Thursday 23 October 2014

President Tony Tan on first state visit to Britain by a Singapore leader, 21 to 24 October 2014

Royal pageantry marks start of President's UK visit
Booming gun salutes and stately carriage procession all part of day's splendour
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2014

THE red-and-white flag of Singapore flew proudly alongside the British Union Jack in central London yesterday, as President Tony Tan Keng Yam officially began his state visit to the United Kingdom to much fanfare.

Booming gun salutes and a stately carriage procession flanked by Royal Horse Guards were all part of the day's pageantry for Dr Tan, the first Singaporean president to make a state visit to Britain.

The morning began with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greeting Dr Tan at the Royal Garden Hotel where he was staying.

It was the first public appearance of Prince William's wife, Catherine, in over two months, and she appeared healthy and cheerful. The royal couple are expecting their second child in April next year, and the Duchess has been suffering from acute morning sickness.

Dr Tan and his wife, Mary, together with the royal couple, then went in a car procession to the Horse Guards Parade ground, where they were received by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip. A 103-gun royal salute was fired from Green Park, a royal park, and from the Tower of London, a royal palace and fortress, as part of the ceremonial welcome.

The Queen, who wore a navy blue coat and matching hat, presented dignitaries to Dr Tan. These included British Prime Minister David Cameron, secretaries of state, senior military officials, and top officials from London.

Dr Tan then inspected the guard of honour, who were in their signature red tunics and towering black fur hats.

The President and his wife then boarded gilded state carriages - Dr Tan rode with the Queen while Mrs Tan rode with the Duke of Edinburgh - that brought them to Buckingham Palace, where they will stay until tomorrow.

Escorted by over 100 members of the Queen's household cavalry mounted on horses, the procession moved off to rousing renditions of the Singaporean and British national anthems, Majulah Singapura and God Save The Queen.

Later, after a private lunch, Dr Tan and his wife were given a tour of the palace's picture gallery by the Queen and Prince Philip, where they viewed an exhibition of Singapore-related items from the royal family's art collection. These included a diary entry describing Queen Mary's visit to Singapore in 1901.

The President gave the Queen a collection of hand-painted china plates depicting places she had visited during her three previous state visits to Singapore in 1972, 1989 and 2006.

The Queen, in return, gave him copies of Adam Smith's famous The Wealth Of Nations volumes and James Maitland's 1804 tome, The Nature Of Public Wealth.

Security in central London had been beefed up yesterday following earlier fears that the ceremony would be disrupted by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria sympathisers, The Times reported. But the day proceeded without incident.

Dr Tan was set to visit Westminster Abbey, address the British Parliament and attend a state banquet hosted in his honour.

Singapore, UK to renew science research tie-up
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE and Britain will renew a partnership in scientific research first formalised in 2004, President Tony Tan Keng Yam announced in London yesterday.

The tie-up, known as the United Kingdom-Singapore Innovation and Research Partnership, entails students and researchers from both countries going on exchange programmes, and sharing research and development activities and infrastructure.

There will also be joint funding of research.

An earlier agreement to partner in scientific research was made in 2004 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Announcing this renewed tie-up yesterday at Britain's premier science institution, the Royal Society, Dr Tan noted that both Singapore and Britain face similar challenges such as urbanisation, ageing, health care and environmental sustainability.

He said Singapore sees itself playing a role in the scientific search for answers, and has established research collaborations with many world-renowned universities including Cambridge University in Britain.

"Such challenges cannot be solved by any one nation and the future of research lies in international and multidisciplinary collaborations," said Dr Tan, who is on a state visit to Britain.

Yesterday, the Royal Society conferred on him the King Charles II medal, given to foreign heads of state who have played a big role in furthering scientific research in their country.

Only four others - Emperor Akihito of Japan in 1997, Indian President Abdul Kalam in 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2010 and Premier Wen Jiabao of China in 2011 - have received the medal.

Dr Tan, a mathematics and physics lecturer by training, recalled taking into account the impact of science as a Cabinet minister overseeing education, trade and industry and defence policy.

In his address to the Royal Society, whose fellows include Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Sir Stamford Raffles, who was also a botanist, Dr Tan said Singapore's development had been enabled by science, such as water desalination technology.

Dr Tan also said that investment in research and development has doubled since 1991 to 2.3 per cent of the country's gross domestic product now.

Royal Society president Paul Nurse, in paying tribute to Singapore's scientific achievements, called the Republic a "success story in global science and innovation". He noted Dr Tan's role in transforming research and development in Singapore, including as chairman of the National Research Foundation.

Yesterday, Dr Tan was also hosted to lunch by British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British prime ministers.

They discussed issues such as the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and how to enhance science, research and education cooperation, and also exchanged views on regional and international developments.

Friends 'in all types of weather'
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

MUCH has changed since Sir Stamford Raffles set up a British trading port in Singapore almost two centuries ago, and from the time Singapore and Britain established diplomatic ties in 1965.

But the bond between both countries has endured and strengthened over the years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Tuesday in London during his state visit to the United Kingdom.

Dr Tan on Tuesday spoke on the common interests and heritage shared by Britain and Singapore, at the Palace of Westminster, the seat of Parliament, and at a state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in his honour.

Addressing Parliament, he said historical links between Singapore and the United Kingdom had been a strong foundation for bilateral cooperation.

The common strategic outlook and mutual values both countries share have also boosted partnership in the areas of the economy, security and defence, he said.

Singapore and Britain are also proponents of free trade, he noted, adding that the European Union-Singapore free trade agreement will be beneficial once it is ratified.

In the areas of defence and security, both countries also have strong reasons to continue working together, he said, especially in areas such as counter-terrorism and countering transnational crime.

He added that underpinning these bilateral relations are the ties between the people. Many Singaporeans have made Britain their second home and contribute actively to it, he said.

The same is true of the British community in Singapore, and this has boosted the "already deep reservoir of goodwill" between both sides, Dr Tan added.

During the banquet, the Queen wore the Order of Temasek red and white sash and white star - Singapore's second highest national order - which she received in 1972 when she visited Singapore.

The Queen, in her speech, said Dr Tan's state visit "marks the continued deepening of the relationship between our countries".

"I have no doubt that by maintaining longstanding commitments to openness, fairness and enterprise, this friendship will not only be sustained but will flourish and thrive," she said.

She also announced new scholarships to the United Kingdom for Singaporeans under the newly revived Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore.

Singapore and London 'can learn from each other'
President Tan says both are vibrant, diverse cities that draw global talent
By Charissa Yong In London, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE and London are a tale of two cities that can learn from each other about how to attract talent and be a regional financial hub, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said at a banquet held in his honour.

Highlighting the shared history, similarities and robust ties between the two global cities, he urged both to continue to deepen their partnership and links with each other.

He was addressing hundreds of guests on Wednesday, including the Lord Mayor of the City of London Fiona Woolf, who was his host, and the City's senior officials.

Both Singapore and London are vibrant and diverse cities which welcome professionals from around the world, said Dr Tan, who is on a state visit to Britain.

They are also financial gateways to their respective regions of Asia and Europe.

Global cities, however, must be sustainable and liveable to attract the best and the brightest, and Singapore and London have done well in this regard, he added.

Dr Tan noted that London was recently named the most desired city in the world to work in.

Singapore was No. 9 although it held the top spot in Asia.

However, more needs to be done, he said.

"I believe London and Singapore can learn from each other on this front, especially with regard to tackling similar challenges such as social integration and housing affordability."

Agreeing, Ms Woolf said a diverse tapestry of talent - such as what multicultural London and Singapore have - is "the greatest strength of any one city".

"We need the breadth and depth that diversity brings, in order to innovate and compete, in order to turn great challenges, population growth, infrastructure demands, climate change into great opportunities," she said.

That multicultural edge was reflected earlier in the day when Dr Tan attended a cosy Deepavali gathering of the Singapore UK Association.In his speech, the President said that in the field of finance, Singapore and London are natural bases for regional headquarters of companies looking to do business in Asia and Europe.

Both could learn from each other's experiences, he added, citing the internationalisation of China's yuan and the implementation of regulatory reforms after the global financial crisis.

On Tuesday, Dr Tan was awarded an honorary knighthood - the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath - which he wore to the state banquet given by Queen Elizabeth II. It is the third-highest British honour and its recipients include former United States president Dwight Eisenhower and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Yesterday, the official segment of the President's state visit ended with a formal farewell from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace.

Dr Tan visited Bristol in the afternoon. He was hosted to lunch in the Bristol Museum by the city's mayor, Mr George Ferguson.

Back to roots of Singapore's botanical history
President visits Kew, which has strong ties with S'pore Botanic Gardens
By Charissa Yong In London, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

MORE than a century ago, the seeds of South-east Asia's rubber industry were planted in Singapore's Botanic Gardens.

The rubber seedlings came from the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew in London, and were eventually dispersed to the region, where rubber became a major export crop.

Yesterday, a new chapter to the longstanding and rich ties between Singapore and London's botany blossomed as President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited Kew Gardens on the fifth day of his six-day historic state visit to Britain.

On his tour of the gardens' sprawling green lawns with trees turning an early autumnal gold, he visited the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which features tropical orchids like the ones grown in Singapore.

At the Marianne North Gallery, named after the botanical artist, he viewed paintings of plants and landscapes in Singapore and Borneo that Ms North painted when she travelled through the region in the 1870s.

He was given a copy of an 1876 painting she did of a Singaporean lane surrounded by lush trees.

Dr Tan also viewed a collection of Singapore-related items in the Kew archives, including photographs of rubber trees and key staff of the Singapore Botanic Gardens taken from 1879 to 1927.

The President's visit comes amid Singapore's bid for its Botanic Gardens to be named a Unesco World Heritage Site, the result of which could be known as early as next June.

Kew Gardens helped with the bid, sending scans of pertinent documents in their archives to the Botanic Gardens.

Dr Tan thanked them for their help and paid tribute to the collaboration and exchanges between both gardens.

They collaborate on large projects in the region, such as the volumes documenting the species of flora in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

Following his visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the Singapore and British governments reaffirmed their commitment to tackle climate change.

This includes continuing to take national action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, a goal of the United Nations climate change conference in Paris next year.

Both countries remain committed to working constructively at the conference to reach a new international agreement to tackle climate change, said the MFA.

This agreement should, among other things, be inclusive and "allow all nations, big and small, to make a responsible contribution to tackling the climate change challenge", said its statement.

Later in the day, Dr Tan visited British insurance giant Lloyd's of London. Its building stands on the site of the former headquarters of the trading firm East India Company, for which Sir Stamford Raffles worked.

There, Dr Tan was hosted to lunch and met representatives of the British finance industry.

The Lloyds Banking Group had announced earlier this week that it will move its commercial banking headquarters for Asia to Singapore, after closing it offices in Hong Kong and Australia.

NTU, Bristol University in tie-up to develop smart health-care wearables
By Charissa Yong In Bristol, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

CLOTHES that can monitor the health status of seniors in their homes may be the future of health care - and it is a future Singapore and Britain's universities are exploring together.

A tie-up between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the University of Bristol aims to conduct research and develop health-care technology that uses smart sensors and can be worn.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is in Britain on a six-day state visit, witnessed the signing of the memorandum of understanding - a move that formalises the joint venture - at the University of Bristol on Thursday.

The partnership comes amid a push for both countries to collaborate further in scientific research, something the President called for this week at various events, including in a speech at the Royal Society, Britain's top science institution.

Dr Tan also launched a competition that challenges teams of scientists, medics, engineers and designers to come up with a piece of health-care technology that can be worn. For instance, a wristband that can automatically detect and track its wearer's movements, and can alert others if he falls or faints.

Said NTU president Bertil Andersson at the launch: "Population ageing has become a big challenge in many countries. In Singapore, about one in eight residents is over 65, and this ratio is increasing rapidly."

Britain's Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities Greg Clark, who attended the launch, noted the links Singapore and the United Kingdom have with each other in the field of higher education. More than 6,000 Singaporeans were students in Britain last year and over 55 universities have partnerships with Singapore, he said.

After the launch, Dr Tan, a former education minister, met 80 Singaporeans studying at the University of Bristol.

The President also visited the studio of Aardman Animations, the company behind stop-motion films like Wallace and Gromit, and the franchise's spin-off series Shaun the Sheep.

Aardman and the British Council are teaming up to teach English to young children in Singapore, using Aardman's animated sheep characters Shaun and Timmy, both of which have their own TV shows. A learning centre, which will be ready next year, will have classrooms and resources like activity booklets themed on the shows.

Old ties, new links, more opportunities for Singapore and UK
President sums up state visit to Britain, expresses gratitude to Queen, royal family, leaders and people for warm reception
By Charissa Yong In London, The Sunday Times, 26 Oct 2014

Old ties, new links and more opportunities is how President Tony Tan Keng Yam summed up the relationship between Singapore and Britain as he ended a six-day state visit yesterday.

He expressed his gratitude to the Queen, members of the British royal family, the country's political leaders and people for the warm and gracious reception he received the past week.

This, he said, showed the importance which the United Kingdom attaches to the relationship with Singapore.

Singapore's ties with Britain go beyond normal diplomatic and economic relationships, he said, pointing to the countries' shared history, similar institutions, and strong ties between its people.

"Overall, there is a deep reservoir of affection and goodwill between our two peoples," he told the Singapore media at the end of his state visit, the first by a Singapore President to the United Kingdom.

"In my interaction with British officials, business people and the academics, we all noted the long historical ties and the strong people- to-people links that exist between Britain and Singapore. As I said, we... share a common language, English, we have a common law, institutions like Parliament as well as the rule of law. So it makes interactions - from people to people and businesses - very much easier."

Dr Tan said that he and his wife, Mary, were also touched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge coming to their hotel last Tuesday morning to meet them and escort them to the welcome ceremony.

This was especially because the Duchess, Prince William's wife Catherine, is expecting their second child next April and has been suffering from morning sickness, said Dr Tan.

"It was very nice of her to make the special touch to come and receive us, and to eat with us," he said.

And of his two-night stay in Buckingham Palace, he said: "It's been a wonderful experience for my wife and me. We will always remember it."

He was impressed by the high level of service for even the smallest of things, such as "looking after our personal effects, making the beds, and being served at dinner and the State Banquet".

Pipers to signal the end of the State Banquet, and the trumpet fanfares before speeches and toasts at the Guildhall banquet thrown by the City of London in his honour on Wednesday, were other memorable touches he enjoyed, he said.

"These are some things which grow out of their history. (When) staying at the palace, every morning at 9am there was a piper marching around, waking us all up," he said with a chuckle.

The President added that he was honoured by the King Charles II medal which the Royal Society of London awarded him for advancing science in Singapore.

He said the strong ties between Singapore and Britain "provide a strong foundation for taking the already high level of our relationship to the next level".

Dr Tan said his trip focused on the three key areas of research and innovation, the economy, and education. Singapore and Britain complement each in these areas. For example, the recent European Union- Singapore free trade agreement will boost both countries' positions as regional economic hubs.

An area he was struck by was the creative industry. Recalling his visit to Aardman Animations, the company behind stop-motion films like Wallace And Gromit, and the franchise's spin-off series Shaun The Sheep, he noted the studio's founders taught themselves how to work with clay models when they were 16 and in school. And with great imagination, they built their visions into an industry.

Singapore too is trying to develop a creative industry and Aardman is an inspiring example. "If two boys in Britain can build up Aardman, surely two boys in Singapore maybe can build up something similar."

Dr Tan also expects innovation and science to be a central area that Britain and Singapore can further collaborate in.

Singaporeans abroad urged to join in SG50 celebrations
By Charissa Yong In London, The Sunday Times, 26 Oct 2014

London - As Singapore celebrates its 50th year of independence next year, Singaporeans living abroad have been encouraged to join in the fun wherever they are.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam asked Singaporeans based in Britain to do just that on Friday, as his six-day state visit drew to a close.

"As we celebrate SG50, I hope that all Singaporeans, whether at home or overseas, will jointly commemorate our nation's growth and journey," he said at a reception at the Royal Garden Hotel attended by over 200 Singaporeans living in Britain. More than 210,000 Singaporeans live outside Singapore and the overseas Singaporean community in the United Kingdom is one of the largest in any country, he noted.

Dr Tan said he looked forward to hearing more about ground-up ways of celebrating SG50, such as the Imperial College Singapore student society's upcoming show in February next year.

The musical will examine questions of national identity and brotherhood between Singaporeans, said the society's chairman Clive Aw, 22, a second-year physics student.

Similarly, Singapore-UK Association committee member Manjit Sidhu, 54, hopes to organise a garden party next year with stalls serving Singaporean dishes like those found in hawker centres back home.

In his speech, Dr Tan also asked the Singaporean diaspora in Britain to "continue to build on the strong links you have with one another and back home with Singapore".

The President also visited the Imperial College campus in central London, where he received a warm welcome from more than 200 Singaporean students, on Friday.

UK rolls out red carpet for President Tony Tan
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2014

THE red carpet was rolled out for President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday when he arrived in London for a six-day state visit to the United Kingdom.

His plane landed just before sunrise at Heathrow Airport, where he and his wife, Mary, were greeted by Queen Elizabeth II's lord-in-waiting, Viscount Henry Lyttelton Alexander Hood.

Lining the red carpet were members of the Queen's Colour Squadron, an elite ceremonial unit from the British Royal Air Force, who stood at attention as Dr Tan was escorted to the airport's royal suite.

Also present was Mr Bill Henderson, who represents the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Singapore's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Foo Chi Hsia.

Dr Tan stayed the night at the Royal Garden Hotel, which overlooks Kensington Palace, the London home of Prince William and his wife, Catherine, who are scheduled to greet Dr Tan and Mrs Tan at the hotel today on behalf of the Queen.

They will then journey with the royal couple to the Horse Guards Parade grounds, near Buckingham Palace, where the President and his wife will be formally welcomed by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Dr Tan, the first Singaporean President to make a state visit to Britain, will reside at Buckingham Palace until Thursday.

President Tan on first state visit to Britain by a Singapore leader
By Charissa Yong, In London, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2014

PRESIDENT Tony Tan Keng Yam will arrive in London today, in the first state visit to Britain by a Singapore head of state.

The six-day visit, which officially begins tomorrow, will include an address to the British Parliament, and is expected to further boost strong bilateral relations.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday that the visit will "showcase our longstanding relations with the United Kingdom ahead of the 50th anniversary of UK-Singapore relations in 2015".

Political exchanges between both countries are frequent, and there has been a stream of bilateral visits this year, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just in London in March.

Britain receives only two state visits each year, and Dr Tan's is the second this year.

Irish President Michael Higgins had been hosted in April.

Dr Tan's visit starts off with a ceremonial welcome by Queen Elizabeth II at the famous Horse Guards Parade ground off Whitehall, which leads to the Queen's official residence in London.

From there, a carriage procession takes them to Buckingham Palace, where Dr Tan will stay for two nights until Thursday.

There, he will get a private viewing of Singapore-related items in the Royal Collection comprising works of art and artefacts collected by the British royal family over centuries.

The Queen will host a private luncheon and a state banquet in his honour.

London's Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf will also host Dr Tan to a banquet at Guildhall, the City of London's administrative centre, while Prime Minister David Cameron will host lunch at 10 Downing Street, the home and office of British prime ministers.

Dr Tan will also meet the leaders of the main British political parties: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who heads the Liberal Democrats, and opposition leader Ed Miliband of the Labour Party.

Apart from these meetings, the President will lay a ceremonial wreath on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier - a monument dedicated to British soldiers who have fallen in war - at Westminster Abbey.

After London, Dr Tan will visit Bristol, where the city's elected Mayor George Ferguson will host lunch.

The President will be accompanied by his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, on the state visit.

Also with him will be Ms Grace Fu, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Environment and Water Resources; Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Minister of State for National Development and Defence; and some Members of Parliament.

In Dr Tan's absence, the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers, Mr J.Y. Pillay, will exercise the functions of the office of the President.

When the Merlion sups with the British lion
By Ravi Velloor, Foreign Editor, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2014

PRESIDENT Tony Tan Keng Yam is in London this week for the first state visit to Britain accorded a Singapore leader. The official part of the visit, which begins tomorrow with a formal welcome by Queen Elizabeth II on Horse Guards Parade, promises to be a memorable spectacle. British and Singaporean flags, separate carriages for the President, riding with the Queen and Mrs Mary Tan, escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh. With their love for horses, carriages and the monarchy, the British know something about pomp and ceremony.

But Dr Tan's mission is more than about pageantry and show. It is to celebrate the ever-evolving dynamics of an old relationship that started with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 and the founding of Singapore as a British colony five years later. Today, even as Singapore has moved away from its British moorings, so much of the island still speaks of that past, from heritage buildings like the Singapore Cricket Club to names such as York and Balmoral on hotels and housing estates.

