1. Mr Chairman, Mr Don Wee, Mr Wan Rizal and Ms Sylvia Lim asked about our relations with Malaysia. Malaysia and Singapore are deeply intertwined, with strong people-to-people, cultural, and economic linkages. There is a high tempo of two-way exchanges and visits. Since the start of the year, there have been more than 10 high-level visits, including by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. President Halimah will make a State Visit to Malaysia next month.
2. We also devote considerable resources to deepening our links with the various Malaysian states. Apart from the visit by Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi earlier this month we also hosted delegations from Terengganu, Selangor and Sarawak.
3. I will be visiting Terengganu and Kelantan in April – to explore opportunities to work together for mutual benefit. Ultimately, the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia is undergirded by enduring people-to-people linkages, which we are committed to strengthening into the next generation.
4. Mr Chairman, please allow me to speak briefly in Malay.
5. Sebagai sebuah negara kecil tanpa hasil bumi, dasar luar negara kita ialah untuk mengeratkan hubungan dengan seberapa banyak negara asing dan terus relevan kepada dunia yang kian berubah dengan pesatnya. Dalam pada itu, kita harus terus bersatu dan akur bahawa dasar luar negara kita bermula dalam negeri kita sendiri. Setiap warganegara memainkan peranan untuk memajukan kepentingan negara kita di arena antarabangsa.
[Translation: As a small nation without natural resources, our foreign policy is to strengthen our relations with as many nations and to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. Meanwhile, we have to be united and concur that our foreign policy begins at home. Every citizen plays an important role towards advancing Singapore’s interests in the international arena.]
6. Dasar luar negara kita berteraskan prinsip dan kepentingan negara kita. Setiap pilihan dan keputusan yang kita buat mengutamakan Singapura. Kita sedang menghadapi suatu tempoh persaingan kuasa besar yang sengit dan dunia yang semakin berpecah dan bergolak. Tetapi kita menghadapi cabaran-cabaran ini dari sudut kekuatan. Kestabilan politik dan ekonomi serta cara kita berurusan dengan konsisten merupakan reputasi utama kita di mata dunia. Dalam masa yang sama, perpaduan dan kepercayaan awam dalam negeri kita penting untuk kita mengemudi cabaran dasar luar negara. Dalam hal ini, warga Singapura mempercayai dan yakin terhadap pemerintah kita dan masyarakat kita semakin kekal bersatu. Saya menyeru warga Singapura untuk lebih peka tentang persekitaran luaran kita supaya mereka sedar tentang realiti dunia yang kita diami hari ini, tetapi pada masa yang sama mempunyai harapan dan keyakinan bahawa jika kita terus kekal bersatu, kita akan muncul dari cabaran-cabaran ini dengan lebih kuat lagi.
[Translation: Singapore’s foreign policy will always be based on our principles and interests. Every choice and decision we make prioritises Singapore’s interests. We are confronting a period of intense superpower competition and a more fragmented and turbulent world. But Singapore approaches these challenges from a position of strength. Our political and economic stability, and our consistency in managing our affairs are valued by others around the world. At the same time, our unity and public trust is crucial to navigating foreign policy challenges. In this matter, Singaporeans trust their government and remain more united than ever before. I urge Singaporeans to be more aware of our external environment, so that they know the realities of the world we live in today, but also have hope and confidence that if we stay united, we can emerge from these challenges stronger.]
7. Oleh itu, kita harus terus berusaha untuk menjalin hubungan erat dengan rakan-rakan negara kita, lebih-lebih lagi dengan bekerjasama dengan jiran terdekat kita. Izinkan saya bermula dengan hubungan kita dengan Malaysia. Seperti yang dikatakan oleh Perdana Menteri Lee Hsien Loong ketika lawatan Perdana Menteri Anwar Ibrahim ke Singapura pada Januari lalu, hubungan antara Singapura dan Malaysia tidak seperti hubungan yang lain. Tunggak utama hubungan kita adalah ikatan kekeluargaan dan perkongsian sejarah, bahasa dan budaya. Rakyat Singapura dan Malaysia saling mengunjungi antara satu sama lain sama ada untuk bekerja, beriadah atau menziarahi sanak saudara.
[Translation: We should continue to endeavour to strengthen relations with our neighbours, especially our most immediate neighbours. Let me start with Malaysia. As PM Lee Hsien Loong said during PM Anwar Ibrahim’s visit to Singapore in January, Singapore and Malaysia share a relationship quite unlike any other. A key pillar in our relations are the familial ties as well as our shared history, languages, and cultures. Singaporeans and Malaysians frequently visit each other’s countries, whether for work, play, or visiting relatives.]
8. Bagaimanapun, kita tidak boleh mengambil sikap sambil lewa terhadap kekuatan hubungan antara rakyat kita. Kita harus memastikan generasi muda kita menumpukan perhatian mereka pada hal ini. Kita perlu mewujudkan peluang untuk belia kita, belia Singapura dan Malaysia menjalin hubungan dan meluangkan masa bersama untuk mempelajari dan menghargai perspektif dan aspirasi masing-masing. Sistem pendidikan kita memainkan peranan penting, terutama sekarang selepas sekatan perjalanan COVID-19 mula dilonggarkan. Seperti yang kita tahu, untuk menjalin persahabatan yang erat, kita perlu meningkatkan interaksi secara peribadi. Sama juga untuk menghidupkan konsep-konsep yang dipelajari dalam bilik darjah tentang kebudayaan dan peradaban – kita perlukan interaksi secara peribadi. Maka itu saya sangat teruja ketika 41 pelajar yang mengikuti Program Elektif Bahasa Melayu bagi Maktab-Maktab Rendah berpeluang mengunjungi Selangor dan Ipoh tahun lalu, untuk mengikuti kelas di Universiti Putra Malaysia dimana mereka mempelajari warisan Melayu dan mencuba membuat ikan yang diperam di Kampung Beng di Ipoh!
[Translation: However, we cannot take the strength of our people-to-people relationship for granted and must ensure our younger generation are invested in it. We have to create opportunities for our young Singaporeans and Malaysians to engage one another and to spend time together to learn about and appreciate one another’s perspectives and aspirations. Our education system plays an important role in this, especially now with the easing of COVID-19-related travel restrictions. As we know, we need to enhance in-person interactions to form close-knit friendships. Similarly, for classroom concepts such as shared cultures and civilisations to come to life – we need in-person interactions. So, I was delighted that 41 Junior College students in the Malay Language Elective Programme had the chance to visit Selangor and Ipoh last year to attend classes at the Universiti Putra Malaysia where they learned about Malay heritage and even tried their hand at making fermented fish in Kampung Beng in Ipoh!]
9. Yang penting, pertukaran pendidikan seperti ini tidak terhad kepada para pelajar kita sahaja. Guru-guru juga digalakkan untuk membina rangkaian profesional mereka dengan rakan-rakan mereka di Malaysia seperti menerusi Program E-Immersion di mana lebih 30 guru Bahasa Melayu dan pemimpin pedagogi MOE melibatkan rakan-rakan mereka dari Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) untuk bertukar-tukar amalan terbaik mengenai pengajaran bahasa, sastera dan budaya Melayu.
[Translation: Importantly, such educational exchanges are not limited to our students. Teachers are also encouraged to build their professional networks with their Malaysian counterparts. In January, both sides kicked off the inaugural E-Immersion Programme for Malay Language teachers in Perak, which saw more than 30 MOE teachers and pedagogical leaders engaging their counterparts from the Sultan Idris University of Education (UPSI) to exchange best practices on the teaching of the Malay language, literature, and culture.]
10. Selain daripada bidang pendidikan, kita juga mempertingkatkan pertukaran budaya dan agama. Bulan lalu, MUIS menjadi tuan rumah kepada pihak berkuasa agama dari Perak, yang dipimpin Mufti Negeri Dr Wan Zahidi Wan Teh, untuk membincangkan amalan terbaik berhubung penjanaan irsyad-irsyad agama (Fatwa) dan pengurusan asatizah. Dari aspek budaya, dengan sokongan Pemerintah, para pengamal pelbagai bentuk seni Melayu di Singapura sedang melibatkan diri secara lebih meluas dengan para artis dan penonton Malaysia.
[Translation: Beyond education, we are also enhancing cultural and religious exchanges. Just last month, MUIS hosted the religious authorities from Perak, led by its Mufti Dr Wan Zahidi Wan The, to discuss best practices regarding the generation of religious advisories (fatwa) and the management of religious teachers (asatizah). On the cultural front, with the Government’s support, practitioners of various Malay art forms in Singapore are engaging more widely with Malaysian artists and audiences.]
