Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore

06/21/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/21/2024 04:10

Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Remarks at the Book Launch of 'Perspectives of Two Island Nations: Singapore and New Zealand', 21 June 2024

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan: Ms. Gabrielle Rush, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore, Dr. Anne-Marie Schleich, who is the reason why we are all here, Mr. Ong Keng Yong (Executive Deputy Chairman, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies), ladies and gentlemen - it is good to see so many familiar faces here as well.

I am delighted to join you for the launch of this book, "Perspectives of Two Island Nations: Singapore and New Zealand". Singapore and New Zealand are usually described as two small states, but let me start with a few differences. New Zealand is a destination. You actually need to make an effort to get there. Singapore is a bit fortunate to be in the centre of Southeast Asia, and therefore often a hub rather than just a destination. The other thing which I often tell my New Zealand colleagues when I meet them is that there is a lake in New Zealand called Lake Taupō, which is about the same size as Singapore. You could almost fit Singapore into that lake. Lake Taupō is really the crater of a super volcano, for which I think the creation event was about 2,000 years ago.

Having set out some geography and some geological history, let us move forward to current times. In fact, even before getting to current times, it is also worth remembering that when Senior Minister Lee Hsien Loong met the current Prime Minister of New Zealand, he reminded all of us that there were these barracks called the Dieppe Barracks. When the British left in 1971, it was the 1st Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (1 RNZIR) that occupied those barracks from 1971 all the way till 1989. So Dr. Anne-Marie, when you were here as a junior diplomat (from Germany), the New Zealand troops were actually here in Singapore. And again, that is another reminder of how history has intertwined these two small nations.

Fast forward to today. We have a longstanding, close, strategic friendship and relationship, and New Zealand has supported Singapore since the very earliest years of our nationhood, in fact, even before the formal establishment of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, which still exist today.

As small and open economies, Singapore and New Zealand obviously share similar strategic perspectives. For instance, the critical importance of a rules-based international order and open multilateral trading systems. It is no accident that Singapore's first bilateral Free Trade Agreement was with New Zealand, and we were New Zealand's second Free Trade Agreement after New Zealand's Free Trade Agreement with Australia. Again, that illustrates the congruence and the similarity of strategic outlooks. It is also no accident that New Zealand and Singapore were the genesis of what is today the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). First New Zealand and Singapore, then we added on Brunei and Chile. It is a strategic agreement. It is a reminder to everyone that trade is strategy in the Pacific, and in fact, we now have others who have joined the CPTPP, including the UK, and there are others in line as well. Similarly, it is not an accident that New Zealand and Singapore also launched a Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) together with Chile, and we recently welcomed the Republic of Korea to the DEPA.

Quite apart from the business links, what do you think about when I mention the word 'New Zealand'? You think about the wonderful air, the water, food, the iconic scenery, the landmarks, and last year, almost 50,000 Singaporean tourists went there, but I think the number would have been even higher if we were not interrupted by the COVID-19 years.

Speaking of COVID-19, this was also a time when you stress-tested your friendships, and I can tell you categorically as Foreign Minister, that Singapore and New Zealand stood shoulder-to-shoulder during this crisis. We both recognised the critical importance of keeping global supply chains open and reliable, and this is especially critical for the transit of life-saving medical supplies and essential goods - even the vaccines that reached New Zealand transited through Singapore. We were early supporters and proponents of "vaccine multilateralism", and we advocated for fair and equitable access of vaccines for everyone.

Just two months ago, we were delighted to welcome Prime Minister Christopher Luxon on his first Official Visit to Singapore, and we announced a new "Supply Chains and Connectivity" pillar under the Singapore-New Zealand Enhanced Partnership. This reflects our shared commitment to ensure that our partnership remains relevant and well-poised to address the challenges of the future. Similarly, our collaboration on "Climate Change and the Green Economy", including sustainable aviation and low carbon solutions, enables us to chart a path forward that prioritises the health of our planet and the well-being of future generations.

Dr. Anne-Marie, you mentioned (then-New Zealand Minister of Trade) Tim Groser and (then-Singapore Minister of Trade and Industry) George Yeo at the genesis of our Free Trade Agreement. I also had the privilege of working with Tim Groser when we were negotiating the Climate Change Agreement that culminated in Paris in 2015. For those of you who have had the pleasure of meeting him, he leaves an indelible impression on you. It is a pity he is not here today, but I think all of us who know him send him our best wishes.

On the regional front, Singapore has always valued New Zealand's role and contributions as a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN. New Zealand believes in an open and inclusive, rules-based international order - I mentioned that earlier. This concept, this approach, is essential for us to maintain ASEAN unity and centrality. New Zealand has and will contribute much to ASEAN's integration, especially in the emerging fields of the green economy and the digital economy. We look forward, therefore, to celebrating the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-New Zealand Dialogue Relations next year in 2025 which will also mark the 60th year of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Singapore. So it is a milestone year that we look forward to, and we thought it would be timely to elevate the Singapore-New Zealand Enhanced Partnership next year to commemorate the significant milestone.

Today's book launch actually is a very fitting prelude. I must confess, when Dr. Anne-Marie first mentioned this book to me, I did not quite believe it would get done and so quickly, and the fact that you have had to corral 27 eminent people to deliver the book in such a timely way. I think anyone of you who has conceived and laboured to deliver a book will know this is actually quite an achievement. So congratulations, Dr. Anne-Marie, and congratulations to all the contributors. I think this is an important book which ought to be read. This is a book that is pertinent, salient, relevant to the issues of today. And the final point I want to leave you with is that if you think about New Zealand, Singapore, and the last six decades, it is a reflection that small states have agency, have strategic options, and can make strategic contributions. And insofar as this book summarises a series of perspectives, views and anecdotes, it actually represents the culmination of that perspective, of that vision, of that hope. Thank you Dr. Anne-Marie for doing this.

Thank you all and have a wonderful day ahead.

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Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

Photo Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore