Transcript of Media Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan at the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 18 July 2017
Minister: Thank you, Your Excellency the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ravi Karunanayake. Welcome to the club of Foreign Ministers. It is an honour for me to be here. This is not my first trip to Sri Lanka, but it’s after a long absence and it has made a very strong impression on me, because of how great the potential for development in Sri Lanka is.
Thank you for that very warm welcome. We just had an excellent discussion. We discussed how we can deepen bilateral relations between Singapore and Sri Lanka. We looked at promoting trade and investments, and we also had a chance to have a very frank exchange on geopolitical developments.
Both Sri Lanka and Singapore are small states, and that comes with all the challenges of surviving and thriving in a world that is changing so dramatically. But as small states, we have to face these challenges head on, and it is an opportunity for us to also work more closely together so that we can weather these challenges together. Sri Lanka and Singapore have had a longstanding strong friendship. It is anchored on our culture, historical and kinship ties which actually goes back centuries. Since the 19th century, Singapore has had a small but very vibrant Sri Lankan community who have made key contributions to Singapore’s nation-building efforts. Our bilateral relations have been growing from strength to strength, and we have high-level regular exchanges. For instance, we have been very fortunate to have Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who visited Singapore twice last year. I am happy to make this visit and I am hoping you will also reciprocate soon.
I am encouraged to see the rapid developments in Colombo and to see how the government is capitalising on this by pushing reforms and greater economic engagement with the rest of the world. Because of this, there is a surge of interest on the part of Singapore companies in Sri Lanka because they can see for themselves the growth potential in this place. In fact, there are currently more than 350 Singapore companies in Sri Lanka and they are engaged in activities across a wide range of sectors which include food and beverage, manufacturing, IT, cybersecurity and power. We hope to see more of this business-to-business collaborations.
Incumbent on both governments is the need to create a conducive climate for businesses and businesses look forward to stability, to predictability, reliability. One component of this is the conclusion of our negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between Sri Lanka and Singapore. We’re both committed to try to complete this before the end of the year. It will be a modern, comprehensive, high quality, ambitious Free Trade Agreement. It will demonstrate to the world that both of us are open for business and we encourage all investments. Mr Ravi has suggested that Sri Lanka should pursue a bigger concept of hub diplomacy open to the rest of the world. And we’re wholeheartedly with you, because if you think about it, Sri Lanka is a hub for transhipment and economic ties across the Indian Ocean. Singapore is a hub in Southeast Asia. We are complementary. We are not competitive. The bigger the pipeline we build to connect these two hubs, the greater the opportunities will be for our respective regions. So we believe that with the Free Trade Agreement, Singapore can serve as your gateway in Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka will be our gateway in the Indian Ocean. And this will be an example of a win-win outcome for both sides.
Singapore is happy to play a modest role supporting the Sri Lankan government’s development and reform agenda. We’ve had a very good and frank discussion just now. I think it shows the level of trust, comfort and goodwill between the two governments. We’ve also shared some of your ideas on civil service training. I want to emphasize that this is an area which we want to encourage more of and not just to exchange our ideas on a technical level but to build and deepen relationships amongst our civil servants to build that reservoir of trust and goodwill, which we believe will put our respective civil services in very good stead to generate further ideas and create more opportunities for collaboration, which will benefit our citizens in the long run. I will be going to Jaffna tomorrow, where I will have the opportunity to participate at the handover ceremony for books donated to the Jaffna Public Library and we will also be launching an orthopaedic development programme in the University of Jaffna. This is of special significance to me and my previous life as a surgeon where I benefitted from the training, motivation and the inspiration of professors who originated from Sri Lanka. And for us now to have an opportunity to go there and make a token contribution is an echo of our gratitude and also a reminder of the deep and longstanding relationship between our two nations.
So I welcome this opportunity to do more together. Thank you again for your warm welcome and I look forward to seeing you in Singapore in the near future. Thank you very much.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore