1 Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please.
[English Translation: The US is a major economic and defence partner for Singapore. The US is also our largest source of FDI. US’ investments and US companies create many jobs in finance, insurance, manufacturing, technology and other sectors. Cooperation with the US is critical to maintaining our defence capabilities. President Biden is familiar with Singapore, and keen to work with us.]
[English Translation: Mr Zhulkarnain spoke about the state of our relations with China. Singapore-China relations are developing well. Bilateral relations are longstanding, substantive, and multi-faceted. In 2020, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Despite the pandemic, we have kept up our exchanges and cooperation.]
4 过去数十年，我们与中国的合作不断前进， 并符合中国的发展目标。在这个过程中，新加坡既参与中国的增长，也从中受惠，我们两国互相学习。
[English Translation: Over the past decades, our cooperation with China has continued to progress, and developed in a way that meets China’s developmental priorities. In the process, Singapore has contributed to and benefitted from China’s growth. We have learnt from each other.]
5 放眼未来，我们将继续与中国加强合作，为新加坡企业和员工创造更多发展机会。连荣华先生问到新加坡企业在中国各省的商机，以及区域全面经济伙伴关系协定 (RCEP) 如何进一步促进双边贸易。我们和八个中国省市的经贸理事会将继续支持本地企业参与中国的经济转型；推广中国企业以新加坡为区域枢纽走向国际化；以及在新领域如互联互通、可持续发展和现代服务各方面深化合作。尽管面临挑战，亚太区域依然致力于促进经济一体化。RCEP的签署就是强有力的证明。它将加强各方对贸易和投资的信心，也为包括中国在内的RCEP经济体开拓新的商机。
[English Translation: Looking ahead, we will continue to strengthen our cooperation with China and create development opportunities for Singaporean enterprises and our workers. Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked what are the opportunities for Singaporean businesses in China at the provincial level, and how RCEP could further boost bilateral trade. Our eight provincial business councils allow us to support Singapore companies to participate in China’s economic transformation; promote the internationalisation of Chinese enterprises through Singapore as a regional hub; and deepen collaboration in new areas such as connectivity, sustainability, and modern services. The signing of the RCEP is a strong testament of the region’s commitment to deepening economic integration despite challenging times. It will boost confidence in trade and investment and open up new business opportunities with RCEP economies, including China.]
[English Translation: With our strong historical and people-to-people links with China, Singapore is in a good position to build bridges with China. However, our value proposition must go beyond our ability to speak Mandarin or understand Chinese culture. These are useful to build connections with our Chinese counterparts, but there are already more than a billion people who speak Mandarin and understand Chinese culture in China. This is therefore not an area where Singapore can value add with China.
Our value proposition lies in our ability to continuously improve, innovate, manage our economy and society well, and to be an exceptional and modern country. In fact, it is precisely because Singapore and China are “same-same but different” that there are more opportunities for both sides to learn from each other, and there is greater room for us to exchange views and cooperate. What is most important is that we can build on common ground despite differences in some areas, and work together in areas of shared interests.
For instance, this is why Lianhe Zaobao has a strong following in China. The Chinese readers find Zaobao accessible and familiar, but its value comes from the fact that it is a Singapore newspaper and not a Chinese newspaper. So it analyses global and regional developments from a Singaporean perspective.
It is also important that we do not take our excellent bilateral relations for granted. We should regularly renew and deepen our friendship to build on the strong foundations that our forefathers have put in place. Every generation will need to invest in strengthening our relationship, strengthen mutual trust, and continually identify areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.]
10 前外交部长杨荣文先生用太极推手中的基本功“沾”来形容新中关系， 我觉得这个比喻不错。两国之间的互动有来有往，有起有落，但双方必须“沾”在一起，不断保持联系和沟通。
[English Translation: Mr Chairman, Singapore’s foreign policy is always guided by our national interests. We work hard to be friends and maintain good ties with all countries, in order to preserve and enhance our security, economic and international space. However, it is inevitable that our positions on various issues may differ from those of our partners. This includes our neighbouring countries, as well as the US, the EU, China, Japan, India, etc. Our relations with other countries will therefore have their ups and downs.
When our relations with other countries are good, we can build on the momentum and strengthen our collaborations and friendship. However, we must be prepared that countries will disagree with each other on certain issues based on different national interests. The key is to find suitable platforms to resolve these disagreements in an amicable manner, by engaging with each other constructively and where possible, coming to mutually acceptable compromises. Sometimes, we may have to agree to disagree, but we can still maintain friendly relations.
Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr George Yeo had used the Taiji analogy of “zhan” to characterise Singapore-China relations; I think this is a good metaphor. There will be some back and forth in the interactions, and with some ups and downs along the way, but the two parties should remain in contact and stay engaged with each other.]
11 Mr Chairman, please allow me to continue in English.
12 Mr Desmond Choo asked how Singaporeans can play their part on foreign policy.
13 Mr Don Wee asked about maintaining Singapore’s relevance in the international community, while Mr Gerald Giam raised our technical assistance to developing countries.
14 Singapore’s survival is intrinsically linked to regional and international peace and stability. It is therefore in our interest for our region to grow and prosper.
15 We have been proactively sharing our development experiences and know-how in areas where we can contribute, for example through the Singapore Cooperation Programme. Through these initiatives, we have been able to grow our international network of friends, whilst reinforcing Singapore’s relevance as a constructive and responsible member of the international community. These friendships, built over many years, have been especially important during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
16 Sir, as Mr Desmond Choo noted, an important area where MFA helps Singaporeans abroad is through our consular work. During the pandemic, our officers went beyond the call of duty to assist fellow Singaporeans in distress. Just across the Causeway, some Singaporeans were unable to make it back home following the Malaysian Movement Control Order (MCO) in March 2020. Some of our children were in the care of their grandparents, their guardians in Malaysia at the time. To facilitate their return, MFA officers, together with ICA, MOH, MOT and LTA, worked tirelessly and they launched several repatriation operations to reunite over 350 children with their parents in Singapore. Our Overseas Missions also worked around the clock with airlines and foreign authorities to facilitate safe passage home for overseas Singaporeans.
17 We have worked with our network of Honorary Consuls around the world to extend our consular presence. Our Honorary Consul-General in Lima Mr Winston Merchor helped with the repatriation of 14 Singaporeans and their families who were stranded in Peru last year. Unfortunately, Mr Merchor passed away last month. I would like to express my deepest condolences to his family, and our appreciation for his 16 years of sterling service as our HCG in Lima. Mr Merchor was a wonderful friend to Singapore. I also thank all our HCGs around the world for their devoted service to Singapore and Singaporeans, especially over the past year during the pandemic.
18 I share these examples to illustrate how our MFA officers, including those serving at our Overseas Missions, are frontline workers and frontline warriors in the fight against COVID-19. They have worked under challenging conditions to bring our citizens home and ensure no Singaporean is left behind.
19 MFA will also protect our officers on the frontlines, and I thank Mr Raj Joshua Thomas for raising this. Even as the global health situation deteriorated, not a single MFA officer - not one, not a single one - has asked to leave his or her post to come home. They bravely continue to perform their duties to serve Singapore and Singaporeans out at post.
20 On behalf of all Singaporeans, I want to thank our MFA officers for their service during this especially difficult year and also my sincere thanks to their families for their unwavering support. Your tenacity and dedication in performing your duty to the nation despite the risk to your own lives, showcase the very best of the Singapore spirit. It shows the world why we are called Singapura – a city of lion-hearted people.
21 Mr Chairman, in the face of global uncertainty and upheaval, domestic resilience and national unity are crucial. Foreign policy indeed begins at home. The support of our people gives us strength. The pursuit of our national interests guides our direction, and the well-being of Singapore and Singaporeans is why MFA and our officers continue to brave the odds and go the extra mile to get our job done.
22 Thank you, Sir.
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