SIngapore - Remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs George Yeo in Parliament during Committee Of Supply Debate on 5 March 2010


1 I thank the MPs who asked questions about Singapore's foreign policy.

APEC, G-20 and the UN

2 Mr Michael Palmer asked about the future of APEC after Singapore's chairmanship last year and how APEC fits into the regional architecture.

3 The APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting (AELM) in Singapore last November was successfully held, produced good results and on the whole enhanced Singapore's international reputation significantly. There was a strong spirit of cooperation which we hope will also suffuse the coming meetings, first in Yokohama, then in Honolulu, then Vladivostok. And we are working with the incoming Chairs in particular Japan and the US in ensuring that what we have done in Singapore will be followed through into the next two venues.

4 As APEC accounts for roughly half of global trade and production, it is the most important regional organisation in the Asia-Pacific. Promoting greater regional economic integration and fighting trade protectionism are the major challenges in our common effort to achieve the Bogor Goals of a region of free and open trade and investment by 2010 for developed economies and 2020 for all the economies.

5 An important initiative which can help get us there is the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP, which was given a strong push forward during the Singapore Meeting. Before US President Obama arrived in Singapore, he affirmed his Administration's support for this initiative. By drawing the US, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru and possibly Vietnam as well, into one large regional free trade area, the TPP will generate positive momentum in APEC towards the achievement of the Bogor Goals, as well as towards a possible Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Although negotiations for the TPP will not be easy, Singapore will work hard along with other countries to move the process along. APEC leadership will also be crucial as part of the global concerted effort in addressing the challenges of climate change, globalisation and macroeconomic imbalances.

6 During the Singapore Meeting, international financial reform was a major item on the agenda. As 10 of the 21 APEC Economic Leaders had attended the G-20 Meeting in Pittsburgh two months before, the discussions on financial reform flowed naturally into the Singapore Meeting.

7 Ms Josephine Teo and Dr Fatimah Lateef asked about the importance of the G-20 to us and of our participation in it. Singapore has a strong interest in good global governance, not least because we are a major international financial centre. We see the G-20 as an important agent of positive change. For this reason, both in ASEAN and in APEC, we support strongly the G-20 process and contribute in whatever way we can. Finance Minister Tharman participated in some of the meetings, and we hope to be able to continue participating in future meetings at the highest level possible. As a global financial centre, we believe we have a useful contribution to make. At the UN, we have helped form a group of countries called the 3G countries which means Global Governance Group, a name coined by the Liechtenstein Foreign Minister which we contracted to '3G' so that it does not sound too grandiloquent. We participate in this 3G process in order to help the G20 assume greater legitimacy in the global community of nations. It is to improve the G-20's interaction with the general membership in the UN, which in turn would build wider support for G-20 actions. It is important that the decisions of the G-20 take into account the interest of other countries and are supported by them. The G-20 process should strengthen the UN and other international organisations, not weaken them.

8 Mr Sin Boon Ann asked about Singapore's goals in the UN. What we do to help the G-20 is an illustration of the general approach we take in the UN to improve global governance. A world governed by rules of civilised conduct, where might does not equal right, is crucial for our well-being. This was the position we took when we were in the Security Council in 2001-02. Happily many countries in the UN share our worldview. While maintaining good links to the major powers, we have been very active in building coalitions among smaller countries so that our interests are also protected. Over the years, we have promoted an informal Forum of Small States or FOSS for short, consisting of countries with populations of less than 10 million people. These countries make up half the membership of the UN. By sharing information, exchanging views and occasionally acting together, FOSS has become a significant grouping. Every year at the General Assembly, I host a makan kecil for members of FOSS. And when we meet each other, we say, half in jest, that "The FOSS is with you".

ASEAN and Regional Architecture

9 Mr Michael Palmer asked how ASEAN is shaping the larger regional architecture. Dr Lily Neo and Dr Mohamad Maliki are concerned about ASEAN's effectiveness and its usefulness to Singapore.

10 Despite severe challenges last year during the Thai Chairmanship, ASEAN has not only held together, it continued to make progress, although not as much as we would have hoped for. The Charter is being implemented; the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights has been established; a Committee of Permanent Representatives now meets regularly at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and 33 countries have accredited ambassadors to ASEAN; a currency swap arrangement called the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation was signed with China, Japan and Korea; FTAs were concluded with Australia and New Zealand, India and Korea; the first Summit Meeting between ASEAN Leaders and the US President was held in Singapore last November; ASEAN and GCC Foreign Ministers met for the first time in Bahrain; we embarked on a major project to draw up a masterplan for connectivity along all dimensions, within ASEAN, and between ASEAN and the wider region; and a comprehensive FTA with China came into force at the beginning of this year, by far the biggest market in the world encompassing a combined population of almost 2 billion people.

11 Relative peace in the region and the enlargement of our economic space have made possible Singapore's continuing economic development. For this reason, a strong ASEAN is at the heart of our foreign policy and our economic policy and both MFA and MTI work very closely together to ensure that our objectives are met and our interests safeguarded. Singapore and a number of other ASEAN countries would like to see the ASEAN Flag flying side by side with national flags at the overseas missions of all ASEAN countries in the world. And I hope we can do that by the time we establish an ASEAN Community in 2015.

12 The major powers are all friendly to ASEAN and want to see us do well because our unity and development are in their interest. All of them see ASEAN playing a central role in the evolution of the regional architecture. At the G-20 Summits in London and Pittsburgh last year, the ASEAN Chair was invited because of the importance given to ASEAN as a regional grouping. This recognition of ASEAN's role is in fact a triumph of our diplomacy but it also puts on us a heavy responsibility to pull our weight and respond in a timely way to new challenges and I think it also puts a responsibility on us to resolve our bilateral problems in a peaceful manner.

13 Mr Palmer and Dr Lam asked specifically about ASEAN's response to Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's proposal for an East Asia community and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's proposal for an Asia-Pacific community, both with small 'c's. At our recent retreat in Da Nang, ASEAN Foreign Ministers affirmed the centrality of ASEAN. To the extent that new proposals strengthen, not weaken, ASEAN and our position in the regional architecture, we are prepared to consider them with a positive spirit but our strong preference is to be in the driver's seat, not because we think we are the best driver, but because we are the driver acceptable to all the passengers.

14 And we are working with Vietnam and we strongly support Vietnam as the present ASEAN Chair as we now strive to do all the things necessary to establish a full-fledged ASEAN Community by 2015.

Relations with Southeast Asian Countries

15 Mr Palmer asked about the status of our bilateral relations with Malaysia and Indonesia, and about the situation in Myanmar.


16 Under Prime Minister Najib, our relations with Malaysia are very good, and their domestic challenges do not really affect this bilateral relationship. In May this year, PM Lee and Prime Minister Najib will be having a retreat to discuss how we can strengthen bilateral cooperation.

17 I have been in discussion with Foreign Minister Anifah on the implementation of the Points of Agreement on KTMB land and I am hopeful of a win-win outcome which will open up new areas of cooperation between the two sides. In particular, through the Joint Ministerial Committee, both sides have been discussing further cooperation in Iskandar Malaysia, including Singapore's investment in an iconic project and the possibility of linking the two urban rails together.

18 Support of the Johor ground is a necessary pre-condition. When Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew visited Johor Baru to pay his final respects to the late Sultan of Johor, the new Sultan, Sultan Ibrahim, expressed clearly his wish for stronger relations between Johor and Singapore. Our new consulate in Johor Baru is already busy with work.


19 On Indonesia, the re-election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last year was good for bilateral relations. PM attended his inauguration in October and President Yudhoyono made a bilateral visit to Singapore the following month. Earlier in the year, I signed an agreement to delimit the maritime boundary in the western part of the Singapore Strait with Foreign Minister Hassan. Later this year, PM and President Yudhoyono will hold a retreat to review our bilateral relations and explore new areas of cooperation. As to whether the present challenges in Jakarta, particularly on Bank Century, will affect our bilateral relations with Indonesia, I do not think so. But these challenges reflect a post-Soeharto, much more fragmented power structure in Indonesia which is a new reality we have to accept and work with. It means not only dealing with Ministers and leaders in Jakarta, but also with different branches of government, and with local governments at the provincial level, and at the level of the kabupaten.


20 This will be a critical year for Myanmar. At long last, at long last, elections will be held under a new Constitution that guarantees a continuing strong role for the military in Myanmar politics. The present Government promises that the elections will be 'free and fair'. Critical to its legitimacy will be the spirit of national reconciliation among the many ethnic groups in the country and the participation of the National League of Democracy and other opposition parties. We know there are ongoing discussions between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the generals, and hope that both sides will show flexibility and compromise. Singapore supports the ASEAN position calling for the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her participation in the coming elections.

21 If there is no reconciliation and the elections outcome is not seen as legitimate, especially by Myanmar's neighbours, then ASEAN will have a problem. At the ASEAN Foreign Ministers retreat in Da Nang, we expressed our concerns and our hopes in no uncertain terms to the Myanmar Foreign Minister.

22 Bilaterally, our relations with Myanmar are good. Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein made his introductory visit to Singapore in March last year and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong visited Myanmar in June '09 at the invitation of Prime Minister Thein Sein, and in Nay Pyi Taw he also met Senior General Than Shwe. Singapore continues to do our part in helping Myanmar build up its capacity. We have provided technical assistance through the Singapore Cooperation Programme and under the Initiative for ASEAN Integration.

Relations with US, China, India and Japan

23 Ms Indranee Rajah, Dr Lam Pin Min and Mr Sin Boon Ann asked about relations with the US, China, India and Japan.


24 Our links with the Obama Administration are very good. Our relations with the US have remained stable, positive and warm. There continues to be high-level exchanges between both sides.

25 The slowdown in the US economy has not affected Singapore-US economic ties in a significant way. The strong economic relationship is underpinned by the Singapore-US Free Trade Agreement which came into force in the year 2004. Although two-way trade fell from S billion in '08 to S billion last year, the decline is consistent with the overall decline in global trade. The US remained our 3rd largest trading partner in 2009, after Malaysia and China, and both Singapore and the US are also significant investors in each other's countries.

26 President Obama, together with several members of his Cabinet, visited Singapore for the APEC Leaders' Meeting in November last year. At the invitation of President Obama, PM will be visiting the US in April to attend the Nuclear Security Summit.

27 Despite many preoccupations, the US has made efforts to re-engage ASEAN. President Obama's attendance at the first US-ASEAN Summit despite his concerns about Myanmar, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's regular attendance at ASEAN meetings have sent a strong signal which is appreciated throughout the region. Later this month, President Obama will be making an official visit to Indonesia where he spent a part of his childhood and will have the opportunity to use his Bahasa.

28 All of us in ASEAN know that we need a strong long-term US presence in the region for our continuing peace and development.


29 Our bilateral relations with China are excellent, underscored by strong economic ties, regular exchange of visits by leaders on both sides and a high level of people-to-people exchanges. President Hu Jintao's first State Visit to Singapore last November has raised our bilateral relationship to a new level. Four MOUs were signed during the visit which included the establishment of a China Cultural Centre in Singapore and the loan of a pair of giant pandas. We also celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Suzhou Industrial Park last May.

30 Over the years, we have steadily broadened and deepened our relations with China through various bilateral mechanisms like the Singapore-China Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation. Last year, we announced a three-way collaboration involving the new Singapore University of Technology and Design, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Zhejiang University. We launched the China-Singapore Forum on Leadership Selection and Development, which is a new platform enabling political leaders and senior officials from both sides to exchange experiences and ideas on leadership development. We also established the Singapore-Guangdong Collaboration Council (SGCC) which will open new opportunities for our companies in the Pearl River Delta - one of the fastest growing regions in China.

31 This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with China and is a significant milestone in our bilateral relationship. Both sides are jointly planning a series of commemorative activities to mark the occasion, and we look forward to the ground-breaking for the China Cultural Centre in Singapore. Singapore is also participating in the Shanghai World Expo. The Singapore Pavilion will showcase our "urban harmony"; an area where we have shared our experience with China over the years.


32 Our bilateral relations with India are also excellent and multifaceted. All the major pillars of our bilateral relations - political, economic, defence and regional cooperation - have grown stronger. Institutional linkages have been established across several sectors at various levels, and each side has become a significant investor in the other. Although bilateral trade declined with the global economic downturn last year, this is temporary. Defence and security exchanges have continued apace. In terms of people-to-people relations, tourist figures both ways remain healthy, and there have been frequent exchanges among scholars. Just yesterday, I was talking to Mr Iswaran about the new IR and how it will greatly increase the number of Indian tourists coming to Singapore. They are now talking about perhaps even two million tourists from India every year. We are now working on new areas of cooperation in education, culture and urban management.


33 The new DPJ Government has broken a long period of LDP rule, a point made by Dr Lam, the full implications of which are still not clear. Regardless, we expect Singapore-Japan relations to remain strong as we share many common strategic interests. Bilateral relations have also broadened in recent years to include cooperation in various non-traditional areas such as defence, anti-piracy and export control. In fact, there is such an ease in relations that when ministers and officials meet, we can discuss new areas of cooperation. Last year, President Nathan made a State Visit following the successful visit of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko to Singapore in 06. PM also made a working visit to Japan last October. And PM was one of the first foreign leaders to meet with the new Japanese Prime Minister. PM's visit also set the stage for future cooperation in areas like green technology and ensuring a global free trade system through the APEC agenda. In addition, during Prime Minister Hatoyama's visit to Singapore last November to attend the APEC Meeting, the Japan Creative Centre was launched by PM and Prime Minister Hatoyama. And we hope that through this centre, we can help Japan increase its soft power in the region. These visits and initiatives symbolise the close relationship between our two countries.

Relations with the Middle East

34 Dr Fatimah Lateef asked for an update of our Middle Eastern account. On the whole, it is growing nicely. In fact, from not very much six years ago, we now manage a sizeable portfolio all the way from the Maghreb to Iran.

35 Non-oil domestic exports to the Middle East have doubled from about S billion in '03 to S billion last year. Our direct investment in the Gulf countries has quadrupled from S3 million in '03 to S0 million in '08. Our companies have secured S.5 billion worth of projects in the Middle Eastern region in total. New projects in the Gulf include Sembcorp's S.5 billion project to build an integrated water and power plant in Salalah in Oman. And beyond the GCC, we have also made good progress in Libya where we secured projects worth some S.3 billion in the past two years.

36 FDI from the GCC has also increased significantly, totalling S.3 billion last year. We hope to attract much more.

37 The GCC has become a major economic partner of Singapore and we hope, eventually, with ASEAN as a whole. Last year, the GCC countries were collectively Singapore's 9th largest trading partner comprising 5% of Singapore's total trade. Underpinning our engagement of the GCC are various economic agreements, including the GCC-Singapore FTA, various investment guarantee agreements and various double taxation agreements, or, should I say, avoidance of double taxation agreements, and a number of bilateral platforms with Qatar, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. And in May this year, Singapore will host the second ASEAN-GCC Foreign Ministers Meeting.

38 President Nathan made State Visits to Qatar, Oman and the UAE in March last year. Senior Minister Goh visited Oman and Bahrain this year, and is planning more visits to the region later this year. We also received a State Visit of the Amir of Qatar in May last year, and a visit by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in August. Right now, at the Asian Civilizations Museum, we have a beautiful collection of Mughal jewellery from the Kuwaiti palace, and, even as we speak right now, there is an Omani dhow sailing across the Arabian Sea to Cochin, the Jewel of Muscat, a generous gift from the Sultan of Oman, which is sailing with the monsoon to Singapore, retracing an ancient voyage which took place over a thousand years ago. People-to-people exchanges have also increased. In particular, inbound tourism from Saudi Arabia has increased by 7% from '08 to '09, and has quadrupled since 2002.


39 In this new age of globalisation, space is opening up all around us. Although there are many challenges in the international and regional environment, we can find in them new ways to make a living. This is the new context in which we seek to restructure the Singapore economy. We need sensitive antennas to detect new trends and comprehensive responses to threats and opportunities. The mission of the Foreign Ministry is to expand the external political and economic space for Singapore's continuing development.


Ms. Wahyuningrum (Yuyun)

When: 7/2/2014

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