Sunday 22 September 2013

'New momentum' in Singapore-Malaysia ties: President Tony Tan State Visit to Malaysia, 18 to 20 Sep 2013

Resilient relationship will overcome challenges, says President Tony Tan
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2013

THERE is a "new momentum" in relations, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, as he described ties between the two countries as deep, resilient and long-standing.

And though the road ahead will not always run smooth, he is confident the two neighbours can overcome issues that may crop up, given the current positive mindset.

Indeed, the excellent state of bilateral relations that was heard on both sides since the start of Dr Tan's three-day state visit to Malaysia, was emphasised again in his wrap-up interview yesterday after a day trip to Malacca.

He traced the invigorated ties to the resolution of the Points of Agreement in 2010, after two decades of dispute over the original agreement on railway land use.

"Resolving that very difficult issue...has given rise to a lot of new initiatives and it is a key catalyst in bringing our mutual relations forward," he said.

Dr Tan attributes it to the strong working relationship between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, both of whom set the tone for a "new positive and forward-looking mindset", he said.

"Good relations have enabled both sides to make things happen," he said, adding that PM Najib made the same point when they met on Wednesday.

Their collaborations include development projects by Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings in Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia as well as a planned high-speed rail between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and a rapid transit system link with Johor.

Dr Tan, however, cautioned that the good ties cannot be taken for granted."Problems, issues will arise from time to time. You must expect this."

But the positive approach and close personal ties at all levels will help overcome the challenges.

"In the end, the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia is a very deep, resilient and long standing one. It has weathered many ups and downs over the last 50 years," he said.

One major challenge he foresees is in implementing the joint initiatives, like the developments in Iskandar and Singapore and high-speed rail, as many details need to be worked out through mutual negotiation.

But what is important, said Dr Tan, is that both sides have set up a format to resolve these issues.

One example is the Joint Ministerial Committee on Iskandar Malaysia, which will meet next month to discuss the high-speed rail and other issues.

While both sides will look after their own interests, "what is important is the realisation that both sides will benefit by making the projects happen", he said.

Dr Tan, when asked, said he is confident the projects will proceed despite uncertainties.

"There may be wrinkles from time to time, arising from many factors including domestic political developments in Malaysia, but...I don't see any of these derailing the projects or making it not happen."

He hopes his state visit - only the third by a Singapore head of state since Independence - will set the tone at the highest level for warm ties at all levels of interactions. He also said he is delighted the Malaysian King has accepted his invitation for a state visit to Singapore.

Beyond bilateral ties, Dr Tan was also asked about the effect on Asean of the looming end to the US stimulus package.

He said the world economy is in better shape compared to a few years ago and, as South-east Asia shows strong growth, Asean nations should seize the day to further fortify their economy.

The way to achieve it is to team up and play on each other's strengths, he added. "That is why it is so important to realise the Asean community by 2015."

He also said Singapore and Malaysia, which will chair Asean in 2015, are committed to this goal of economic integration. "I am confident it will be achieved."

Universiti Malaya seeks more Singapore research tie-ups
Plan for collaboration presented during President Tan's visit to Malaysia
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 20 Sep 2013

MALAYSIA'S oldest university is looking to intensify its collaboration with Singapore universities in scientific research, with an eye on raising its profile in the world's top-tier academic journals.

Such joint efforts would build on the long-standing ties Universiti Malaya (UM) has with Singapore's oldest university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), both of which share a common past that goes all the way back to 1905.

These plans were presented to President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday, the second day of his state visit to Malaysia, where he also witnessed Malaysians and Singaporeans working hand in hand in education, business and culture.

The UM's greater collaboration with Singapore researchers hinges on a Malaysian government-funded scheme called High Impact Research (HIR), which aims to propel UM into the world's top 100 universities by 2015.

Today, some 10 per cent of the HIR's 192 projects involve Singapore institutions such as NUS, the Genome Institute of Singapore and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, in areas like cancer and HIV/Aids.

The plan is to raise it to 20 per cent, said the HIR's consultant, Emeritus Professor Lam Sai Kit, during the visit by Dr Tan, who is also the chancellor of NUS.

The President's UM visit comes a day after he highlighted the close relations between NUS and UM as an example of how Singapore and Malaysia should continually nurture their historical ties. He made the point at a state banquet on Wednesday, the start of his three-day state visit.


Picking up on the theme yesterday, UM vice-chancellor Ghauth Jasmon said Dr Tan's visit signifies the nations' close ties and hoped it would herald even closer links between UM and universities in Singapore.

Such links work best when professors and students from both universities talk to each other, he said, and suggested having a dual PhD programme with NUS and UM students spending time at both institutions.

The two universities were once the Singapore and KL divisions of University of Malaya, itself the result of a merger between King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College in Singapore.

But even after they became separate entities in 1962, UM and NUS continued to cultivate ties via annual golf games since 1969.

Later, Singapore High Commissioner Ong Keng Yong told The Straits Times that more Singaporean students are going across the Causeway to further their studies.

He puts it down to greater opportunities provided by Malaysia's institutes of higher learning.

Many study at the International Islamic University of Malaysia and several were at a reception for Singaporeans last night, where they met Dr Tan and his wife.

Two of them, Mr Luqmanul Hakim Hadi Mulyono and Ms Nurul Farhana Md Fadilah, both 22, like the similarities to home and the flexibility to choose their majors and minors from either Islamic studies or the human sciences.

In his address, the President said the Singaporean community is yet another example of the close people-to-people ties that form the foundation of bilateral relations. "You have also rooted the bilateral relationship for the long term with friendships and kinships," he said.

Earlier in the day, he visited a Permata Negara nursery in Putrajaya, where he was hosted by the programme's patron, Prime Minister Najib Razak's wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor.

The Permata Negara programme provides early childhood care and education to children of low-income families. A total of 686 nurseries have adopted it.

Dr Tan then went to the Islamic Arts Museum of Malaysia, the largest museum of Islamic art in South-east Asia.

The President travels to Malacca today for the last leg of his trip.

'Big dreams' for future of Singapore and Malaysia
Both nations have greater stakes in each other's success: President Tan
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 19 Sep 2013

WITH ties in an excellent state, Singapore and Malaysia are now "dreaming big together" to forge a better future for their peoples, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday as the Malaysians rolled out the red carpet for his first state visit to their country.

It reflects the new era in their bilateral relations, which Dr Tan traced to the close partnership in recent years between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak.

Both leaders meet yearly for a retreat that has led to major agreements like the historic land swop deal in 2010 involving Malaysian Railway land in Singapore, and a 2011 agreement on the joint development of projects in Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia.

This bond has had a rippling effect, with cooperation extending across many fields, including transport, communications, arts, culture and education, the President said at a state banquet hosted by Malaysia's King and Queen at Istana Negara last night.

Similarly, the private sectors of both sides have "built on this confidence", he noted.

"Our countries now have greater stakes in each other's success," he said, adding that projects like the proposed high-speed rail between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will further enhance economic and people-to-people interactions.

"We are dreaming big together, so our peoples will gain an enriching and secure future together," he said.

The 73-year-old President, who has visited Malaysia many times in various capacities, also reflected on the changes: "I have watched the country transform over the years, making great strides in social and economic development."

Earlier, he took in these changes first-hand during a State drive from Parliament Square to his hotel, accompanied by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah. They passed such historical landmarks as Merdeka Square, the National Mosque and Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, against a backdrop dominated by modern skyscrapers.

Dr Tan, who is on a three-day visit, was particularly struck by the mix of old and new. "The Petronas Twin Towers stand tall and proud alongside old heritage buildings, each setting off the grandeur and beauty of the other.

"During our drive together today, I reflected that through it all, Malaysia has kept its heart and soul. Like the Kuala Lumpur of my youth, the city is still vibrant, colourful, and full of possibilities," he said.

The drive was a highlight of a busy day that began with the King and Queen giving a ceremonial welcome which included a 21-gun salute, to the President and his wife Mary at Parliament Square.

In keeping with the spirit of the visit, Dr Tan wore a blue shirt while the Agong wore a white shirt with a red tie and pocket square - together forming the colours of both countries' flags. Their wives wore pale green.

In his speech at the state banquet, Tuanku Abdul Halim shared the President's sentiments on the long-standing partnership between their nations and the importance of enhancing connectivity across borders, which will have multiplier effects on their social and economic development.

"We know of many important initiatives to usher in a new era of greater and more comprehensive partnership," he said.

Both also pledged their countries' commitment to work closely on Asean, which Malaysia will chair in 2015 - the target for regional economic integration under the Asean community.

Earlier in the day, PM Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor called on Dr and Mrs Tan.

The leaders, who held similar portfolios as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence and Education Ministers in the past, chatted before the official call.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry said they reaffirmed excellent bilateral ties and the need to strengthen institutional links at all levels. They agreed there should be more cooperation between their public and private sectors. Dr Tan and PM Najib also welcomed the rapidly expanding economic ties, including the enhanced connectivity and twinning of economic activities between Singapore and Iskandar Malaysia.

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