAir’s direct flights last October, along with the implementation of the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement this January, will create more opportunities for trade and investment. I also made a working visit to Vietnam in July 2016 to explore opportunities for our companies to invest in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and to promote further liberalisation of our bilateral Air Services Agreement.
We encourage businesses to seek out opportunities for trade and investment in all our ASEAN neighbours. Their projects add substance to our relations. Businesses should also respect the laws and local officials of their host countries and strive to be good partners. If I may add, countries from outside the region are increasingly keen to partner Singapore companies for projects in Southeast Asia because of the local knowledge and the familiarity with these markets. These partnerships are the best way to ensure that Singaporeans and Singapore companies continue to be welcomed and ties between our countries continue to grow.
Deepening Engagement with Key Partners
Relations with China
I will now elaborate on Minister Vivian’s comments on our cooperation with China and address Ms Sun Xueling’s question on navigating the opportunities and challenges in our bilateral relations with China.
Singapore has been a steadfast and longstanding partner and friend of China.
Several Ministers and I have just returned from Beijing where the 13th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) co-chaired by DPM Teo Chee Hean and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli was just concluded. Vice Premier Zhang and the Chinese leaders we met called Singapore an “old and good friend” of China.
The size of the delegations on both sides and the range of agencies involved show just how broad our cooperation is. Especially in economic cooperation, the ties are also very deep. Since 2013, Singapore has been China’s largest foreign investor and China our largest trading partner.
Financial cooperation has also deepened. Singapore is now one of the largest offshore RMB centres outside Greater China.
All three of our Government-to-Government (G-to-G) projects, namely the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city and the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity (or Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, CCI in short), have supported China’s developmental priorities at different stages of their growth.
At the JCBC meeting, both sides agreed that China’s Belt and Road initiative presents new areas for fruitful cooperation such as in infrastructure development and third-country capacity-building.
In particular, the CCI serves as a priority demonstration project for the Belt and Road initiative by developing transport corridors linking Western China and Southeast Asia. Apart from physical connectivity, we are discussing ways to enhance financial connectivity to support the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s initiatives, as well as human resource development to uplift capabilities in countries along the Belt and Road. I will elaborate on these areas in Mandarin.
Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please.
[English Translation: Singapore has been a steadfast and longstanding partner and friend of China. Bilateral relations started long before the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1990. The warm and longstanding friendship between our two countries owes much to the foundation laid by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping and the continued efforts by successive generations of leaders and officials from both sides.]
[English Translation: I was fortunate to have been involved in building our relations with China from a fairly early stage. As a young EDB officer in the mid-1990s, I was posted to Suzhou for two years to help develop the SIP project. The early days were fraught with difficulties. But the process of working through many challenges together made our relationship more resilient.]
[English Translation: Today, the SIP is one of China’s top development zones and townships, and a model for other industrial parks. I have also made many good Chinese friends and we still keep in touch.]
[English Translation: When I was CEO of Business China, I saw first-hand the foresight of our leaders. With guidance from Mr Lee Kuan Yew, many Ministers contributed to efforts to groom a bilingual and bicultural group of Singaporeans who could understand and interact effectively with China.]
[English Translation: In MFA since late 2015, I now see the intensity of our engagements from another lens. We have one embassy and four consulates-general in Mainland China, which is the highest number of overseas missions we have in a single country.]
[English Translation: The regularity of high-level visits and the frequency of bilateral consultations with China is also unmatched by any other country.]
[English Translation: I am glad that these exchanges with Chinese officials and cadres are continuing. For example, the China-Singapore Forum on Leadership was launched in 2009 and has held five meetings thus far. The co-chairs of the Forum on Leadership DPM Teo and Central Organisation Department Minister Zhao Leji met recently in Beijing at the sidelines of the JCBC. They agreed that the exchanges at the Forum on Leadership are valuable in addressing common challenges such as a rapidly ageing population. Minister Zhao also agreed to DPM Teo’s invitation to attend the 6th Forum on Leadership in Singapore this year to continue the exchanges.]
[English Translation: Besides the JCBC and Forum on Leadership, the Singapore-China Social Governance Forum was launched in 2012. The 3rd round of this Forum was held in Singapore in May last year, co-chaired by DPM Teo and Political and Legal Affairs Commission Secretary Meng Jianzhu. We exchanged learning points on strategies to maintain security and social harmony in an increasingly urbanised society, the use of big data and IT to improve governance, as well as ensuring access to justice and the rule of law.]
[English Translation: The depth and intensity of our bilateral cooperation, which includes the three G-to-G projects and three high-level bilateral mechanisms, underscore the fundamental point that our relations have always kept up with the times, taking into account China’s changing needs. Other organisations, such as the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry as well as Business China, have also made important contributions to the development of bilateral relations.]
[English Translation: Indeed, this spirit is encapsulated in the “All Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times” agreed to by PM Lee and President Xi in 2015. Singapore has been a consistent and strong supporter of China’s peaceful development and engagement of the regional and international community.]
[English Translation: We supported China’s accession into the World Trade Organisation in 2001. In 2004, we recognised China as a market economy, and supported its participation in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the establishment of dialogue relations with ASEAN.]
[English Translation: We are one of the earliest supporters of China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and “Belt and Road” initiative.]
[English Translation: We are very encouraged by President Xi’s comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos and United Nations in Geneva that we should promote inclusive globalisation against the backdrop of a volatile and uncertain world.]
[English Translation: The strong reservoir of friendship and goodwill allows both sides to speak candidly with one another and discuss concrete ways to elevate the relationship.]
[English Translation: This is seen in our discussion on China’s Belt and Road initiative. Singapore has proposed three suggestions to our Chinese friends.]
[English Translation: First, the Southern Transport Corridor linking Chongqing to the ASEAN region via Beibu Gulf in Guangxi can help connect the overland Silk Route Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.]
[English Translation: Second, greater trade, digital and financial connectivity along the Belt and Road will create investment opportunities, and enhance the flow of goods and capital.]
[English Translation: Third, Singapore and China can explore cooperation in joint training for officials from third countries along the Belt and Road. Such development in human capital will catalyse growth and help accelerate the Belt and Road projects. ]
[English Translation: These ideas were welcomed by our Chinese counterparts at the JCBC and both sides have agreed to flesh out the proposals.]
[English Translation: The title of DPM Teo’s recent interview with Xinhua,”New Initiatives to deepen Singapore-China Friendship (新中友谊深, 共创新思路) captured the friendship and future cooperation between our two countries very well. With our deep friendship and mutual trust as a strong foundation for our bilateral relations, we will forge a path forward with new areas of mutually-beneficial cooperation.]
[English Translation: We will further strengthen our special ties with China as we write the next chapter of our bilateral cooperation. Our ties with China are in good working order, resilient, and well primed for the future. As Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli summarised eloquently at the close of the JCBC, our bilateral relations will attain new heights.]
[Note: End of Mandarin delivery]
Madam Chair, Minister Vivian spoke about our relations with several key partners including India, Australia, Japan and the EU. Let me elaborate on others.
As Mr Zainal Sapari mentioned, besides Japan, we also have a deepening partnership with the Republic of Korea. We share similar challenges such as an ageing population and low birth rates. As we embark on the Smart Nation initiative, it is also useful for us to learn from Korea, which has a clear edge in IT and innovation in Asia.
Relations with the EU and European countries
Further afield, Minister spoke about our partnership with the EU in response to Mr Saktiandi’s question.
Indeed, Brexit is a turning point for the EU and has global consequences for trade. Much will depend on the new relationship the UK establishes with the EU and how the UK replicates the existing agreements that the EU has with partners like Singapore.
We will maintain our excellent ties with the UK, a longstanding partner in sectors such as trade, defence, science and technology, and education. On the economic front, Singapore companies continue to have strong interest in the UK.
Not only is Europe a key market, we can also learn from various European countries in innovation, education and skills development, areas critical for the next phase of our economic development. We intend to maintain the momentum of our high-level exchanges. For example, PM is scheduled to visit Germany, and President will make State Visits to Poland and the Czech Republic later this year. We look forward to hosting President François Hollande of France in Singapore later this month.
While the EU has its own domestic preoccupations, we are hopeful that the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will be ratified so that both sides can benefit from it. We have been actively engaging the EU and member countries on this.
Mr Louis Ng asked about Singapore’s humanitarian assistance to other countries and whether MFA should set up a new department of Foreign Humanitarian Aid, akin to Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Singapore takes our international responsibilities and commitments seriously. As a small country with resource constraints, we want our contributions to humanitarian relief to be both sustainable and useful. Our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts are well coordinated within MFA, across relevant agencies such as MINDEF and SCDF, and with external partners.
Recent examples include our contribution to the recovery efforts after the earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016, the floods and landslides in Sri Lanka in June 2016 and Hurricane Matthew in Haiti in October 2016. We also contributed to the humanitarian and relief efforts for the victims of irregular movement of persons through the ASEAN Secretariat in September 2016.
In addition, MFA contributes annually to key international organisations that oversee and spearhead humanitarian efforts. These include the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the International Committee for the Red Cross, among others. Since 2015, we have also been partnering the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in providing joint training courses to strengthen the disaster risk management capacity of Small Island Developing States and other developing countries.
Members can be assured that even with limited resources, MFA has a system in place to provide humanitarian assistance in a prompt and coordinated manner. At this juncture, we prefer not to divert further resources to set up a separate department or agency for humanitarian assistance.
Dr Fatimah Lateef asked about ways to improve the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and how it has helped other countries.
Singapore has benefitted from the advice and experience of the UN and other countries, and the SCP is our way of giving back and paying it forward. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the SCP, our primary platform for sharing our development experiences.
We now run on average, more than 300 programmes for some 6,500 government officials from over 170 countries annually. Over the 25 years, more than 112,000 foreign officials have participated in the SCP.
As Singapore continues to develop our capabilities, the SCP will also evolve its programmes. For example, we now offer high quality programmes in cybersecurity, digital economy, and sustainable development.
To address Ms Cheng Li Hui’s question, the SCP also enables us to cooperate with other countries and international agencies to address global issues such as sustainable development and climate change.
Hence, we are partnering UN agencies and others to support the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This year, we will collaborate with the UN Habitat to develop and deliver an international programme in urban governance for mayors, governors and provincial leaders of African countries.
Closer to home, we are increasing our efforts to help fellow ASEAN countries bridge the development gap by offering capacity building beyond traditional classroom training under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration or IAI. We plan to upgrade the current IAI centres in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar to integrated development platforms called “Singapore Cooperation Centres”.
Besides classroom training, these new centres will rope in other Singapore agencies with development expertise, such as the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore International Foundation and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise to offer technical assistance through various consultancy services and volunteer projects. These will form part of our efforts to support Singapore’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2018.
Mr Chairman, I will now turn the floor to Senior Minister of State Dr Maliki.
Speech by Senior Minister of State Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman
Engaging Emerging Markets
Minister Vivian earlier explained the key lessons for Singapore’s foreign policy as we navigate a more complex global environment today. It is important for Singapore to strengthen the trust we have built with our friends across the world. This trust will allow us to deepen cooperation with our partners, create opportunities for Singapore and Singaporeans abroad and advance our interests internationally.
Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Edwin Tong have pointed out emerging markets offer many opportunities for Singaporean businesses abroad.
Take Sub-Saharan Africa for example, which offers opportunities for those with an appetite to venture into less familiar markets. During my visit to Ethiopia last year, I saw Ethiopia’s efforts to position itself as Africa’s industrial hub. Far from its earlier years of being known as a famine-stricken country, Ethiopia has enjoyed growth rates averaging 10 percent over the last decade and is now one of the world’s top ten fastest growing economies. MFA is working with MTI to explore economic opportunities in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa in sectors like commodities, logistics, port development, urban solutions and information communications and technology. We currently have some 60 Singapore-based companies with business operations in over 40 Sub-Saharan African countries – this number is likely to grow in the coming years.
We are also making good progress in Latin America, where our trade has more than doubled over the past decade and about 130 companies are now doing business there. We continue to seek opportunities in other regions like South Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Turkey. For instance, we are negotiating the Sri Lanka-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which will open doors for our businesses to expand into the vast South Asian market once concluded. We are also pursuing an FTA with the Eurasian Economic Union or EAEU. Comprising Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the EAEU has a combined market of 179 million people and a GDP of US$4.4 trillion. The Turkey-Singapore FTA, which is expected to be ratified this year, will allow our companies to leverage Turkey’s strategic location to pursue investments in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
But our relationships with the emerging markets are not just economically driven. Over the years, we have developed good political and people-to-people exchanges. For example, President Tony Tan made a State Visit to Mexico in June 2016 – the first State Visit by a Singapore Head of State to Latin America. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will make an Official Visit to Argentina in April 2017. We have also hosted 96 Latin American journalists under the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) Journalists’ Visit Programme over the last 17 years, which has created greater awareness about our societies, our policies, and our culture in Latin America. For Sub-Saharan Africa, we hosted 10 ministers from the region last year to share how we tackle our urban challenges.
It also heartens me to see more Singaporeans going off the beaten track to pursue their interests in less familiar places. For example, last year, I met a lively young Singaporean lady who is studying theatre at the Waterfront Theatre School in South Africa. She told me that she was interested in African art and culture that led her to make such an unconventional choice. In Botswana, I was also pleasantly surprised to meet a tight-knit group of Singaporeans and learnt that several have been living there for more than a decade! One of the Singaporeans I met there had settled down in Botswana some 16 years ago and now operates a cow farm together with her Botswana husband. I am also glad to see our students participating in exchanges with universities in countries like Russia and Mexico. I encourage more Singaporeans to take the road less-travelled, which will broaden their perspectives while helping Singapore extend our friendships across the world.
