Official Visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong, 6 to 7 July 2022

06 July 2022

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong today. She also met and was hosted to lunch by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. The two Foreign Ministers held a Joint Press Conference after their lunch. The transcript of Minister Balakrishnan’s remarks and Q&A are at Annex.

The Foreign Ministers noted the good progress on the wide-ranging cooperation under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, in areas such as defence, trade, economics, science and innovation, digital economy, and people-to-people ties. They agreed that there is scope to expand cooperation in new areas including the green economy, energy security, as well as food and supply chain resilience. The Foreign Ministers announced that Singapore and Australia will form a Working Group to discuss ways to strengthen supply chain resilience. They agreed that both sides should conclude a pathfinding Green Economy Agreement that is ambitious and benefits people and businesses.

Prime Minister Lee and Minister Wong reaffirmed the excellent relations between Singapore and Australia, and exchanged views on a range of regional and international issues. Deputy Prime Minister Wong had a good discussion with Minister Wong. They discussed the global economy, including the impact of COVID-19.  They also discussed topics such as the development of sustainable finance, including efforts to transition towards a greener and low-carbon future. 

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6 JULY 2022



Minister Balakrishnan: Good afternoon everyone, and (a) warm welcome to an old friend, Minister Penny Wong. I have lost count (of) how many times you have been in Singapore, how many times we have met in your various incarnations, but you know, you are always welcome in Singapore.

Singapore and Australia are long standing natural partners, and partners with what I would describe as a huge reservoir of strategic trust. We tend to see the world through similar perspectives, for instance, on the need to maintain an open and inclusive regional order, our mutual belief in the constructive value and importance of free trade and of course, the rule of law. Our relations encompass the whole spectrum of interactions and have in more recent years been anchored especially by the comprehensive strategic partnership. Some of the key elements in that partnership are of course the upgrade of the free trade agreement and the military training facilities that Australia has so graciously provided for Singapore. And just as an aside, in fact, later this year, there will be a resumption of full training, both unilateral and bilateral components, with the Australian Defence Force. Again, another illustration of the deep wells of strategic trust. Looking forward, we have had some good discussions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong which just recently concluded. There are a couple of areas which we want to explore and take further.

The first is the green economy partnership or Green Economy Agreement. This is something which obviously is of crucial importance to Singapore because we are a small, tiny island state, and climate change is an existential threat for us. And I suggested to Minister Wong that we can make this an ambitious, practical, pathfinding agreement. One which will make a difference to our economy, one which will fulfil the climate ambition of our people, one that makes sense to the business sector as well. Our officials have met about 10 times thus far but we have agreed that we will press on the accelerator, and get them to really arrive at a highly ambitious pathfinding agreement, which will make a difference both to Australia and Singapore while also helping us in our further negotiations with other partners on the green economy.

We also had reflected on the fact that during the crisis, Australia and Singapore were stalwart partners. And again, the way you behave in a crisis reveals a lot about national character and the levels of trust. I can say with absolute confidence that Australia and Singapore stood by each other in crisis. As we look forward, we believe that there is value in exploring how we can make our supply chains even more resilient for the future. We have agreed to convene a working group among the officials to explore how we can construct supply chains which will withstand the test of future crises, and which will draw on these wells of strategic trust between our two countries. So indeed, there is a lot to celebrate regarding the past.

I stand ready to be corrected, but I believe the relations between Singapore and Australia have been an example of bipartisan consensus in Australian politics. On that note again, let me welcome you and look forward to your comments.

Min Zhang (ST): Good afternoon I am Min Zhang from Straits Times. My question is for Minister Vivian. You mentioned just now about strengthening supply chains. Australia has long been a reliable source of food and commodities for Southeast Asia and especially for Singapore as well. Could I ask for some elaboration on this plan that you mentioned earlier to strengthen this resilience given the supply chains constraints we are facing and of course, inflationary pressures? Thank you.

Minister Balakrishnan: Well, as I illustrated earlier, just cast your mind back to the darkest times of COVID-19, and Australians were trying to get home from Europe – we maintained our transit facilities, always available and open, even when Singaporeans needed to return from other places. If we ever needed to get consular assistance, or even evacuation from Australia, you (Australia) have been there. If you think about even the delivery of vaccines to Australia, it came via Singapore. Both the Australian Health Minister and I were tracking the transponder on the plane as it made its way to Australia. For food, if you again recall the past when we had disruptions even with pork two decades ago, Australia was there. You look at chicken, Australia is an exporter too.  In fact, I suspect we just ate Australian meat upstairs (MFA) just now. Further, when there were essential pharmaceutical supplies again either passing through us or from Australia to us and to the rest of the world, Changi Airport, our port, remained open and available. At each moment, neither government ever panicked, ever sought to requisition supplies or restrict the flow. We just emphasised the sanctity of contract.

This is the foundation on which we think we should now be preparing for the next crisis because there will be more, whether it be in energy or food, and we think we can make these arrangements in advance, and that is why our officials will get together and make these contingency plans because we know that we have a reliable partner. I do not want to jump the gun, but I think this is an area which we are working on a very strong foundation. I should also mention energy. Australia intends to be, I believe, a hydrogen hub as well, because you clearly have potential, great potential, for renewable energy and to produce green hydrogen. As Singapore is a bunkering port, if we can look forward to further transformation in maritime and other transport infrastructure, this again is another very fertile area where we can work closely together. So there is much to be done. Maybe you (Minister Wong) would like to add?

Minister Wong: The only thing I would add to that is – to expand on the point I made earlier which Minister Vivian illustrated in his (Minister Balakrishnan’s) answer, which is the economic opportunity of both our economies and peoples of the net zero emissions by 2050 objective. It will transform, and it is already transforming, the global economy, and part of what forward leaning and far-seeing governments need to do is to identify the opportunities in that new global economy which is actually not that far away if you think about this in terms of economic transformation. What are those new economic opportunities – and we in Australia think we have great opportunities for us – and I think discussions today demonstrated how there are great opportunities for both our countries to work together. 

Minister Balakrishnan: So, watch this space. A lot more is going to happen.

Clara Lee (CNA): Thank you very much for your remarks, Ministers. I am Clara from Channel NewsAsia. This question is directed to Minister Vivian, I was just wondering with regards to the Green Economy Agreement, do we have – is there a timeline we can expect or are there any challenges that you foresee you will need to overcome in order to get it running?   

Minister Balakrishnan: Well, I think we issued a Joint Vision Statement (on the GEA) back in October 2021. As I said earlier, there has been 10 rounds of negotiations. I think both Penny and I are more interested in ambition than in a rushed agreement. As I said, I view this agreement as being a pathfinder, a template, for future agreements. So while we both want to put pressure on our officials, I do not think we want to – do you (Minister Wong) want to put an absolute deadline on it?      

Minister Wong: Oh no, we should just put a qualitative standard.

Minister Balakrishnan: So I think quality, ambition, is more important than doing things in a hurry. But we will get there. I am confident of this.

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Photo 1

Photo Caption:
Call on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

Photo 2

Photo Caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Photo 3

Photo Caption: Lunch hosted by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan for Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Photo 4

Photo Caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Joint Press Conference with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Photo 5

Photo Caption: Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Joint Press Conference with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore

Photo 6

Photo Caption: Call on Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong by Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia Penny Wong on 6 July 2022.

Photo Credit: Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore

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