Addendum to the President's Address – Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs

27 August 2020

1          The mission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is to uphold Singapore’s independence and sovereignty while advancing the interests of Singapore overseas and providing consular services to Singaporeans. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, we will continue to prioritise these key areas of MFA’s work: first, looking after Singaporeans overseas; second, managing and strengthening relations with our immediate neighbours, ASEAN, and key regional and international partners; and third, maintaining our relevance on the global stage and engaging our international partners as we embark on our collective fight against COVID-19.


2          Even as we deal with the massive health, economic, and social impact of the pandemic, we need to maintain our engagement on the global stage. COVID-19 has reinforced how important it is for Singapore to continue to play an active role internationally and deepen our interactions with key stakeholders and at multilateral fora. The fight against COVID-19 is a global one and we cannot win it alone.


COVID-19: Looking after Overseas Singaporeans


3          Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, more Singaporeans than ever were living, working, studying, and travelling overseas. COVID-19 has deeply affected these overseas Singaporeans and their families. In the weeks and months following the outbreak, we saw numerous Singaporeans return home. MFA officers, together with other Ministries and agencies, were heavily involved in these repatriation efforts. Our officers worked around the clock and went beyond the call of duty to help their fellow Singaporeans in their time of need. Singaporeans know that we will leave no Singaporean behind.



4          Diplomacy was crucial in these efforts. MFA worked closely with our international partners on these repatriation missions. In the months since, we have continued to work with the international community to cope with the travel and movement restrictions imposed by the pandemic while safeguarding Singapore’s interests and Singaporeans’ welfare. 



5          COVID-19 will continue to be a threat for the foreseeable future and we must be prepared for the uncertainty that lies ahead. For those Singaporeans who have chosen to remain abroad, their families here are understandably concerned about their well-being. MFA remains committed to helping overseas Singaporeans and doing our part to bring peace of mind to their families at home.



Strengthening Relations in Our Neighbourhood


6          As a small nation-state, developing strong, sustainable, and multi-faceted partnerships is vital for Singapore’s long-term security and continued prosperity. Maintaining and strengthening our relations with our immediate neighbours, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, is more critical than ever as we work to maintain supply chains for essential trade and overcome the longer-term socio-economic impact of the pandemic. In our relations with Malaysia, we continue to adopt a win-win approach in the many areas where we have common interests, such as the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link project that both sides have agreed to proceed with. We are also discussing measures to progressively restore cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia while ensuring the health and safety of the citizens of both countries. We are also keeping up our strong and mutually-beneficial cooperation with Indonesia and will explore ways to support each other’s economic recovery.


7          ASEAN continues to be a cornerstone of Singapore’s foreign policy, serving as the necessary bedrock for a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region. Singapore will continue to work closely with our fellow ASEAN Member States, as well as ASEAN’s external partners, to enhance ASEAN’s global footprint. We share substantive and growing economic, defence, and people-to-people ties with our Southeast Asian neighbours and are developing new areas of cooperation such as smart city infrastructure, Fintech, digital technology, innovation, as well as agri-trade to secure and diversify our supply chains.


Beyond our Neighbourhood: Maintaining our Relevance and Engaging Global Partners

8          Beyond Southeast Asia, we will continue to strengthen our political, economic, and strategic ties, and explore new areas of cooperation particularly in vaccine multilateralism, which would be critical to help Singapore secure early and adequate access to COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, we are cooperating with the US on emerging areas such as cybersecurity and infrastructure financing. With China, we will leverage on the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation to expand bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas including public health. At the same time, we will continue with our active engagement of other key partners including India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, and the European Union, and explore ways to enhance cooperation in areas such as public health, reciprocal green lanes, and supply chain connectivity. We will have to work together with friends in the international community to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for people in all countries. Beyond the pandemic, we are strengthening cooperation with international partners in areas such as vocational education and sustainable development.


9          We will continue to play a constructive role at various multilateral fora, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization. We will continue to advocate for trade and investment liberalisation, a free, open and rules-based multilateral system, the importance of preserving supply chain connectivity, facilitating the flow of essential goods, and promoting vaccine multilateralism. These are critical to Singapore’s growth and prosperity. We will work with partners to foster an environment where individuals, businesses, and governments can transact safely in cyberspace and thereby create opportunities for Singaporeans in the new digital era. We will also continue to contribute to efforts to address global challenges like climate change and sustainable development and developing global public health protocols and standards. 


10        MFA will continue to enhance relations with countries in other regions including the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Latin America is increasingly an important source of food for Singapore, and potentially a growing market for our companies’ expertise. We have embarked on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with the Pacific Alliance and MERCOSUR regional blocs to enhance our economic ties. We will also utilise our Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) to support the efforts of developing countries to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.





11        Foreign policy begins at home. As we navigate the challenging times ahead, we must ensure that first and foremost, we are strong and united as Singaporeans. This will strengthen our credibility when we work with external partners to strengthen our bilateral relations, regional standing and international presence. In the spirit of SG Together, we will continue to ensure Singaporeans are aware of the Government’s collective efforts to address challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, increase our relevance and expand our space on the global stage.


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