Engagement with the Middle East
Let me move on to the engagement of the Middle East, which Mr Amrin Amin asked about.
Singapore enjoys friendly relations with countries in the Middle East and it is important to continue to engage them. Understanding the complex developments in the region is important to us as 15 percent of our population are Muslims, many of whom visit the Middle East for the haj and umrah and for religious and Arabic language classes and studies. Today, we have about 300 students studying in Egypt and about 130 students studying in Jordan.
With the Middle East presenting greater economic opportunities, more Singaporeans are working there, in fields such as hospitality, engineering, finance and transport and logistics in various countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. In 2015, our Consulate-General in Dubai was designated as an overseas polling station for elections to make it easier for Singaporeans in the region to cast their votes. This is in recognition of the growing number of Singaporeans in that region. We also cooperate closely with some Middle Eastern countries in areas such as education, environment and security. We recognise the security situation in the Middle East will have implications for our region. That is why Singapore has contributed to the international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS), while our Navy participates in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
There remains keen interest in the Middle East countries to learn from Singapore’s development experience. Over the past three years, there were more than 100 study visits in areas such as urban planning, port management and education. Low oil prices have also forced oil-dependent Middle East countries to implement economic reforms and diversify their economies. There continues to be opportunities in sectors where Singapore companies have expertise in, such as transport and logistics, healthcare, water technology and education.
As a small state, we maintain friendly ties with all who want to befriend us, including those from the Middle East. Prime Minister Lee visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories last year in April. During the trip, PM invited the leaders of Jordan, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and Israel to visit Singapore. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reciprocal visit took place just last week. Singapore and Israel have a longstanding relationship, dating back to when the Israelis helped us build up our SAF and thereby secure our independence and sovereignty. We look forward to welcoming the leaders of Jordan and the PNA to Singapore.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin asked about Singapore’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Let me elaborate in Malay please.
Meskipun Singapura mempunyai hubungan rapat bersama Israel, kami telah mengambil pendirian yang berprinsip, konsisten dan kekal lama tentang isu Israel-Palestin. Kami berhubungan baik dengan kedua-dua Israel dan Pihak Berkuasa Kebangsaan Palestin (atau PNA), dan dengan banyak lagi Negara Arab. Walaupun situasi ini kompleks dan kemajuan adalah sulit, Singapura selalu menggesa Israel dan Palestin untuk memulakan kembali rundingan secara langsung, dan berusaha ke arah penyelesaian yang adil dan berkekalan terhadap konflik ini. Ini kerana kami yakin bahawa penyelesaian dua-negara bagi Israel dan Palestin, meskipun sulit untuk dicapai, adalah satu-satunya cara untuk membawa kedamaian dan keselamatan untuk rakyat-rakyat kedua-dua pihak.
[English Translation: Despite Singapore’s close relations with Israel, we have taken a principled, consistent and longstanding position on the Israel-Palestine issue. We have good relations with both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, and many Arab countries. Although the situation is complex and progress is difficult, Singapore has always urged Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations and work towards a just and durable solution to this long-standing conflict. This is because we are convinced that a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples.]
Ketika kunjungan beliau ke Israel tahun lepas dan ketika kunjungan Perdana Menteri Netanyahu baru-baru ini ke Singapura, PM Lee telah menjelaskan pendirian kekal lama dan konsisten Singapura terhadap Proses Kedamaian Timur Tengah, termasuk sokongan kami bagi penyelesaian dua-Negara. Biarpun Singapura menyokong hak Israel untuk hidup dalam keamanan dan sempadan yang selamat, pada masa yang sama, kami turut menyokong hak rakyat Palestin memiliki sebuah tanah air. Secara konsisten, kami telah mengundi untuk menyokong kebanyakkan resolusi yang berkaitan dengan Palestin yang dibentangkan di Perhimpunan Agung PBB.
[English Translation: During his visit to Israel last year and during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent visit to Singapore, PM Lee had clearly articulated Singapore’s longstanding and consistent position on the Middle East Peace Process, including our support for the two-state solution. While Singapore supports Israel’s right to live within secure borders and in peace, at the same time, we also support the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland. We have consistently voted in favour of most of the Palestinian-related resolutions tabled at the UN General Assembly.]
Singapura juga menikmati hubungan mesra dengan rakyat Palestin. Bertahun-tahun, pemimpin-pemimpin Singapura telah berkunjung ke Ramallah dan kami melakukan sedaya upaya kami untuk membantu rakyat-rakyat Palestin membangunkan kembali hidup mereka serta mengembangkan ekonomi mereka. Ketika kunjungan PM ke Ramallah pada April tahun lalu, beliau juga mengumumkan penggandaan Pakej Peningkatan Bantuan Teknikal (atau ETAP) ke PNA daripada S$5 juta kepada S$10 juta.
[English Translation: Singapore also enjoys friendly relations with the Palestinians. Over the years, Singapore leaders have made visits to Ramallah and we do our best to help the Palestinians rebuild their lives as well as develop their economy. During PM’s visit to Ramallah in April last year, he also announced the doubling of our Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP) to the PNA from S$5 million to S$10 million.]
Sebagai susulan kunjungan PM, saya telah melawati Ramallah, serta Israel dan Jordan pada November tahun lalu. Dalam lawatan itu, saya memberitahu pemimpin-pemimpin PNA tentang pelantikan Encik Hawazi Daipi sebagai Wakil Singapura ke PNA bagi membantu menyelaras bantuan kami kepada PNA. Mereka menyambut baik pelantikan itu. Sejak pelantikannya, Encik Hawazi telah membuat lawatan beliau yang pertama ke Tebing Barat sebagai Wakil pada Januari tahun ini dimana beliau menemui berbagai pemegang-pemegang jawatan dan pegawai-pegawai tinggi dari PNA. Salah seorang daripada mereka, iaitu Pembantu Menteri Luar PNA Mazen Shamia telah melahirkan “kegembiraannya dan rasa puas hatinya” bagi pihak kepimpinan Palestin mengenai “kemajuan luar biasa” dalam hubungan antara rakyat Palestin dan Singapura.
[English Translation: To follow up on PM’s visit, I visited Ramallah, as well as Israel and Jordan in November last year. During the visit, I informed the PNA leaders about the Government’s appointment of Mr Hawazi Daipi as Singapore’s Representative to the PNA to help coordinate our assistance to the PNA. They welcomed the appointment. Mr Hawazi had since made his first visit to the West Bank as Representative in January this year where he met a number of senior office holders and officials from the PNA. One of the officials, PNA Assistant Foreign Minister Mazen Shamia expressed the Palestinian leadership’s “happiness and satisfaction” with the “remarkable development” of ties between the Palestinians and Singapore.]
Ketika kunjungan saya ke Ramallah, saya berkesempatan untuk bertemu dengan alumni kanan Palestin dari Program Kerjasama Singapura atau SCP. SCP telah melatih lebih 260 pegawai Palestin dalam pelbagai kursus selama bertahun-tahun. Kami menyambut baik minat rakyat-rakyat Palestin dalam kursus-kursus SCP dan kami sedang bekerja rapat dengan PNA untuk mengenal pasti bidang-bidang kritikal di mana Singapura boleh menyumbang kepada peningkatan keupayaan di wilayah Palestin, dengan sumber kami yang terhad.
[English Translation: During my visit to Ramallah, I had the opportunity to meet senior Palestinian alumni of our Singapore Cooperation Programme or SCP. The SCP has trained over 260 Palestinian officials in various courses over the years. We welcome the Palestinians’ interest in our SCP courses and are working closely with the PNA to identify the critical areas where Singapore can contribute to capacity-building in the Palestinian Territories, within our limited resources.]
Salah satu bidang dimana kami mungkin dapat membantu rakyat Palestin ialah dalam Latihan dan Pendidikan Vokasional dan Teknikal (atau TVET). Dengan lebih sepertiga penduduk Palestin berumur dibawah 30 tahun, melengkapkan belia-belia ini dengan kemahiran yang relevan dengan pasaran adalah amat penting untuk daya maju dan pembangunan ekonomi Wilayah Palestin. Dalam hal ini, kami telah mengundang Menteri Pendidikan Tinggi dan Pendidikan Sabri Saidam untuk melawat Singapura dari 31 Oktober hingga 2 November 2016 untuk memahami lebih lanjut pendekatan Singapura terhadap TVET. Dalam masa yang sama, Perkhidmatan Pendidikan ITE telah melakukan kunjungan ke Tebing Barat pada Januari 2017 untuk melakukan penilaian terhadap keperluan kemahiran TVET rakyat Palestin.
[English Translation: One of the areas where we may be able to assist the Palestinians in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). With over a third of the Palestinian population under age 30, equipping these youths with skills relevant to the marketplace is critical to the economic development and viability of the Palestinian Territories. In this regard, we invited PNA Minister of Education and Higher Education Sabri Saidam to visit Singapore from 31 October to 2 November 2016 to learn more about Singapore’s approach to TVET, while ITE Education Services visited the West Bank in January 2017 to conduct a TVET skills needs analysis for the Palestinians.]
