2 Mdm Deputy Chair, in Mandarin please.
3 黄文鸿议员提问新加坡如何在疫情期间扩展与中国的关系。新中双边关系向来密切，有新中联委会会议、八个省市经贸理事会、三个政府间合作项目等多元化合作机制。疫情之前，新中互访频密。随着疫情的演变，由于两国对于抗疫方针、边境开放持有不同政策，人员互访交流不易，不过我们仍然通过视讯保持双边合作和高层交流的节奏。去年12月的第17届新中联委会会议，双方就新合作领域达成共识。经济领域的合作也继续取得良好进展。上个月，哈莉玛总统出席北京冬奥开幕式，这是我国高层领导自2020年后第一次访问北京。哈莉玛总统与中国国家主席习近平和国务院总理李克强进行了友好的会谈，进一步巩固双边关系，也肯定了新中两国在2015年所建立的 “与时俱进的全方位合作伙伴关系” 的实质性、广泛性和前瞻性。
[English Translation: Mr Don Wee asked how we have broadened our ties with China amidst the pandemic. Singapore and China have enjoyed close bilateral relations and established a wide range of cooperation mechanisms – the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC), the eight provincial-level Economic and Trade Councils, and three Government-to-Government projects. Prior to the pandemic, bilateral visits were frequent. As the pandemic situation evolved, it has been harder for us to visit each other due to differences in our approach to public health policy and border controls. Nonetheless, we have continued to keep up the momentum of collaboration and high-level exchanges via virtual meetings. At the 17th JCBC last December, we agreed on new areas of bilateral cooperation. Economic cooperation continued to flourish. Last month, President Halimah attended the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games – our first high-level visit to Beijing since 2020. Her friendly discussions with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang served to cement our bilateral relationship and affirmed the substantive, wide-ranging and forward-looking nature of our unique “All-Round Cooperative Partnership Progressing with the Times” (“与时俱进的全方位合作伙伴关系”) established in 2015.
7 Domestic preoccupations will continue to be top-of-mind for the Biden Administration, particularly with the November mid-term elections. We will work to keep up the good pace of engagement, find ways to support US policy priorities where opportune, and continue supporting US engagement of Southeast Asia. We will also work to enhance existing cooperation and explore new areas of collaboration. To Mr Dennis Tan’s query, Singapore welcomes the US’ intention to shape a robust and comprehensive regional economic strategy, including through its proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and will contribute meaningfully towards enhancing the US’ open and inclusive engagement of Southeast Asia.
8 Now a few words about how to strengthen our global network of friends.
9 Mr Don Wee asked what steps we have taken to strengthen cooperation with Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), during the pandemic. We have kept up close cooperation with both countries, including in the digital economy and safe resumption of travel. High-level visits have gradually resumed. Mr Speaker and Minister Edwin Tong visited Japan last August for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, while Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hagiuda Koichi visited Singapore in January this year. ROK Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong made an introductory visit here last June, while Minister Tan See Leng visited Seoul last November.
10 We have steadfast partners in Europe including the United Kingdom (UK), with whom we share deep historical ties and close partnership. Another milestone was reached last week when we signed the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement – the first digital pact between an Asian and a European country, and a pathfinder in setting high-standard digital trade rules between both regions. We will continue exploring further opportunities for collaboration, particularly in the green sector.
11 We will continue working with other key European partners, in particular the European Union (EU), on post-pandemic recovery and enhance cooperation in areas such as trade and investment, the digital economy and the green sector. We welcome efforts by the EU and its member states to step up engagement of the region through their Indo-Pacific strategies and will encourage their further engagement with ASEAN through the areas outlined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
12 Mr Gan Thiam Poh has indicated interest in knowing how Singapore contributes to the development of other developing countries. The Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) is our way of giving back to the international community, having benefited from similar assistance during our formative years. 2022 marks the SCP’s 30th anniversary. We have hosted some 137,000 foreign government officials to our programmes over the past three decades. Many have come to Singapore as strangers but left as friends.
13 We continue to update our programmes so that they remain relevant and cover areas such as public health governance, sustainable development and digital transformation. This is part of our contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We will continue to focus our capacity-building efforts on developing countries and small states, such as through the “FOSS for Good” technical assistance package, which was launched in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the Forum of Small States (FOSS) this year.
14 A core function of MFA’s work is our consular assistance to Singaporeans across the globe, especially during this pandemic. As more Singaporeans live, work and travel abroad, MFA will need resources to support those in need. Mr Alex Yam has indicated interest in knowing more about how MFA has facilitated the return of overseas Singaporeans, given the unpredictable epidemiological situation and border control measures. Let me give some examples of the good work done by our MFA officers over the past year.
15 On 16 December last year, Typhoon Odette landed in Siargao Island and swept through the Visayas, affecting mobile networks, power and water supplies. Our Embassy in Manila reached out to the 12 Singaporeans in the Visayas e-registered with MFA and confirmed their safety. However, four Singaporeans in Cebu needed assistance, and our Embassy worked with airlines to have emergency supplies sent to them from Metro Manila to provide temporary relief. Nearer home, MFA has assisted the return of over 450 Singaporeans stranded in Malaysia since March 2020.
16 Mr Desmond Choo asked how MFA can assist Singaporeans who need to travel overseas for compassionate reasons and improve the delivery of its consular assistance to overseas Singaporeans. MFA has explored new initiatives to address consular needs arising from the COVID-19 situation. For instance, Singapore launched the Death and Critical Illness Emergency Visits (DCEV) scheme with Malaysia last May. Under this unique bilateral arrangement, Singapore residents can make urgent trips to Malaysia to visit immediate family members who are critically ill, or to pay their last respects, without serving the full quarantine duration in Malaysia. Malaysia residents can similarly use the DCEV scheme to visit immediate family members in Singapore for similar reasons. Last September, MFA and MOH launched dedicated vaccination channels for overseas Singaporeans which made it more convenient for them to return home for inoculation. Since its establishment, there have been over 360 successful sign-ups.
17 As more VTLs are established, MFA has received increased requests for consular assistance from travelling Singaporeans, particularly those caught off-guard by changes to travel regulations and border policies announced at short notice. Similarly, more Singaporeans have requested consular advice and assistance to return home after contracting COVID-19 overseas. MFA has been using social media and our website, to provide advice and travel information updates where possible. We have also explored the use of technology to improve our consular services. This includes newly-launched e-Services to report loss of passports and apply for Documents of Identity (DOIs) online. This will help mitigate the inconveniences Singaporeans face after losing travel documents while overseas. We thank Mr Vikram Nair and other members of the House for the appreciation shown for the work done by our officers.
18 The pandemic reminds us of our vulnerability and interdependence in a fast-changing global environment. But fundamentally, foreign policy begins at home. Our diplomacy is only credible if we maintain domestic consensus and nurture a deeper understanding of Singapore’s foreign policy priorities. This includes our interests and vulnerabilities as a small state, such as our consistent, unequivocal support for a robust, rules-based multilateral system that gives Singapore an equal voice.
19 Ms Joan Pereira asked how we can deepen Singaporeans’ understanding of the key tenets and considerations of our foreign policy. MFA has undertaken sustained efforts to engage Singaporeans on this through different means. Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Second Minister Maliki and myself, as well as MFA’s senior management and foreign service officers regularly communicate key messages on our foreign policy through engagement sessions, media interviews and digital media platforms. We also reach out to students through dialogue sessions to help them understand key foreign policy issues and challenges. Our goal is to keep the Singapore public well-informed about the geostrategic forces at play, encourage critical thinking about our national interests, and strengthen resilience against foreign influence and agendas that do not benefit Singapore.
20 In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Singapore’s continued success is contingent on many factors. Both domestic and foreign policy considerations play a role. In keeping with our Mission to protect and advance Singaporeans’ interests, MFA will continue to invest in our relations with global partners, and support international norms that help Singapore navigate challenges thrown up by a complex global landscape. MFA will also strengthen our consular support of Singaporeans during this pandemic and beyond.
21 Thank you.