Toast Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch hosted in honour of Bhutan PM Tshering Tobgay, 29 November 2016
Your Excellency Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, delegation members from Bhutan and Mrs Tobgay, ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to welcome the Prime Minister, Mrs Tobgay and all of the delegation to Singapore.
Bhutan and Singapore established diplomatic ties in 2002 and since then, our two countries have enjoyed very warm relations. Your visit is not your first visit to Singapore, but it is the first visit of a Prime Minister of Bhutan to Singapore. It marks a milestone in our bilateral relationship.
I have not had the opportunity to visit Bhutan yet, but I have read and heard much about your country, and seen many beautiful photos on National Geographic and the Internet. From the picturesque valleys to the majestic Himalayan mountain ranges of the north, the beauty is described as the “last Shangri La” on earth. Also the rich cultural heritage, with festivals and the well-preserved dzongs (fortress) and monasteries that support a vibrant culture. I very much look forward to visiting and to exploring your country.
There is much that Bhutan has to offer, and protect and preserve for generations to come. I was struck to read what the Prime Minister said in your TED lecture in February this year that nearly three-quarters of the country’s surface area is forested. And that Bhutan is the only country in the world that is a net ‘carbon sink’. It shows your serious commitment towards protecting the environment, and along it, finding a balance with economic development.
Singapore is very happy to play a small role, contributing to Bhutan’s development. As both of us, small states and limited resources, Singapore and Bhutan face some common challenges. For example, needing to build up our workforces through education and training. Both of us see these as vital responsibilities. I am very happy that the Prime Minister has visited the Institute for Technical Education to see one aspect of our education system and also had the chance to visit some of our other agencies, such as the Singapore Tourism Board, our Immigration and Checkpoints Authority at Woodlands, to see how our systems operate and how we are organised.
I am also glad that our people-to-people links are strengthening. Charity missions like Operation Smile Singapore are visiting Bhutan regularly and we talked about it just now when we met. I know from Facebook that many Singaporeans are discovering Bhutan as a tourist destination. Now that there are direct flights between Singapore and Paro on Druk Air, annual passenger traffic between Singapore and Bhutan has increased fourfold, to over 9,000. Such interactions help bring our two peoples closer together.
I am also honoured that our leaders enjoy a warm relationship. When His Majesty came last year, we deeply appreciated his attendance at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral service. We also deeply appreciated His Majesty’s orders for Bhutan’s national flag, be flown at half-mast as a tribute to Mr Lee. I personally have had the chance to welcome His Majesty and the Queen during their private visits to Singapore and I look forward to welcoming them again one day on an official visit.
I, therefore, thank Prime Minister Tobgay for visiting Singapore and for the valuable exchange of views between ourselves and with our agencies. I wish Prime Minister and Bhutan well on your development initiatives. I would like to invite the Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, to join me in a toast, to the good health and longevity of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar and Her Majesty Jetsun Pema and to the good health and success of Prime Minister Tobgay and the enduring friendship between Bhutan and Singapore. Cheers.
Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore