Middle East



OVERVIEW

Singapore has longstanding ties with the Middle East going as far back as the 9th century and the Abbasid Caliphate, when Arabian traders in dhows (traditional sailing vessels with triangular sails) frequently plied the Maritime Silk Road to trade with China. Singapore was a major port and trading post of the Sumatran Srivijaya Empire, and these traders often stopped at Singapore en-route back to Arabia.

Since our independence, Singapore has enjoyed warm ties with the Middle East. This engagement saw a revitalisation in 2004, when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong initiated a series of official visits to the region. Since then, Singapore-Middle East relations have grown in both scope and depth, and are warm and substantive today, spanning many different areas of cooperation. There has also been a steady flow of high-level visits and regular study visits to Singapore by Middle Eastern officials to learn about our developmental experience.

Our enhanced political engagement of the Middle East has paved the way for the bolstering of economic ties. In 2015, total trade between Singapore and the Middle East stood at S$45.1 billion. Singapore signed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) on 15 December 2008. This was an important milestone as Singapore is the first country outside of the Middle East to conclude an FTA with the GCC (comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain and Oman). The GSFTA has also encouraged a greater recognition of Singapore’s Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) Halal standards in the six GCC countries. Today, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are respectively Singapore’s largest and the second largest trading partners in the Middle East.

RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

2017

  • His Excellency Sheikh Thamer Ali Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, President of the National Security Bureau of the State of Kuwait, visited Singapore from 14 to 16 November under the S R Nathan Fellowship at the invitation of Senior Minister of State (Defence) (Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman.
  • Minister of Health of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, His Excellency Dr Tawfiq Al Rabiah, visited Singapore from 6 to 8 November under the Middle East Eminent Persons’ Programme (MEEPP) at the invitation of Minister (Health) Mr Gan Kim Yong.
  • His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, made a State Visit to Singapore on 17 October. He met President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong separately, with both sides reaffirming the warm and longstanding ties between Qatar and Singapore.
  • Senior Minister of State (Defence) (Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman made working visits to the United Arab Emirates from 28 to 30 September 2017, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 1 to 2 October 2017.
  • Minister of State (Prime Minister’s Office, Manpower and Foreign Affairs) Sam Tan, attended the opening ceremony of the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, from 16 to 19 September 2017. 
  • Senior Minister of State (Defence and Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman made an introductory visit to Lebanon from 9 to 11 May.
  • Senior Minister of State (Defence and Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman made an introductory visit to Kuwait from 7 to 8 May.
  • Minister (Foreign Affairs) Dr Vivian Balakrishnan visited Jordan from 6 to 7 May.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an official visit to Singapore from 20 to 21 February.
  • Representative to the Palestinian National Authority Hawazi Daipi visited the West Bank from 16 to 21 January.

2016

  • Speaker of Parliament Madam Halimah Yacob visited Abu Dhabi for the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament from 12 to 13 December.
  • Minister (Defence) Ng Eng Hen visited Kuwait from 8 to 9 December before visiting Bahrain to attend the Manama Dialogue from 9 to 10 December.
  • Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam visited Abu Dhabi to attend the Sir Bani Yas Forum from 18 to 20 November.
  • Director General of the Abu Dhabi Education Council, Chairman of Hedayah and Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Elders Dr Rashid Al Nuaimi visited Singapore under the Middle East Eminent Persons Programme (MEEPP) from 16 to 18 November.
  • Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman made a working visit to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan from 6 to 10 November.
  • President Tony Tan Keng Yam made a State Visit to Egypt from 30 October to 3 November to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Singapore-Egypt diplomatic relations.
  • Saudi Minister of Education Dr Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Issa made a visit to Singapore from 9 to 10 October.
  • Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Al Thani made an official visit to Singapore from 4 to 5 October.
  • Kuwaiti Minister of Public Works Dr Ali Saleh Al Omair and Qatar Minister of Municipality and Environment Mohammed Bin Abdullah Mitaib Al Rumaihi attended the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit from 9 to 14 July.
  • Bahrainian Minister of Transportation and Telecommunications Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed made a working visit to Singapore to attend the Ministerial Forum on ICT from 2 to 3 June.
  • Iranian Minister of Labour, Cooperatives and Social Welfare Ali Rabiei made a visit to Singapore from 17 to 21 May.
  • Senior Minister of State (Defence and Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman made a working visit to Qatar to attend the 16th Doha Forum from 20 to 22 May.
  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories from 16 to 22 April.
  • Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Minister of National Economy Abeer Odeh led a delegation from the Palestinian Federation of Industries on a study visit to Singapore from 7 to 11 March.
  • Omani Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Bin Hamad Al Busaidi visited Singapore from 22 to 23 March.
  • Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Singapore from 7 to 9 March.
  • Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean co-chaired the 7th High-Level Joint Committee Meeting in Qatar on 6 March before visiting Egypt from 7 to 9 March.
  • PNA Minister of General Personnel Council Mousa Abu Zaid visited Singapore from 29 February to 1 March.
  • Minister (Trade and Industry – Industry) S Iswaran visited Iran from 27 February to 1 March.
  • Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim attended the Annual Hajj Ministerial Meetings in Saudi Arabia from 10 to 12 February.
  • Senior Minister of State (Defence and Foreign Affairs) Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman visited Saudi Arabia from 22 to 24 February and the UAE from 24 to 26 February.

TECHNICAL COOPERATION

Singapore shares our developmental experience with the Middle East countries through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) and the work of Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE). Various ministries, statutory boards and private organisations also cooperate with their Middle East counterparts on a wide range of issues. These initiatives include but are not limited to:

  • The Strategic Leadership Programme (SLP) held in 2010, 2011 and 2014 by Civil Service College (CSC) for Kuwait’s public sector leaders;
  • The Regional Institute of Infrastructure Development that was established at the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat in 2012 as part of Singapore’s commitment to offer capacity building courses to Oman in infrastructure development, covering areas such as power, water and aviation;
  • The Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP) launched by Singapore for the PNA in February 2013, which was valued at S$5 million over five years. In April 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the doubling of the ETAP from S$5 million to S$10 million;
  • Courses conducted by Singapore at the Regional Training Centres in Jordan and Qatar under the Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED) framework to assist AMED member countries in their capacity-building efforts;
  • The Inaugural Joint Executive Leadership Programme by CSC and the Kuwait Civil Service Commission (KCSC) held in 2016 for 10 middle managers from Kuwait’s Civil Service; and
  • The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on third-country training programmes signed between the Singapore and Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 2016.

ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT AND COOPERATION

Singapore's schools and tertiary institutions are actively engaged with the Middle East, with an increasing variety of programmes and opportunities available for students to gain a better appreciation and understanding of the region. Examples include but are not limited to:

  • University study trips to the Middle East, organised by the National University of Singapore under the Study Trips for Engagement and Enrichment (STEER) programme, and Singapore Management University’s Business Study Mission;
  • The NUS Overseas College (NOC) in Israel initiative which is a successful internship programme that provides postgraduates and undergraduates the opportunity to experience Israel’s unique entrepreneurship culture and dynamic environment of business start-ups;
  • Research and Development (R&D) collaboration between Singaporean and Israeli universities;
  • The Middle East Institute, which was set up by NUS in 2007 in recognition of the region’s significant role in the world and to promote a deeper understanding of the Middle East in Singapore;
  • Raffles Institution Middle East Programme (at the secondary school level) which helps to generate greater awareness of the region; and
  • The S R Nathan Annual Distinguished Lectures, which see leading decision-makers visit Singapore to dialogue about issues and contribute to analyses on the Middle East.

Last updated: December 2017