11. Namun, sebagai jiran yang rapat, kita akur bahawa akan terdapat perbezaan pengamatan dalam beberapa isu dari masa ke semasa. Tetapi kita harus mencari cara-cara praktikal untuk menangani isu-isu dua hala ini, sentiasa mengutamakan kerjasama demi memperbaiki kehidupan rakyat kita bersama. Kita berhasrat meneruskan semangat kerjasama pragmatik ini dengan PM Anwar dan pasukannya, sedang kita membina hubungan Singapura-Malaysia yang boleh dibanggakan generasi muda masa depan kita. Akhir sekali, saya ingin merakamkan penghargaan kami di atas bantuan yang telah dihulurkan pihak berkuasa Malaysia dalam menyelamatkan tiga rakyat Singapura selepas kejadian tanah runtuh yang tragik berhampiran dengan Genting Disember lalu.
[Translation: As close neighbours however, we acknowledge that there will be differences on some issues from time to time. . But we must seek practical ways in managing these issues, always prioritise working together to improve our peoples’ lives. We intend to continue this spirit of pragmatic cooperation with PM Anwar and his team, as we build a Singapore-Malaysia relationship which our future younger generations can be proud of. Finally, I would like to put on record our gratitude for the assistance provided by the Malaysian authorities in rescuing three Singaporeans after the tragic landslide near Genting last December.]
12. Mr Chairman, allow me to continue my speech in English.
13. Moving on to Singapore’s relations with Indonesia. Mr Chong Kee Hiong asked about how we are stepping up our cooperation with Indonesia. As the largest economy in ASEAN and an immediate neighbour, Indonesia is (an important partner and) a natural investment destination. Singapore has been the largest foreign investor in Indonesia since 2014 – a position we have maintained even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
14. Last year, I visited six Indonesian provinces for bilateral and G20 meetings. I met a wide range of political and business leaders, as well as Singaporeans living in Indonesia. Among these regions, the Riau Islands (KEPRI) is geographically the closest to Singapore and we have worked well with their leaders through the pandemic and will continue to support each other’s recovery. We have stepped up cooperation especially with Batam and Bintan. This includes establishing new data centres and efforts to develop tech talent, which could support the rapidly growing tech sectors in both Singapore and Indonesia.
15. There are new growth areas, for example, Indonesian companies are keen to boost exports to Singapore in the agri-food and energy sectors, which aligns with Singapore’s efforts to strengthen domestic food supply and security. EDB (Economic Development Board), together with ESG (Enterprise Singapore) and SFA (Singapore Food Agency), have been working to increase our imports of hydroponic vegetables from Batam.
16. To accelerate digital transformation and raise skill levels, MOE (Singapore Ministry of Education) and the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology signed a Human Capital Partnership Agreement last year to strengthen cooperation in technical and vocational education and training. MFA also supports these efforts by offering relevant capacity-building courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme for Indonesian government officials.
17. Indonesia is an important partner in maintaining the continued prosperity and security in the region, strengthening ASEAN centrality and relevance, and upholding the multilateral rules-based order. In November 2022, PM attended the successful G20 Summit hosted by Indonesia against the backdrop of heightened global tensions. Singapore was happy to support Indonesia’s G20 Presidency as it is important to strengthen multilateral platforms. Singapore is also extending our full support to Indonesia as ASEAN Chair this year. Singapore will host the next Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat. This will be a good opportunity for our leaders to enhance the bilateral relationship and explore new areas of opportunities and cooperation.
18. We have a special, unique and close relationship with Brunei. As mentioned by Minister Vivian, DPM Lawrence Wong visited Brunei at the start of the year reaffirming Singapore’s long-term commitment to nurturing this special relationship into the next generation. In addition, PM and Mdm Ho Ching attended His Majesty’s 76th birthday celebration in July 2022.
19. We were honoured to welcome His Majesty Sultan Bolkiah last year on his fifth State Visit to Singapore. That same month, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Billah visited Singapore for the 8th Singapore-Brunei Young Leaders’ Programme when both sides agreed to establish a bilateral scholarship programme.
20. Mr Zhulkarnian asked about how we have built on our relations with Brunei following the visits (last year). During the Sultan’s visit, four MOUs were signed to boost cooperation in areas such as energy and green economy, trade and investment in food and medical products, youth education scholarship, and public service capacity development.
21. Let me move on to other ASEAN countries. With Cambodia and Thailand, Singapore has worked closely with both to support their successful chairmanships of ASEAN and APEC in 2022 respectively. We are also expanding our collaboration in emerging areas such as the digital economy, innovation and sustainability.
22. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Vietnam and the 10th anniversary of our Strategic Partnership. Vietnamese PM Pham Minh Chinh visited Singapore earlier this month. We look forward to a series of high-level exchanges to strengthen our trade and investment links and expand cooperation in new areas like renewable energy, carbon credits, digital economy, and sustainable infrastructure.
23. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr of the Philippines visited Singapore last year for his first overseas trip since taking office. We have expanded our partnership with the Philippines in areas ranging from digital cooperation, data privacy and counterterrorism, to water collaboration, urban development, and the deployment of healthcare workers.
24. Last June, we started importing hydropower from Laos under the Lao PDR-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore Power Integration Project (LTMS-PIP). This marks the first renewable energy import into Singapore and serves as a pathfinder towards an eventual ASEAN Power Grid.
25. In addition to the warm relations with our neighbours, ASEAN remains a cornerstone of Singapore’s foreign policy. As noted by Mr Henry Kwek, the combined GDP of all ten ASEAN countries currently stands at about US$3 trillion. ASEAN is expected to become the fourth largest single market in the world by 2030. ASEAN is home to over 660 million people, with 60% of our population under the age of 35 – a significant demographic dividend.
26. We intend to enhance regional economic integration through ASEAN-led frameworks and Free Trade Agreements, which provide greater economic opportunities for our Member States. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which came into effect at the start of 2022, eliminates the tariffs of about 92% of goods traded amongst the signatory parties. ASEAN is also pursuing FTAs with new partners like Canada. In addition, we are upgrading existing ones, such as our ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) and ASEAN’s FTA with Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA) to ensure that these agreements remain relevant in the post-pandemic economy.
27. Beyond trade, ASEAN is looking at how to best harness digital technology to transform our economies. The ASEAN Smart Cities Network Initiative (ASCN) was launched when we were chair of ASEAN in 2018. Two major aspects or projects are worth highlighting here. First, the ASCN Online Portal, that seeks to provide up-to-date information on ASEAN smart cities priorities. It can help position Singapore as a marketplace for ASEAN’s smart cities solutions and support Singapore firms exploring commercially viable smart city projects in the region. Second, the ASEAN Smart City Investment Toolkit, that provides information of various options available for funding and financing smart city initiatives.
28. ASEAN is set to commence negotiations on an ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) that aims to create a seamless digital trade ecosystem across the region. Such initiatives provide opportunities for our people and businesses to tap into the digital economy and narrow the digital divide within our societies.
29. As noted by Mr Seah Kian Peng, it has been two years since the coup in Myanmar and the situation remains grave. Singapore and ASEAN remain deeply disappointed with the lack of progress in the implementation of the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus. The ASEAN Leaders reviewed this issue at their Summit in November and agreed that Myanmar will only be invited at the non-political level for the ASEAN Summits and Foreign Ministers’ Meetings. Myanmar remains a member of ASEAN. We will continue engaging them at the civil service level.
30. Ms Rachel Ong and Mr Louis Ng asked about the humanitarian assistance that ASEAN and Singapore have provided to Myanmar. The dire situation in Myanmar has unfortunately diminished the prospect of a safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees. Singapore supports ASEAN’s efforts to facilitate the refugees’ safe return, and has contributed over S$1 million in bilateral aid to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of displaced persons. In addition, Singapore has contributed US$100,000 to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management. There are no quick fixes. We will work with relevant partners to scope our assistance in a way that would meet the specific needs and circumstances in the affected countries.
31. Looking beyond our immediate region, we are working to further deepen collaboration with other key partners.
32. Mr Murali Pillai asked about Singapore’s relations with India post-pandemic, the steps taken both to deepen bilateral cooperation, as well as ensure that India remains engaged in the region. India is an important friend and partner to Singapore. Last September, DPM Lawrence Wong and Ministers Vivian, Gan Kim Yong and S Iswaran were in New Delhi to participate in the inaugural India-Singapore Ministerial Roundtable (ISMR) with their Indian counterparts. This leaders-driven platform allows both sides to explore potential collaboration in emerging areas such as food security, energy and green projects, and digitalisation, including enhancing digital connectivity. On 21 February 2023, PM and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the linkage of Singapore’s PayNow and India’s Unified Payments Interface or UPI. Singaporeans will now be able to send and receive funds from their family and friends in India in a safe, simple, and cost-effective manner.
33. We commemorated the 30th Anniversary of ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations and the establishment of the ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) in 2022. The CSP will serve as a springboard for mutually beneficial cooperation. This will create more opportunities for our peoples and enhance contributions to an open and inclusive region.
34. India assumed the G20 Presidency in 2023 and we thank India for inviting Singapore to participate in the G20 meetings this year. Singapore will continue to contribute constructively in the G20 framework, including in our capacity as Convenor of the Global Governance Group (3G), with a view to enhance the inclusiveness of the G20 process and strengthen global governance.
35. Mr Ang Wei Neng asked how we can enhance our relations with Australia and New Zealand. With Australia, we are constantly exploring ambitious areas of cooperation under our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Singapore-Australia Green Economy Agreement (GEA) that Minister Vivian mentioned earlier is one such example. The GEA will reduce barriers to cross-border trade in clean energy as well as green trade and investment. This in turn promotes the growth of the green sector in our economy and creates new job opportunities for Singaporeans.
36. We established a new “Climate Change and Green Energy” Pillar under the Singapore – New Zealand Enhanced Partnership in April 2022. This will pave the way for low-carbon and sustainability solutions, and include initiatives on energy transition technology, carbon markets, sustainable transport, and waste management.
37. Meanwhile, we will continue to strengthen our engagement of the Middle East and Central Asia. Mr Zhulkarnian asked about our relations with the Middle East, and Singapore’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our ties with the key Gulf countries remain excellent and there is growing interest to deepen cooperation in areas like renewable energy, which the Gulf states have ambitious plans on. We look forward to elevating our ties with Saudi Arabia. PM met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in November 2022. Minister Vivian also visited Saudi Arabia in September 2022, while the second Saudi – Singapore Joint Committee meeting was held in November 2022. We are also glad that the Hajj for 2023 has resumed without restrictions and look forward to Saudi Arabia’s favourable consideration to increase our Hajj quota, which was discussed during PM’s meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed.
38. We enjoy excellent ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), our top trading partner in the Middle East. As small states and hubs in our respective regions, we share many mutual interests. There has been a healthy exchange of visits between the UAE and Singapore. In May 2022, I accompanied President to attend the mourning for the late UAE President Sheikh Khalifa. The Abu Dhabi-Singapore Joint Forum was held earlier this month and I will co-chair the Singapore – UAE Joint Committee meeting later this year.
39. Several high-level exchanges also took place last year with other Gulf countries. Minister Shanmugam and I had good discussions with our counterparts during the inaugural Singapore – Oman Strategic Dialogue in December 2022. To signal our shared commitment to deepen the strategic and economic links between our two countries, we agreed on the mutual upgrade of our diplomatic representation to the Embassy level. I plan to visit Oman later this year to take a look at some of those opportunities. With Qatar, our third-largest trading partner in the region, we look forward to continued engagement as fellow small states. Last year, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister Shanmugam and I made separate visits to meet various Qatari leaders. Later this year, Singapore will host the 8th High Level Joint Committee to explore new areas of cooperation.
40. We remain concerned by the escalation of the violence in Israel and the West Bank. Certainly, we are always very concerned with the escalation of violence there. We are saddened by the loss of lives on both sides. There can be no justification for attacks on innocent civilians. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security. Singapore has been steadfast in our support for a negotiated two-state solution that allows both Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side in peace and security, in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions. As a friend of both sides, we continue to urge both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to return to direct negotiations. A two-state solution requires both sides to have the political will to negotiate with each other in good faith and make the necessary concessions. The recent decision by Israeli government to retroactively legitimise nine outposts in the West Bank is deeply worrying. Such unilateral moves will only further heighten tensions and undermine any prospect for peace. We urge all parties to avoid taking further unilateral actions. The status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram Al Sharif should be maintained. In addition, Singapore supports Jordan’s custodianship of the Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
41. Our ties with the Palestinian Authority remain strong. Both Minister Vivian and I made separate visits to Ramallah in the West Bank last year. During my visit, I officiated the opening of the Singapore Representative Office there. In October 2022, we welcomed the visit of PA Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh to Singapore. PM Shtayyeh was the first high-level Palestinian leader to visit Singapore, and he expressed appreciation for Singapore’s support for the PA’s capacity building efforts. Singapore will continue to do so through the Enhanced Technical Assistance Package which we had established since 2013.
42. Mr Chairman, given the turbulence and challenges that the world continues to face, it is more important than ever for Singapore to further strengthen our ties with our international partners and friends. We will seek common cause, including on pressing global issues, as well as in bilateral collaboration. In doing so, we will also find opportunities for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans.
43. Thank you.
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