Transcript of Speech by Senior Minister Of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman during the Committee of Supply Debate, 1 March 2019
Thank you Mr Chairman. Minister Vivian outlined key foreign policy challenges for Singapore. I will now highlight opportunities for Singapore.First, strengthening existing partnerships; second, enlarging our circle of friends; and third, expanding and intensifying our outreach.
2. First, on strengthening existing partnerships. I will begin with the US, a major defence and economic partner for Singapore.For decades, the US has been a stabilising force in the AsiaPacific. Its continued commitment and sustained military presence in the region is even more vital today given the evolving regional developments. We have developed broad and substantive defence ties with the US, underpinned by regular highlevel visits, joint military training, defence technology cooperation, and professional exchanges.
3. Since 2014, Singapore has contributed military assets and personnel towards the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS led by the US. During US Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Singapore in November, we signed a Letter of Intent to jointly develop a SingaporeUS Cybersecurity Technical Assistance Programme. Last month, I attended the Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in Washington DC to share Singapore’s ongoing efforts to build regional counterterrorism capabilities.We are working towards the renewal in 2020 of our 1990 landmark agreement granting the US access to military facilities in Singapore.
4. Notwithstanding our different positions on trade, Singapore and the US continue to enjoy robust economic relations. It remains our largest foreign direct investor.Its investment has increased by some 21% from S$280 billion in 2016 to S$339 billion in 2017. Nearly 4,500 US companies have set up shop here, creating jobs in finance, insurance, manufacturing, and trade. We signed new cooperation agreements on energy, standards, advanced manufacturing, and technology partnerships, as well as automatic exchange of financial account information.
5. Incoming visits by President Donald Trump, and Vice President Pence, and several other Cabinet Secretaries to Singapore, as well as Minister Vivian and other Singapore Ministers to the US last year, allowed both sides to exchange views on issues of mutual interest. We will sustain this steady rhythm of highlevel engagements in 2019.
6. Closer to home, ASEAN continues to be a key pillar of Singapore’s foreign policy, as articulated by Minister Vivian earlier.When ASEAN was formed in 1967, Southeast Asia was a troubled and unstable region, rife with hostility and confrontation. It was a leap of faith for ASEAN’s five founding members to put aside their differences to bring the region together. The expansion of ASEAN from five to ten members brought new opportunities and challenges, including creating consensus among ten states with diverse political systems, histories, and levels of economic development. ASEAN has come a long way since, but maintaining ASEAN’s unity, centrality, and relevance remains as important as ever.
7. Mr Vikram Nair and Dr Teo Ho Pin asked how ASEAN can strengthen its Centrality and speak in one voice on contentious issues. Under the theme of Resilient and Innovative during our 2018 ASEAN Chairmanship, we focussed on enhancing ASEAN Centrality, unity and relevance.For example, we launched initiatives to enhance aviation safety for military aircraft, combat terrorism and extremism, as well as strengthen ASEAN’s cyber strategy development and capabilities. We deepened economic integration by focussing on growth areas in ecommerce and digital technology. These initiatives boost regional integration and increase key partners’ stake in the development of our region.
8. Amidst major power rivalry, ASEAN Member States will increasingly be subject to competing external pressures that may pull us in different directions.Balancing national interests against regional interests is a perennial challenge, but one we can overcome by increasing ASEAN’s value proposition to each member and enlarging our sphere of common interests.
9. Dr Teo also asked about the status of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network, or ASCN. The ASCN’s 26 pilot cities came together last year to set out ASEAN’s definition of a smart city and develop cityspecific action plans towards becoming smart cities by 2025. Since 2018, ASCN has secured over thirty partnerships with interested private and public entities.For Singapore businesses, ASCN presents regional business opportunities in many areas, including urban development, human capital development, technology incubation and financial services.Singapore will work with Thailand, this year’s ASEAN Chair, to shepherd the ASCN initiative onto its next phase of development.
10. Singapore has taken over the country coordinatorship of ASEANEU Dialogue Relations from 2018 to 2021. Mr Muralli Pillai asked about our goals and priorities, and if Brexit will affect ASEANEU Dialogue Relations.While there remains much uncertainty over Brexit, Singapore aims to facilitate concrete and beneficial outcomes for ASEANEU dialogue relations.This includes ongoing negotiations on the ASEANEU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement and efforts to resume negotiations on an ASEANEU Free Trade Agreement.These initiatives will deepen linkages between two dynamic integrated blocs with a combined market of more than one billion people, and realise significant economic opportunities for our businesses and our peoples. At a recent meeting cochaired by Minister Vivian, ASEAN and EU Foreign Ministers agreed inprinciple to upgrade ASEANEU relations to a strategic level and reaffirmed our shared commitment to multilateralism and a rulesbased world order.
11. One complex and evolving issue that ASEAN has to deal with is the situation in the Rakhine State in Myanmar.Understandably, ASEAN Member States are concerned about the situation. The ASEAN Leaders and Foreign Ministers have discussed this issue extensively.However, there are no quick fixes.This is a longstanding and complex issue which needs a political solution.
12. Ms Anthea Ong asked about ASEAN’s policy regarding the situation in the Rakhine State.At Myanmar’s invitation at the 33rd ASEAN Summit in November 2018, the Leaders agreed to despatch a needs assessment team to the Rakhine State to identify ways to support Myanmar’s efforts in the repatriation process. That said, it is ultimately the responsibility of the Myanmar government and its stakeholders to find a viable and durable longterm solution.
13. The discussions at the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, or AICHR, run parallel to and are consistent with the conversations between ASEAN Leaders and Foreign Ministers. Currently, there are no discussions amongst ASEAN on pursuing measures such as a Human Rights Court, or a regional refugee and asylum policy.We must keep in mind that ASEAN Member States have different approaches in dealing with humanitarian and human rights issues due to their own history and domestic sociopolitical dynamics.It will be difficult to apply a one size fits all approach.
14. Mr Louis Ng asked whether Singapore could consider donating to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, fund for refugees from the Rakhine State, in addition to our general contribution. As a small country with limited resources, we are not a major donor to the UNHCR. However, as Mr Ng pointed out, we increased our annual contributions in 2016. Our contribution is comparable to that of other ASEAN countries. What is important is to stay focussed on creating a conducive environment for refugees to return to Rakhine State. That can only be achieved through internal dialogue and consensus.
15. ASEAN also has to deal with the threat of terrorism.Our region faces the heightened threat of returning fighters and radicalised individuals who may be persuaded to carry out attacks where they live. The recent bomb attacks at a cathedral in southern Philippines which claimed at least 20 lives, reminds us of existing threats to regional stability as well as racial and religious harmony. To combat these threats, platforms for information sharing such as the Our Eyes Initiative are vital.
16. We will continue to work with likeminded countries to promote religious moderation and interfaith harmony, while contributing to the counterterrorism capacitybuilding efforts of our Middle Eastern partners where possible. For instance, when Sheikh Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, visited Singapore last May at Prime Minister’s invitation, he shared insights on Islamic principles and practices in a multireligious society, and exhorted our Muslim community to stay harmonious and to harness religion as a force for good.Such exchanges are critical, given the potential for extremism and conflicts in the Middle East to spill over in our region.
17. Minister Vivian spoke about our relations with our closest neighbours. Speaker, and Mr Chairman let me take this opportunity to underscore a few points in Malay.
18. Beberapa isu duahala telah timbul dengan Malaysia dalam beberapa bulan kebelakangan ini, seperti garis had pelabuhan dan ruang udara.
[English Translation: Several bilateral issues have surfaced with Malaysia in recent months, namely the port limits and airspace issues.]
19. Dalam isu had pelabuhan, seperti para ahli Parlimen sudah sedia maklum, Malaysia telah bertindak sendiri meluaskan had Pelabuhan Johor Bahru pada 25 Oktober 2018. Sejak lewat bulan November 2018, kapalkapal Kerajaan Malaysia telah mencerobohi kawasan perairan wilayah Singapura berkalikali. Kami telah membuat bantahan terhadap perluasan kepada had Pelabuhan Johor Bahru itu dan juga membantah pencerobohan ke atas perairan kita. Pencerobohan itu sebenarnya tidak membantu Malaysia dari segi undangundang.
[English Translation: On the port limits issue, as members of the House are aware, Malaysia unilaterally extended the Johor Bahru Port Limits on 25 October 2018. Since late November 2018, Malaysian Government vessels have intruded repeatedly into Singapore Territorial Waters. We have protested the purported extension of the Johor Bahru Port Limits and these intrusions. These intrusions do not help Malaysia’s legal case.
20. Malahan, dia telah meruncingkan ketegangan dan membahayakan keselamatan navigasi atau pelayaran di kawasan itu, seperti yang disaksikan dalam pelanggaran antara kapal pengangkutan berat yang berdaftar di Greece bernama Pireas dan kapal Kerajaan Malaysia Polaris, yang berlabuh di perairan wilayah Singapura tanpa izin.
[English Translation: Instead, they have raised tensions and endangered navigational safety in the area, as shown by the recent collision between Greeceregistered bulk carrier Pireas and Malaysian Government vessel Polaris, which was illegally anchored in Singapore Territorial Waters.]
21. Para pegawai telah bertemu untuk membincangkan langkahlangkah untuk mengendurkan ketegangan. Keduadua belah pihak sedar akan keperluan yang mendesak untuk mengelakkan berlakunya lagi kemalangan yang tidak diingini. Jawatankuasa Kerja dijangka akan menyerahkan saranansaranan mereka kepada keduadua Menteri Ehwal Luar pada awal bulan Mac.
[English Translation: The officials have been meeting to discuss measures to deescalate the situation. Both sides are aware of the urgent need to prevent more accidents and untoward incidents. The working group is due to submit its recommendations to the two Foreign Ministers in early March.]
22. Perihal ruang udara, Singapura telah merancang untuk menaik taraf Lapangan Terbang Seletar dengan menggunakan Sistem Pendaratan berpandukan Peralatan atau Instrument Landing System (ILS). Sistem itu akan dapat membantu penerbangan yang ingin mendarat di Lapangan Terbang Seletar mendarat dengan selamat walaupun mutu penglihatan kurang jelas. Walaubagaimanapun, Malaysia telah mengisytiharkan Kawasan Larangan Tetap (RA) pada 25 Disember 2018 justru menjejas penerbangan yang beroperasi di Lapangan Terbang Seletar.
[English Translation: On airspace, Singapore had planned to upgrade Seletar Airport to use Instrument Landing System (ILS) procedures. The ILS would have allowed flights arriving at Seletar Airport to land even in conditions where visibility is poor. However, Malaysia declared a permanent Restricted Area (RA) on 25 December 2018 which has affected flights operating to and from Seletar Airport.
23. Berikutan dari mesyuarat di antara Menteri Ehwal Luar pada 8 Januari 2019 dan Menteri Pengangkutan pada 23 Januari 2019, keduadua pihak telah bersetuju untuk menggantung peraturan ILS dan Kawasan Larangan Tetap (RA) sehingga 31 Mac 2019. Sejak itu, Menteri Pengangkutan dan para pegawai dari keduadua pihak telah mengadakan beberapa pertemuan untuk membincangkan isuisu ini, dan kami menanti dan mengalualukan penyelesaian yang dipersetujui bersama.
[English Translation: Following the meetings between the Foreign Ministers on 8 January 2019 and the Transport Ministers on 23 January 2019, both sides have mutually suspended the ILS procedures and permanent RA until 31 March 2019. Since then, the Transport Ministers and senior officials from both sides have been meeting regularly to discuss these issues, and we look forward to finding a solution that is mutually agreeable.]
24. Sebagai jiran yang rapat, isuisu akan sentiasa timbul dari masa ke semasa dan kita harus menanganinya bersamasama. Apa yang penting adalah bagaimana kita menanganinya berbincang dalam semangat muhibbah, selaras dengan undangundang antarabangsa, dan akur kepada persetujuan yang sudah termenterai. Walaupun berdepan dengan kesulitan, Singapura tetap berharap untuk bekerjasama dengan Malaysia untuk memupuk perhubungan yang lebih baik, dan untuk kerjasama jangka panjang yang lebih erat, demi memanfaatkan rakyat keduadua negara.
[English Translation: As close neighbours, issues will naturally surface from time to time that we have to deal with. What is important is how we deal with them discussing in good faith, keeping in compliance with international law, and honouring existing agreements. Despite these current difficulties, Singapore still hopes to work with Malaysia for better relations, and for closer longterm cooperation that will benefit the citizens of both sides.]
25. Singapura dan Indonesia mempunyai perhubungan yang mendalam danmerangkumi berbagai bidang.Pertemuan dan pertukaran pendapat di peringkat tinggi yang begitu kerap menjadi teras perhubungan yang kukuh diantara kami.Saya dan rakanrakan sekerja amat mesra dengan pemimpinpemimpin Indonesia dari berbagai daerah dan bertemu mereka dengan kerap apabila mereka berkunjung ke Singapura ataupun apabila kami berkunjung ke sana.
