Speech by Minister in The Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and Second Minister for Education Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman during the Committee of Supply Debate, 3 March 2022

03 March 2022


1 Mr Chairman, I would like to begin by following up on what Minister Vivian had just shared about our relations with our closest neighbours – Malaysia and Indonesia. 

2 Mr Chong Kee Hiong’s question on how we have engaged Malaysia amidst the pandemic is a pertinent one as our two countries are deeply intertwined. Two years of living with COVID-19 have underscored the depth of our ties and the value of close cooperation for mutual benefit. The prolonged closure of our borders has thus had profound impact on the people on both sides, with many families and relatives separated. 

3 Given our interdependencies, the two governments have worked closely to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19. We coordinated to ensure the sustainable movement of supplies, goods, and services and will continue to do so. It has not been easy and we thank our Malaysian friends, including truck drivers who undergo regular testing to ensure that supplies reach us. We convened with Malaysia the 14th Joint Ministerial Committee for Iskandar Malaysia on 21 December 2021, where we reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen the manufacturing ecosystem in Iskandar Malaysia. As Malaysia’s closest neighbour, Singapore always stands ready to do our part to help when needed. We contributed seed money to support the Singapore Red Cross’ disaster relief and recovery efforts following the floods in Kuala Lumpur and nine other Malaysian states in December 2021, as we had done in previous similar instances. We are similarly very grateful for Malaysia's assistance. Recently, Malaysia helped to facilitate the departure of a Singaporean from Ukraine.

4 Beyond our relations with the federal government, we have also maintained our ties with various Malaysian states. We have contributed medical supplies and vaccines, and shared our experiences on vaccine procurement and other areas. For example, we donated over 100,000 vaccine doses and over 100,000 test kits to Johor last year and have regularly engaged the state government on the re-opening of the Singapore-Johor land border. The recent land VTL between Singapore and Malaysia has provided much relief to both Malaysians and Singaporeans as they are now able to meet their families again. 

5 Looking ahead, we will continue our engagement of Malaysian leaders and officials across all levels while working towards the further expansion of cross-border travel and reinvigorating our economic ties. 

6 Let me now move on to Singapore-Indonesia relations. Singapore and Indonesia enjoy strong and substantive relations. We have been Indonesia’s largest foreign investor since 2014. In 2021, investments from Singapore reached US$9.4 billion despite the pandemic. The Bilateral Investment Treaty, which entered into force last year, will promote greater bilateral investment flows. To further deepen our economic and people-to-people links, we are exploring new areas of cooperation, such as in the digital economy, the green economy, and human capital development.

7 We have also continued our close cooperation with the various regions across Indonesia. Our economic engagements in Batam, Bintan and Karimun have progressed well. The Nongsa Digital Town was launched last year and is set to house 8,000 tech talents when completed. Its proximity to Singapore offers opportunities for Singapore-based companies to tap Singapore and Indonesia’s complementary tech ecosystems to support their digital needs. This demonstrates Singapore and Indonesia’s mutual commitment to develop Batam as a “digital bridge” between us. Infrastructure Asia, which was set up by ESG and MAS, is also partnering the West Java provincial government to accelerate infrastructure projects focusing on urban transportation, waste management, and water sectors. This partnership will increase the attractiveness of West Java’s infrastructure projects to international investors. At the same time, it allows Singapore-based companies to better access and participate in projects in West Java.

8 Next, let me talk about Singapore-Brunei relations. Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim asked how we have maintained our excellent relations with Brunei. We have always enjoyed a longstanding, special relationship with Brunei. There remain strong links between our people, our leaders and institutions. Minister Vivian visited Brunei in March 2021, while Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean attended the Sultan’s 75th birthday celebrations in July 2021. We have also worked together to tackle the challenges of the pandemic. For instance, in September 2021, we sent 100,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to Brunei. In exchange, Brunei will provide the same quantity of vaccines back to Singapore at a later date. 

9 Mr Zhulkarnain also asked about the highlights of Brunei’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2021. Singapore appreciated Brunei’s steady leadership in guiding ASEAN through a challenging year. Brunei led ASEAN’s efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, including utilising the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to procure much-needed vaccines for our ASEAN Member States, and coordinated ASEAN’s response to address the situation in Myanmar. 

10 Sir, let me now move on to the Middle East. Mr Chong Kee Hiong asked how our relations with the Gulf countries have developed. A number of our Ministers, including myself, have visited the Gulf in recent months. I made a working visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Qatar last October. Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry Dr Tan See Leng also co-chaired the inaugural Saudi-Singapore Joint Committee in December 2021, which we hope will catalyse greater trade and investment between Singapore and Saudi Arabia. In turn, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud visited Singapore in January 2022, his first to Southeast Asia. During his phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud last month, Prime Minister Lee had welcomed the deepening of ties between our two countries. 

11 Mr Chairman, allow me to speak briefly in Malay, please. 

12 Encik Zhulkarnain telah bertanya sama ada kita boleh menjangkakan ibadah haji akan disambung semula untuk jemaah haji Singapura pada tahun 2022 ini, memandangkan Umrah untuk jemaah antarabangsa telah disambung semula. Saya amat gembira kerana umat Islam Singapura telah dapat melakukan perjalanan ke Saudi Arabia untuk menunaikan ibadah Umrah, setelah tidak dapat melakukannya untuk sebahagian besar tahun 2020 dan 2021. Saya memahami keghairahan masyarakat agar ibadah haji dapat disambung semula. Perkara ini dibincangkan semasa panggilan telefon Perdana Menteri Lee dengan Putera Mahkota Saudi baru-baru ini di mana PM Lee meminta agar kuota haji kita dinaikkan. Kami berharap untuk menerima butiran lanjut sama ada Haji 2022 akan dibuka kepada jemaah haji antarabangsa dan juga peningkatan kuota Haji kita.

[English Translation: Mr Zhulkarnain had asked whether we can expect Haj to resume for Singapore pilgrims in 2022 since Umrah for international pilgrims have resumed. I am glad that Singaporean Muslims have been able to travel to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, after being unable to do so for much of 2020 and 2021. I understand the eagerness of the community for the Haj to resume. This was discussed during Prime Minister’s recent phone call with the Saudi Crown Prince during which PM Lee requested for our Haj quota to be increased. We look forward to receiving more details on whether Haj 2022 will be open to international pilgrims and also an increase in our Haj quota.]

13 Saya difahamkan bahawa Encik Alex Yam juga ingin tahu tentang perkembangan di Timur Tengah, termasuk kesan Perjanjian Abraham atau Abraham Accords. Walaupun keadaan geopolitik serantau timur tengah kekal dinamik, terdapat beberapa perkembangan positif. Selepas menandatangani Abraham Accords, hubungan antara Israel dengan UAE, Bahrain dan Morocco telah berkembang dengan cepat. Kami berharap Abraham Accords akan menjadi asas bagi keamanan dan kestabilan di rantau tersebut.

[English Translation: I understand that Mr Alex Yam also wanted to know about developments in the Middle East, including the impact of the Abraham Accords. While the geopolitical situation inthe Middle East remains fluid, there have been some positive developments. Following the signing of the Abraham Accords, relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have advanced quickly. We hope that the Abraham Accords will serve as a foundation for peace and stability in the region.]

14 Tuan, walaubagaimanapun, konflik Israel-Palestin masih belum dapat dihuraikan. Peningkatan keganasan pada bulan Mei tahun lalu antara Israel dan Hamas di Gaza adalah konflik besar yang kelima di antara mereka dalam tempoh 15 tahun. Kami turut berduka cita atas korban jiwa orang awam di kededua belah pihak. Namun begitu, keadaan di Gaza sebahagiannya adalah manifestasi persaingan politik dalam-kalangan Palestin atau intra-Palestin konflik. Tebing Barat ditadbir oleh Pihak Berkuasa Palestin atau Palestinian Authority (PA) dan dikawal oleh parti Fatah, manakala Hamas merampas kuasa-kawalan secara sehala atau unilateral ke atas Gaza pada tahun 2007. Perpecahan politik itu berterusan walaupun sudah terdapat percubaan untuk membentuk pemerintah perpaduan nasional, menyatukan kededua pihak – Fatah dan Hamas. Fatah mengiktiraf hak Israel secara rasmi untuk wujud. Tetapi Hamas tidak. Hamas, percaya kepada konflik bersenjata.

[English Translation: Sir, however, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. Last May’s escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was their fifth major conflict in the last 15 years. We were saddened by the loss of civilian lives on both sides. Nevertheless, the situation in Gaza is partly a manifestation of intra-Palestinian political rivalries. The West Bank is governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and controlled by the Fatah Party, while Hamas seized unilateral control of Gaza in 2007. This political divide has persisted despite past attempts at forging a national unity government. Unlike Fatah, Hamas does not officially recognise Israel’s right to exist and believes in armed conflict.]

15 Tuan, untuk menghentikan lingkaran keganasan ini, perlu wujud kesungguhan politik di antara kededua pihak itu iaitu, Israel dan Palestin untuk mencapai persetujuan melalui rundingan damai. Singapura kekal teguh dalam sokongan kami untuk penyelesaian dua-negara yang dirundingkan, bagi membolehkan rakyat Israel dan Palestin hidup bersebelahan dalam keamanan dan keselamatan yang selaras dengan resolusi-resolusi Majlis Keselamatan Pertubuhan Bangsa-Bangsa Bersatu yang relevan dengan isu ini. Ini adalah satu-satunya pilihan yang mampu dilaksanakan untuk mencapai penyelesaian yang berdaya tahan, yang adil dan yang komprehensif.

[English Translation: Sir, for the cycle of violence to stop, there must be political will on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to reach an agreement through peaceful negotiations. Singapore remains steadfast in our support for a negotiated two-state solution that allows Israelis and the Palestinians to live side-by-side in peace and security, consistent with relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. This is the only viable option to achieve a durable, just and comprehensive solution.]

16 Encik Zhulkarnain meminta laporan terkini tentang usaha MFA dalam menyokong dan membangunkan keupayaan dalam Pihak Berkuasa Palestin atau Palestinian Authority. Kami terus berbuat demikian melalui Pakej Bantuan Teknikal yang telah  Dipertingkat (atau Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP) yang telah kami gandakan daripada $5 juta kepada $10 juta pada 2016. Sejauh ini, ETAP telah memberi manfaat kepada lebih 600 pegawai Palestin yang telah menyertai berbagai kursus, dalam bidang seperti pentadbiran awam, pembangunan ekonomi,  dan pembangunan bandar. Latihan-latihan ini telah diteruskan dalam talian buat masa ini disebabkan pandemik. Kami menawarkan biasiswa pascasiswazah untuk rakyat Palestin dalam berbagai bidang, Dan telah diperluaskan untuk merangkumi jurusan Sains, Teknologi, Kejuruteraan dan Matematik (STEM). Buat masa ini, terdapat dua orang siswa dari Palestin yang sedang menuntut di peringkat sarjana di Singapura. Saya telah sempat bertemu dengan salah seorang pelajar pada minggu lalu. Beliau sedang mengikuti pengajian peringkat Sarjana dalam Perhubungan Antarabangsa di RSIS di NTU. Kami berharap agar dapat melakukan lebih banyak lagi di bawah ETAP bagi menyokong pembangunan Pihak Berkuasa Palestin.

[English Translation: Mr Zhulkarnain sought an update on MFA’s efforts to support capacity building in the Palestinian Authority (PA). We continue to do so through the Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP) which we doubled from $5 million to $10 million in 2016. The ETAP has benefited more than 600 Palestinian officials who have participated in courses, in areas such as public administration, economic development and urban development. This training has continued online during the pandemic. We have also expanded the postgraduate scholarships for Palestinians to include Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. At present, we have two Palestinian scholars in Singapore pursuing their postgraduate studies. I was happy to meet one of the students last week, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in International Relations at RSIS in NTU. We look forward to doing more under the ETAP.]

17 Tuan, selain dari perkembangan di Timur Tengah, saya ingin menyorot beberapa isu utama yang dihadapi Singapura dalam dunia yang kian kompleks dan tidak menentu hari ini. 

[English Translation: Sir, besides the developments in the Middle East, I will touch on several key issues that Singapore faces in today’s increasingly complex and volatile world.]

18 Pertama ialah situasi pandemik COVID-19. Bagi MFA, Keutamaan kami ialah menghulurkan bantuan konsular kepada rakyat Singapura di luar negara. Dalam masa yang sama,  kami juga mesti terus menyokong usaha serantau dan global menentang COVID-19. Kedua, lalah titik penting geopolitik dan persaingan antara kuasa-kuasa utama dunia, dan implikasinya kepada Singapura. Sebagai sebuah negara yang berdaulat, kami mesti terus membuat keputusan berdasarkan kepentingan negara dan prinsip-prinsip asas kami, dan memperjuangkan prinsip-prinsip ini agar terus ditegakkan. Ketiga, cabaran keselamatan bukan tradisional seperti perubahan iklim dan jaminan makanan. Singapura kekal komited untuk bekerjasama dengan rakan-rakan kami secara dua hala dan juga melalui forum pelbagai hala seperti ASEAN untuk menangani cabaran-cabaran bukan tradisional ini. Keempat, menjaga hubungan baik dengan jiran-jiran kami untuk menggalakkan keamanan dan keselamatan serantau. Dan kelima, mendukung kewibawaan ASEAN untuk berusaha ke arah penyelesaian yang aman dan tahan lama di Myanmar melalui pelaksanaan Konsensus Lima-Mata (Five-point Consensus).

[English Translation: First, the COVID-19 pandemic situation. For MFA, extending consular assistance to overseas Singaporeans remains our key priority. At the same time, we must also continue to support global and regional efforts against COVID-19. Second, geopolitical flashpoints and major power rivalry, and the implications for Singapore. We must continue to make decisions based on our national interests and fundamental principles, and to fight for these principles to be upheld. Third, non-traditional security challenges such as climate change and food security. Singapore remains committed to working together with our partners bilaterally as well as through multilateral fora such as ASEAN to address them. Fourth, maintaining good relations with our neighbours to promote peace and security. And fifth, upholding ASEAN’s credibility to work towards a peaceful and durable resolution in Myanmar through the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus.]

19 Mr Chairman, allow me to continue my speech in English, please.

20 Mr Henry Kwek sought an update on our ties with other Southeast Asian countries. We enjoy warm and friendly relations with our fellow ASEAN Member States including Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos. Just last week, we welcomed Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc for his State Visit to Singapore.

21 We will continue to closely engage and pursue collaborative interests with our Southeast Asian partners, including the diversification of our food and energy options, as well as in emerging areas such as digital economy and sustainable development. For example, in April 2021, MAS and the Bank of Thailand launched the linkage of Singapore’s PayNow and Thailand’s PromptPay, the first of its kind in the world for cross-border real-time retail payment, which has brought convenience to users from both countries. We will continue to be a steadfast friend during both good and trying times. When Typhoon Rai struck the Philippines in December 2021, we contributed seed money to support the Singapore Red Cross’s public fundraising for disaster relief and recovery efforts. 

22 This brings me to ASEAN. ASEAN remains a cornerstone of Singapore’s foreign policy and we will continue to build up ASEAN’s resilience and responsiveness tofuture public health emergencies and support ASEAN’s post-pandemic recovery. For example, the ASEAN (Travel) Corridor Arrangement Framework, when operationalised, will allow for the safe resumption of travel, both for business and leisure, within the region. ASEAN also continues to serve as a vital regional architecture for external powers to engage ASEAN Member States and one another. In 2021, ASEAN established Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships with China and Australia and held an ASEAN-China Special Summit in November. We are now discussing similar proposals by the US and India, and the US has invited ASEAN Leaders to an ASEAN-US Special Summit this year.

23 Given ASEAN’s importance, Mr Liang Eng Hwa’s query on Singapore’s role in maintaining ASEAN’s centrality, unity and credibility is apt. Singapore stands ready to work with the ASEAN Chair, Cambodia, to advance ASEAN’s community-building and regional economic integration efforts. These include the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which entered into force in January 2022. In our capacity as ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) Shepherd, we also hope to work with Cambodia, ASEAN’s current Chair, to advance cooperation on Smart Cities. I am happy to note that thus far, 72% of 65 ASCN projects are being implemented in 26 ASCN cities. 

24 Mr Vikram Nair asked if there are potential areas that Singapore can develop further in our relations with India. India remains a key partner for Singapore. We continue to have active engagements in the economic, security, and people-to-people domains. 

25 India has a vibrant and youthful population, a thriving tech sector, and its economy is well-positioned to strengthen in the years ahead. India’s economic growth will benefit the rest of Asia, including Singapore. Singapore is one of the largest foreign investors in India, with our Direct Investment Abroad to India in 2020 standing at S$66.1 billion. As of 2020, there were 5,800 Singapore-based companies that either exported to or invested in India. These include SMEs such as EnvironSens, which develops water toxicity monitoring technology, as well as another SME, Graymatics, a cloud-based video analytics service provider. We are keen to enhance our digital connectivity with India and are also exploring ways to develop more mutually beneficial partnerships in areas such as fintech, innovation and skills. Likewise, Indian investments in Singapore remain healthy, standing at S$25.78 billion in 2020.

26 Ms Rahayu Mahzam asked about new areas of cooperation that we are exploring with Australia and New Zealand. With Australia, we are constantly exploring new areas of cooperation under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. After signing the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement in 2020, we have launched formal negotiations on a Green Economy Agreement in September 2021. The agreement will be the first of its kind once concluded, and will facilitate trade and investment in environmentally sustainable goods and services. As for New Zealand, we are looking to refresh our Enhanced Partnership and we signed an MOU on Low Carbon Hydrogen in July 2021, which will open up opportunities for our companies to build new capabilities and participate in global hydrogen value chains.

27 Sir, I understand that Mr Gan Thiam Poh is also keen to know about our engagement with emerging markets such as Latin America. In January 2022, the Pacific Alliance-Singapore Free Trade Agreement , or PASFTA, was signed between Singapore, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The Pacific Alliance is a major economic bloc with a combined GDP of over US$2 trillion in nominal terms. This landmark agreement makes Singapore the PA’s first Associate State that will open up more opportunities for our businesses, through access into these markets, and the assurance that their investments will be supported by a robust trade architecture. The appointment of our first Non-Resident Ambassadors to Colombia and Costa Rica also signals our interest to enhance our diplomatic engagement in Latin America.

28 Our relations with the South Pacific also reached new heights as Singapore was admitted as a Dialogue Partner to the Pacific Islands Forum in 2021. This will enable us to better contribute to the South Pacific’s development journey by sharing our development experience through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). Thus far, 5,300 officials from this region have benefited from our SCP. We also contributed seed money towards relief and recovery efforts in Tonga after the volcanic eruption and tsunami in January 2022.

29 Mr Chairman, allow me to just conclude by reiterating MFA’s commitment to enhance our ties with our global partners amidst an uncertain external environment, harness opportunities that emerge as we ensure peace and prosperity for Singapore and the region. 

30 Thank you.

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