Berikutan lawatan PM, kami telah menerima banyak permintaan untuk lawatan pembelajaran dan kursus-kursus latihan dalam bidang-bidang bukan TVET. Tahun ini, kami berharap untuk menyambut pegawai-pegawai Palestin ke Singapura untuk mempelajari dasar pengurusan estet industri, antara lain. Encik Hawazi juga merancang untuk mengunjungi Wilayah Palestin lewat tahun ini untuk meneroka lagi kawasan-kawasan lain untuk mempertingkat kerjasama antara Singapura dan Palestin.
[English Translation: Following PM’s visit, we have received many requests for study visits and training courses in non-TVET fields too. This year, we hope to welcome Palestinian officials to Singapore to study our industrial estate management policies, among others. Mr Hawazi is also planning to visit the Palestinian Territories later this year to explore further areas of cooperation between Singapore and the PNA.]
Encik Sitoh Yih Pin juga telah menanyakan tentang kesan persidangan antarabangsa seperti Persidangan Kedamaian di Timur Tengah yang telah diadakan pada Januari tahun ini. Persidangan itu telah diadakan di Paris pada 15 Januari 2017 dan melibatkan pemimpin-pemimpin dan pegawai-pegawai kanan dari 70 negara. Walaupun Singapura bukan ahli persidangan itu, kami tetap menyokong segala usaha-usaha masyarakat antarabangsa untuk memudahkan penyambungan semula rundingan langsung dan bermakna kearah penyelesaian dua-Negara, dimana Israel dan Palestin dapat hidup bersama dalam keadaan aman dan damai.
[English Translation: Mr Sitoh Yih Pin also asked about the impact of international conferences such as the Conference for Peace in the Middle East, held in January this year. The Conference was held in Paris on 15 January 2017 and involved leaders and senior officials from some 70 countries. Although Singapore was not a member of the Conference, we are supportive of all efforts by the international community to facilitate the resumption of meaningful and direct negotiations towards a two-state solution, whereby Israel and Palestine can live side-by-side in peace and security.]
[Note: end of Malay delivery]
As I said earlier, developments in the Middle East have security implications for us. We have observed how ISIS exported its ideology through the internet and other social media platforms, radicalising individuals in the US, Europe and even here in Southeast Asia. Dr Fatimah Lateef asked how we are preparing to manage such a challenging security climate. ISIS has suffered several military setbacks recently in Iraq and Syria. However, even as ISIS loses ground, returning fighters continue to pose a long-term threat to global security ,as pointed out by several counter-terrorism experts. This region is not immune with more than 1,000 Indonesians, Malaysians, Filipinos and even Singaporeans having gone to fight for ISIS. While we have our counter-terrorism strategy, Singapore cannot tackle this trans-border threat alone. MFA will continue to keep up regular political exchanges and community engagement across our region. During my trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh in October 2016, I shared Singapore’s experiences with the local Muslim community over there and hear about their efforts to instil the correct message about Islam. We must continue working closely with foreign counterparts to share intelligence, coordinate approaches and encourage the exchange of best practices on how to counter radical ideologies.
In light of the spate of terror attacks across the globe, Ms Joan Pereira has asked how MFA is better preparing itself to help Singaporeans caught in crisis situations abroad. In 2016 alone, major consular incidents included the terror attacks in Brussels and Nice, the bombings and unrest in Turkey, earthquakes in the region and the Muar Bus Accident. With Singaporeans being one of the most well-travelled people in the world, this raises not only the volume but also the complexity of consular cases that MFA has to handle.
With finite resources, we have to work hard and be creative to respond to consular incidents quickly and effectively. Alongside a limited number of overseas missions, MFA officers are rostered 24/7 so that Singaporeans can contact MFA and vice versa during emergency situations. During the tragic bus accident that took place on the North-South Highway in Muar on Christmas Eve last year, MFA sent an officer quickly to reinforce the Singapore Consulate in Johor Bahru. Within 24 hours, the deceased and injured were repatriated back to Singapore. We are also enhancing our MFA@SG App to include a safety check feature to allow e-Registrants to update MFA on their safety status using their mobile devices during crisis situations. We are expanding our IT platforms to allow e-Registration and safety checks using chat-bots. It will soon be easier to find information on our websites through a Virtual Assistant.
We urge Singaporeans to do their part and take the necessary precautions by staying vigilant, purchasing travel insurance, and staying in touch with family and friends so they know you are safe during your travels. Importantly, we urge Singaporeans to e-Register with MFA when travelling – either through our MFA website or the MFA@SG app. There is a huge disparity between the 400,000 e-Registrants we have on record and the 7.5 million outbound trips made by Singaporeans via air and sea in 2016 – and this excludes the over 16 million overland trips to Malaysia annually. E-Registrants will receive information on how to contact our nearest overseas mission and MFA can quickly contact e-Registered Singaporean travellers during emergencies to ascertain the need for urgent assistance. So I cannot emphasise again how important it is for Singaporeans to e-Register.
Currently about 8 out of 10 calls that MFA receives during emergency situations are from the next-of-kin of Singaporeans who did not e-Register. For instance, one citizen who was in the locality of a man-made disaster in China complained that other Singaporeans were contacted by MFA to ascertain their safety, but wondered why MFA had missed contacting him. But when we investigated, we realised that he had not e-Registered, so there was no way MFA could know where he was in the area at that time! So if more of these Singaporeans had e-registered, it would allow us to more quickly verify if they have been confirmed safe or they require urgent assistance.
In many emergency situations, e-Registration has allowed us to contact affected Singaporeans and one incident last year comes to mind:
During the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016, MFA contacted all registered Singaporeans in the affected areas and monitored the situation closely. As a 13-member youth football team and some of their parents were also stranded in Antalya due to the closure of the Istanbul airport, MFA worked with SIA to facilitate their departure from Antalya to Gothenburg, Sweden, so that they could arrive in time for the Gothia World Youth Cup 2016.
In the same month, 86 people were killed after a terrorist drove a cargo truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. Similarly, MFA contacted all registered Singaporeans in France to verify their safety. After ascertaining that a Singaporean student was seriously injured during the attack, our Embassy staff was on the ground to extend consular assistance to the Singaporean and his parents who had flown to Nice to be with him.
On that note, I would like to thank Ms Joan Pereira for commending our MFA officers for their dedication in discharging their consular duties. The nature of Consular work is challenging and complex. Our officers often work hard around the clock to provide support to distressed Singaporeans abroad. But what keeps the officers going is the knowledge that they are helping fellow Singaporeans. I would like to share a heartening note that a Singaporean wrote to us after MFA had assisted with the repatriation of his deceased relative. He wrote “When I contacted MFA to get more information on the unfortunate bus crash, not only did they give me the information I needed, it was because of the aid MFA rendered that my family was able to return safely to Singapore. We would not have been able to go through this on our own and we will always remember how MFA had our back. The MFA team was professional, polite and considerate even when we were in so much distress. Thank you very much.” Sir, on behalf of the MFA family, I would like to thank members of the House and all Singaporeans for their support to MFA as we advance Singaporeans’ interest internationally.
Supplementary Questions and Response by Minister
Supplementary Question 1:
MP Low Thia Khiang: Sir, two clarifications for the Minister. First, while Singapore believes in rules-based diplomacy, other countries Singapore deal with may believe in power-based diplomacy. What will be the Minister’s approach facing such a counterpart? The second clarification – whether the Minister anticipates difficulties in this year’s ASEAN Summit with Philippines as the chair of ASEAN.
Response by Minister: I think this tension between rules-based world order and a power-based world order will always be there. When I meet my counterparts, I explain to them that because we are a tiny city-state and we live in a tough neighbourhood, Singapore has no choice but to subscribe to international laws. So as a matter of principle, we stand for it. Secondly, in terms of practice, if you look at for instance the Pedra Branca issue, or the POA (Points of Agreement) issue, we have ourselves availed and abided by international law and the legal processes that it provides. So we take that stand.
But I will also tell you quite frankly, that big superpowers sometimes, and it’s not only one, all of them, if you look through international jurisprudence, have from time to time taken liberties with international law. And we have to quietly, non-provocatively, just stand up to state our position. But we are in no position to enforce it. And the ultimate challenge in international law is enforcement. That is actually very difficult, and it is impossible to enforce international law, except through moral suasion and through mutual agreement between countries.
Your second point was on ASEAN Chairmanship. I would express full support for the chairmanship of ASEAN under the Philippines. We just had the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, just two weeks ago. We should be able to get through this year successfully. And I give my full assurance of support to the Philippines.
Supplementary Question 2:
MP Vikram Nair: Thank you Chairman, this is a clarification. I thank the Minister and the Senior Ministers of State for giving us a world tour of what Singapore is doing everywhere. I have two clarifications. The first is in relation… In fact they both relate to US-China Relations:
Singapore has always, I think, found a way to look for opportunities in the midst of adversity or difficult situations. So what opportunities does the MFA see with the new US administration? I know that it is still starting, it is finding its feet. But what are the possible opportunities we can have to build bridges and do things together with the US?
In relation to China, I also see some seeds of opportunity because, in recent months, China has actually been talking about the importance of holding up environmental legislation. And it seems to be that China itself may be open to persuasion that international norms and rules are important, vital and will be a way forward. So is there any opportunity that we can persuade more people that rules-based international order is in everyone’s best interest? Thank you.
Response by Minister: As I explained just now, I think the outlook of the US, its policies and its programmes are still evolving. The most recent speech by President Trump to the Joint Session of Congress was a far more positive and far more, I would say, conciliatory speech. And we look forward to those sentiments being translated into policy and actions.
If you also parse his comments carefully, he says he is pro-business. He also says he believes in free trade, but he wants it to mean fair trade. And I think this is actually not an unreasonable position. And in fact, it is the duty of every national trade negotiator – you engage either in bilateral or regional negotiations to make sure that the terms of the agreement are fair and actually improve the overall position of your own country. So the point is, it is the duty of your own negotiator to secure the best terms possible.
Secondly, when you enter into these negotiations, and there is always going to be give and take. And the important point about trade, and this is a political point, is that the advantages of free trade are sometimes not totally symmetrical with all segments of your population. And therefore, free trade has to be accompanied by domestic policy, which makes sure you address the needs of specific segments, especially the more vulnerable segments of your populations. That’s why you see in the case of Singapore – and this is a larger point that goes beyond foreign policy – in the case of Singapore, we say we have no choice but to operate a free trade system. But we also actually are very socialist when it comes to housing, when it comes to education, when it comes to healthcare. And you see so much of the Budget policy actually being focused on vulnerable groups: people or segments of our population who would otherwise be vulnerable to the vagaries of free trade. So there is a complex interplay between domestic policy and foreign policy. And if you can get your domestic policy right, it makes foreign policy and it makes international trade so much easier. So I don’t want to be cynical about the evolution of US policy, and at the same time I don’t want to trivialise and assume that everything will be hunky dory. I think, let’s wait and see.
But every time we engage the US, we remind them that the last 70 years since the end of the Second World War has been, in a sense, a golden age for the world. Despite the Cold War, no nuclear weapons were fired in anger. Yes, there were proxy battles in the earlier part of the Cold War. But actually what you have seen in the last ... let’s say since 1978 in China and 1991 in India … has been an incredible upliftment of hundreds of millions of people from abject poverty. And how was this achieved? Through the free market, through bringing down barriers, through investing in infrastructure, through economic integration. And this has allowed a win-win proposition to be played out across the entire world. And allowed people to achieve peace and stability and prosperity, without war and without engaging in zero sum rivalry.
So the larger philosophical point we have to keep advancing on the international stage is to look for win-win outcomes and not to be trapped in prisoners’ dilemmas or in zero sum games. And we advance this by being an honest broker, by being consistent in what we say and what we do, and by offering ourselves. I mean people can’t copy our solutions but we say “Look at the way Singapore and the way ASEAN have progressed in the last 50 years. We think this is a good formula. You want to make adjustments? Of course, you need to make adjustments. But substantially, the direction of inter-dependence, of mutual cooperation, win-win outcomes is the correct strategic direction.”
[Inaudible question by MP Vikram Nair]
Response by Minister:
Well, we know our place in the world, you can’t persuade everyone. But I think if you can get a critical mass to operate in a rules-based system, to operate free trade, accompanied by appropriate domestic safeguards and social security net, and then you prove it by succeeding. I think that is the most persuasive argument. This is not about … Again, it is not a debate. It is not a form of words that will settle it.
Supplementary Question 3:
MP Pritam Singh: Just a quick question that follows up from the point that I made in the cut about the Committee on the Future Economy and the prospect of more consulates, and more assistance for businesses. I heard Senior Minister of State Josephine speak about China and the number of consulates which we have in that country. Do we have similar plans for Southeast Asia and other regions of interest in general? Thank you.
Response by Minister: We do have plans, I cannot announce all of them yet, but what I can say today is that we are planning to upgrade our consulates in Batam and Medan, because more people and more businesses are passing and transacting through Indonesia. Although we do have some other plans, I am not in the position to announce yet. Again, I think your larger point is that the demands on MFA are growing. I hope that you have noticed that our budget for this year is actually a bit less than last year. I do not say this in a facetious way, for it just illustrates how hard our staff are working. There is also another secret recipe that we have, that is we also have a system of non-resident ambassadors, and for that we take people from outside the Civil Service, the business sector and others, who know the countries and are able to carry the flag of Singapore high, and open opportunities for other Singaporeans in an altruistic way. We are also blessed to have that additional element. So we have incredible career officers while we are also supplemented by a cadre of well-meaning and high-achieving Singaporeans.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
2 MARCH 2017