Your Excellency Dr Michael Pulch, Ambassador and Head of the Delegation of the European Union,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1 I am delighted to be here this afternoon to launch this book titled 50 Years of Singapore-Europe Relations. My heartiest congratulations to everyone who has been involved in this very meaningful project.
2 In just under a month, Singapore celebrates our 50th birthday. In the history of nations, fifty years is but a blink of an eye. While Singapore has come a long way since its independence in 1965, the fact remains that it is still a very young nation when compared to others. If I were to borrow inspiration from the cover of this book, Singapore could be described as a young sapling, which had spent the last five decades tenaciously rooting itself on a tiny plot of land. However, as the sapling starts to grow and extend its branches, the biggest question that confronts it is how it would continue to not just survive, but thrive. There are no easy answers to this question, but the best way for this sapling to learn is to look towards the big sturdy trees that have flourished for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In this regard, Europe has quite a number of excellent examples.
3 While Europe’s economic situation has received much attention lately, I believe it will tide through its current challenges. The history of Europe is long and storied, and we believe that it will continue to thrive and prosper long into the future. One only needs to look into the pages of this book to find countless examples of European excellence across all areas of life. Singapore has benefitted from the experiences and capabilities of Europe in its fifty years of nationhood. Indeed, many European countries – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the UK amongst many others which I should name but will not in the interest of time – recognised our independence early on and provided useful advice to Singapore over the years. Many European companies have also made significant investments over the years and contributed to Singapore’s development.
4 If you look around Singapore, it is not difficult to spot examples of European influence. For example, from the UK, we gained our systems of government and law, our language of instruction and the Padang, which is a symbol of beautiful and meticulous town planning. In a similar vein, we have long been inspired by German precision, French cuisine and Italian design. At present, a key focus of Singapore is to move from an emphasis on academic learning towards vocational training, of which the best examples reside in Europe. This book contains many hidden gems of how various European countries have influenced Singapore.
5 I would like to report that the relations are by no means one-way. What has Singapore brought to Europe then? While what comes to our minds spontaneously could be food and spices, I would like to refer you to the piece that was written by the editor of this book, Lay Hwee. In her measured and meticulous style, Lay Hwee detailed Singapore’s role as an interlocutor between the East and the West back in the 1990s, and the role that Singapore played in fostering engagement between Asia and Europe. You will find an insightful chapter in this book on the annual Asia-Europe Meeting, penned by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who mooted the idea in October 1994. I am sure his personal account would be of interest to you.
6 Today, the relationship between Singapore and Europe is a deep and comprehensive one. At the political level, our leaders exchange visits regularly. On the economic front, the EU is the largest foreign investor in Singapore, while Singapore is the EU’s second-largest Asian investor. Trade is flourishing, and Singapore is host to more than 10,400 EU businesses, many of which view Singapore as a gateway into Asia. Once the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) is ratified by the EU – which we hope will be soon – it will benefit businesses on both sides, and this would serve as a “building block” for a region to region EU-ASEAN FTA. This will enhance the EU’s standing in Asia.
7 While we speak of our relations in the language of politics and economics, we should not forget the narratives of individuals who have fostered relations between us. Europeans have been present since Singapore’s humble beginning and contributed to our nation building efforts. We are familiar with Sir Stamford Raffles and a few others who have made significant contributions. Let me cite three examples briefly.
8 Dr Albert Winsemius from the Netherlands was the chief economic advisor to Singapore for almost 25 years, and Singapore owes much of its economic development to his advice. To some of our pioneers, he is still fondly remembered by the moniker “Singapore’s Dutch Uncle”. Even after he stepped down from his role, Albert would read The Straits Times on a regular basis, which reflected his deep abiding interest in Singapore. He often said that he felt an “affinity” with Singapore whenever he was here. Even today, such ties linger across generations; Albert’s son and daughter, Pieter and Ankie Winsemius, remain in close touch with Singapore. I had the privilege of hosting them when they were here during the tribute to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
9 Brother Joseph McNally from Ireland dedicated 37 years of his life teaching in Singapore, and he eventually became the founder of LASALLE College of the Arts and left behind a legacy in Singapore’s arts education. Polish professor Dr Wieslaw Nowinski spent 23 years in Singapore moving our country towards a knowledge-based economy, especially through his tireless work in research and development. His remarkable work at A*STAR resulted in more than 500 publications, some 32 patents and 42 awards. Their contributions, as well as those by many others, are outlined in this book. 60,000 Europeans living in Singapore continue to enrich our society.
10 These people-to-people contacts are often ties that truly bind and endure over time. That is why it is important for us to continue to promote cultural exchanges and visits. I am told that more than 1.5 million Europeans visited Singapore in 2013. Perhaps with the entry of the Singapore Botanic Gardens to the UNESCO World Heritage list, we can look forward to even more. Singapore Botanic Gardens reminded us of the role that Europeans played in introducing science and technology. In this case, botany, in the form of rubber seeds which eventually transformed South East Asia with the rubber industry.
11 Going forward, relations between Singapore and Europe will become more intertwined with greater political, economic, educational, science and technology, cultural and people-to-people ties. These ties will no doubt bring mutual benefit to Singapore and Europe.
12 My sincere thanks to all parties who initiated this project and brought it to completion. I think you have done meaningful work in documenting the relations between Singapore and Europe at an opportune time for our future generations. My congratulations once again for the launch of 50 Years of Singapore-Europe Relations.
13 Thank you.