Professor Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands,
Her Excellency, Ambassador of the Netherlands to Singapore, Margriet Vonno,
Principal Meino Meines,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since I am not a former Prime Minister, I have to speak in less than five minutes – so I will also make three points.
First, congratulations to the principal, the directors, the staff, the parents, and the founders. It is worth celebrating – a hundred years is not a trivial achievement. If you look, even at the names behind me, normally, it is just a board of sponsors. But these names ABN-AMRO, Heineken, Philips, Royal Dutch Shell. have been around in our part of the world and in Singapore for well over a century. Indeed, this is well worth celebrating. You have also showed in your video how the school started with one teacher and five students, and how it has grown over the years. Today, we are here with the largest overseas Dutch school in the world. So congratulations.
My second point is that you can only get a school – overseas – alive after a hundred years because there is a real dynamic relationship between our two countries. It goes beyond the fact that these companies were here well over a century ago. If you fast forward to the early years of our own independence –you had referred to Dr Albert Winsemius, who advised us in his typical Dutch, direct, pragmatic and always innovative way – many parts of the economy or economic philosophy on which we have achieved our success in the last five decades, we give credit to him. His life and his legacy is worth celebrating. It is worth reflecting that this is also why so many people from the Netherlands are here, and companies from the Netherlands are here. It is also why you have children here, and why your families are settled down here.
Finally, I want to make a little political point. The former Prime Minister is practically a permanent resident in Singapore. He comes here so many times that I have lost count, and cannot even keep track. My Prime Minister always sees him, and it goes beyond the personal relationship between two leaders, but to the relationship between the people of the Netherlands and the people of Singapore.
We are small countries that face multiple challenges. We are multicultural, and believe in multilateralism and free trade. There is also almost a communitarian instinct, which is somewhat unique. I will illustrate this using the example of the windmill. While I was in the Netherlands, I realised that if all your windmills did were to pump water out of your garden to your neighbour’s garden, it would not solve the existential challenge of having one third of your land below sea level. It is only because all of you work collectively as one successful community that the water is pumped from one place to the next, until you reach the sea. Very few people have faced such an existential challenge over so many centuries and have had to evolve this communitarian reflex. That is what makes the Dutch special in our eyes.
We are small – a tropical island facing the impact of climate change. We are also a multicultural political entity that has to trade and relate with great big superpowers all over the world. We are also facing major tectonic shifts politically and economically. That is why the Netherlands remains an inspiration and why I believe you will always be welcome here. We are glad that the parents vote with their feet by making their lives here, having their families here, and sending their children to this school.
So congratulations, thank you and I wish you all the very best.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
13 FEBRUARY 2020