[English Translation: SingaporeIndonesia relations are deep and multifaceted. Frequent highlevel exchanges underpin our strong ties with Indonesia, both at the central government as well as the provincial levels. My colleagues and I are familiar with Indonesian leaders from the various regions and meet them regularly when they visit Singapore and when we travel to Indonesia.]
26. Ekonomi dua negara kita terjalin rapat.Singapura masih menjadi pelabur asing terbesar Indonesia.Contoh pelaburan yang penting barubaru ini adalah Taman Perindustrian Kendal dan Taman Digital Nongsa.Perancangan Kewangan Duahala bernilai US$10 bilion telah diumumkan semasa Pertermuan Pemimpin 2018 di antara Perdana Menteri dan Presiden Jokowi, dan ini jelas mencerminkan sikap saling percara dan yakin akan prestasi ekonomi masingmasing.
[English Translation: Our two economies are closely linked. Singapore remained Indonesia’s top foreign investor in 2018. Examples of recent key investments are the Kendal Industrial Park and Nongsa Digital Park. The US$10 billion Bilateral Financial Arrangement announced at the 2018 Leaders’ Retreat between PM and President Jokowi demonstrates our mutual confidence in each other’s economies.]
27. Tambahan lagi, kami bekerjasama dengan rapat dalam bidang pertahanan, keselamatan dan anti pengganasan dalam kami menghadapi cabaran bersama.Indonesia akan mengadakan Pilihanraya Legislatif dan Pilihanraya Presiden dalam bulan April 2019.Kami mengharapkan proses pilihanraya yang licin dan aman untuk mereka. Kami juga berharap untuk meneruskan hubungan kerjasama yang kukuh dan sudah sekian lama terjalin dengan Indonesia.
[English Translation: In addition, we cooperate closely on the defence, security and counterterrorism fronts to tackle common challenges. Indonesia will hold its legislative and presidential elections in April 2019. We wish them a smooth election and we look forward to continuing our strong, longstanding and cooperative partnership with Indonesia.]
28. Mr Baey Yam Keng asked about Singapore’s engagement of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.We maintain strong ties with these neighbours through regular highlevel exchanges. This year, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with the Philippines.Trade with all six countries continues to grow. Our businesses are keen to collaborate in emerging fields such as FinTech, digital economy, smart cities, and renewable energy.
29. Thailand is a longstanding defence partner and continues to support SAF training.We have extensive technical cooperation with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.In 2018, we upgraded our technical cooperation centres in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the Singapore Cooperation Centres.These Centres enlarge Singapore’s mindshare by offering an integrated development assistance platform.
Enlarging Our Circle of Friends
30. This brings me to my second point: that Singapore must strive constantly to enlarge our circle of friends.
31. Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked for an update on our relationship with India.It is robust, forwardlooking, and we have made progress across all pillars of our Strategic Partnership.Defence ties have strengthened. Our navies signed an agreement on logistics cooperation, and celebrated the 25th anniversary of the annual SingaporeIndia Maritime Bilateral Exercise last year.
32. Singapore is India’s 10th largest trading partner and largest foreign investor. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Official Visit to Singapore in June 2018, we concluded the Second Review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, or known as CECA.Since CECA came into force in 2005, bilateral trade flows have doubled from S$11.18 billion in 2004 to S$25.2 billion in 2017. The updates to CECA will support greater economic cooperation and provide opportunities for our businesses and people. We have also grown our statelevel engagement of cities such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
33. With both countries making significant strides towards digitalisation, we have established a Joint Working Group to explore further cooperation in FinTech and innovation.We launched an initial link for our payment systems between Singapore’s NETS and India’s RuPay payment systems that will enable workers, tourists, and businesses to make crossborder transactions more securely and conveniently.
34. Dr Chia ShiLu asked about our engagement of emerging markets in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East.And Mr Seah Kian Peng also asked about our key engagements with the Middle East in 2019 and how our efforts have borne fruit.
35. Our engagement of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia is premised on expanding our economic space, looking after Muslims on pilgrimage, and sharing our development experience.
36. In the Middle East, our trade grew by 21.5% from S$50.6 billion to S$61.5 billion in 2018. We enjoy regular exchanges at the highest political level.DPM Teo Chee Hean visited Jordan, Oman, and Israel in 2018. In January this year, DPM Tharman met key Saudi leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi has just visited Singapore yesterday, where both sides issued a joint declaration on the SingaporeUAE Comprehensive Partnership.
37. Highlevel engagements this year reflect the potential for our ties to grow, especially with states trying to reduce oil dependency and diversify their economies. We will leverage the Gulf Cooperation CouncilSingapore Free Trade Agreement, and work with our agencies to support our companies through legislative frameworks composed of Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreements, or DTAs, and Bilateral Investment Treaties, or BITs.
38. Every year, Ministerincharge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli leads a delegation to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj Ministerial Meeting to seek an increase in our official Hajj quota. We obtained an increase in Hajj places in 2018. We recognise the limit to the increase that Saudi Arabia can accord each country in light of logistical realities, but will continue to make our case for more Hajj places for our pilgrims.
39. Mr Seah Kian Peng also asked about how Singapore balances its engagements with countries in the Middle East amidst tensions in the region.Several disputes and conflicts persist in the Middle East and North Africa. Singapore’s principle is to keep friendly ties with all countries, regardless of any disputes between them. The diplomatic rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, is ongoing.We hope that all parties will work together to find a solution.
40. The complex, multifaceted IsraeliPalestinian conflict has particular domestic and regional salience. Tensions continue to simmer at the IsraelGaza border, and have been exacerbated over the status of Jerusalem.Singapore maintains a principled and consistent position on this issue. We support a negotiated twostate solution with Israel and Palestine living sidebyside in peace and security. We hope that they can resume direct negotiations and make progress towards a just and durable solution.
41. Meanwhile, we will continue to work with the Palestinian National Authority, or PNA, in practical ways.For example, we shared our development experience with PNA officials, and worked with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to conduct an inaugural ICT programme in Ramallah last month.
42. Israel is one of our oldest partners.2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations with Israel.We have developed a broadbased relationship with shared interests in many sectors such as research and development, and education.
43. We are also gradually stepping up our engagement of Central Asia. The Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy has an ongoing partnership with Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan to offer courses on public administration. Singapore companies are also exploring opportunities in the education, infrastructure, and oil and gas sectors in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. I plan to visit Uzbekistan soon to explore other opportunities for cooperation.
44. We are looking for opportunities to step up engagement of key countries in Africa. The continent is expected to grow 4% over the next two years.More than 60 Singapore companies, including SMEs across multiple industries, are operating in sectors as wideranging as manufacturing, digital economy, transport and logistics, and agribusiness.Today, Singapore is one of Southeast Asia’s largest investors in Africa.
45. Further from home, Singapore’s interaction with Latin America has also grown.Our companies are exploring commercial opportunities in major economies in sectors as diverse as ports, airports, oil and gas, logistics, master planning, and education. MFA has worked with MTI to support these companies’ entry into the Latin American markets. We are pursuing two Free Trade Agreements with the region. One with the MERCOSUR trade bloc, which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and is the world’s 5th largest economy.The other is with the Pacific Alliance, comprising Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.Once concluded, these agreements will help to facilitate trade and investment flows.
46. Last year, we had a series of highlevel exchanges with Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. This culminated in a visit by PM to Buenos Aires in November 2018 for the G20 Leaders’ Summit under Argentina’s Presidency. We will sustain such productive highlevel meetings this year, including through PM’s visit to Chile for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in November 2019.
Expanding and Intensifying Our Outreach
47. Third, we should continue expanding and intensifying our outreach.Minister Vivian mentioned the Singapore Cooperation Programme, or SCP. The SCP was established in 1992 for Singapore to give back to the international community the assistance that we received in our early years of nationbuilding.It is a key conduit for us to provide human resource capacitybuilding to fellow developing countries, and has helped to build goodwill for Singapore across the globe.
48. The SCP showcases our expertise and evolving capabilities, and allows our officials and companies to interact with foreign officials. In turn, this creates opportunities for our companies in areas such as urban consultancy services and digital technology.
49. This year, we have put together a special Climate Action Package of courses to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. As Small Island Developing States continue to be the most vulnerable, we will step up our delivery of customised programmes to help them achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We will also contribute to smart city development in our region through our ASCN.
50. To conclude, Mr Chairman, to meet the foreign policy challenges of the day, we need to be pragmatic and resilient. But to seize the opportunities before us, we need to be optimistic, openminded, and courageous. Looking ahead, we should strengthen ties with our closest partners, enlarge our circle of friends, and expand and intensify our outreach.
51. Mr Chairman, I turn the floor over now to my colleague, MOS Sam Tan.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Singapore