Remarkably for newly independent societies that tend to sweep away vestiges of foreign rule, Singapore remains angst- free about its colonial past. The 31,000 and more British nationals resident on the island are neither an object of curiosity nor special irritation.

But every child has to grow into adulthood and move out of the parental home. Singapore's coming of age came early in its independence years when it had to deal with British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's shock decision in 1967 to reduce Britain's presence East of Suez. It sent the Lee Kuan Yew government scrambling to shore up Singapore's military sinews, and build up strategic ties with the United States and other nations. Today, the Republic is anchored firmly in Asean, even as it confidently engages wider Asia and beyond.

Still, the trip is filled with meaning and the honour to Singapore is indeed a big one. As the Tans are bound to discover, the Queen regards state visitors as her house guests, practically, in the intense way she prepares for them.

"Her Majesty welcomes and hosts only two countries a year," notes Mr Antony Phillipson, the British High Commissioner to Singapore. "State visits are the highest level of reaching out to a country we can do. The run-up to Singapore's 50th anniversary is a very strong theme to the visit."

London's move to be early in the game as the Republic prepares for its golden jubilee is a smart one. But, as seasoned observers of the relationship are only too aware, it is also a mite overdue and corrects an optical imbalance.

The Queen has visited Singapore three times, arriving at 17- year intervals, the last in 2006. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge came in 2012.

Meanwhile, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia have all been accorded state visits to Britain.

It is heartening to note, therefore, that Britain has realised the importance of not taking a relationship for granted even if Singapore is confident enough of itself to not always demand reciprocity.

Beyond the shared heritage is a wider canvas worth examining.

Under Prime Minister David Cameron, who understands business better than many of his peers and predecessors, Britain, as Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Singapore last year, is "looking East as never before". More British ministers have thus toured the region in the last four years than in the previous decade, fully aware that their island nation needs Asia to escape the economic malaise in Europe.

In the 1970s, Britain had turned overly towards Europe. Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, can be a jealous mistress, consuming way too much time and attention. Interest in Asia waned consequently. But it no longer makes sense to expend so much energy and time on Europe when the economic weight of the world has rapidly shifted towards Asia with its big emerging markets in China, India, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Britain knows that Singapore has always been a hospitable home and such sentiments have been reinforced since it handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997. Many of its top companies - Shell, HSBC, Rolls-Royce, Unilever - have huge operations on the island, their intellectual property protected, their businesses enhanced by a wide talent pool and a competitive tax regime. Besides, the English language rules, even if, these days, it is spoken increasingly with an American accent on radio and television.

There have been plenty of movements in the other direction as well. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in London in March and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam followed in July. More than 3,000 Singapore students head to Britain every year to study, and the numbers have been only rising.

Britain takes fully three quarters of Singapore's investments in the European Union. They range from big-ticket investments such as the Frasers Serviced Apartments chain, Millennium & Copthorne Hotels and ComfortDelGro, which owns a third of London's bus fleet, to smaller investments. Among the most significant would also be Keppel's Greater Manchester Energy- from-Waste Plant which uses frontier technology to produce steam and electricity from waste.

Such investments could increase, now that some key political uncertainties have ebbed. Scotland's decision to stay in the United Kingdom should be a confidence booster, and, unless the British decide to exit the European Union, London is still the best hub to tap the European market.

Other issues sit in the background. Britain, which has a substantial Muslim minority, has been keenly watching the Republic's management of race and communal relations. Earlier this year, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the British Minister for Faith and Communities, visited Singapore. "She came away really impressed with the approach here," Mr Phillipson said. "Singapore's approach to inter-faith harmony and de-radicalisation have been part of the conversation for some years."

Aside from the carriage ride down the Mall and the majestic state banquet at Buckingham Palace for 160 guests - some Singapore invitees are flying there next week specially for the dinner, tail coats and white ties packed in their suitcases - the state visit will give an opportunity for both sides to reflect on their long relationship.

That's the day President Tan visits The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, a Unesco world heritage site. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the first scientific director of Singapore's Botanic Gardens was Nicholas "Mad" Ridley, a former Kew hand who established the rubber industry in the Malay peninsula.

Today, of course, the conversation is about urban redevelopment, collaboration in financial services and sharing in science and technology. As the Keppel project shows, a lot of it is flowing the other way.

Talk about a long road travelled!

Old ties, new links and more opportunities for Singapore and UK
By Grace Fu And Hugo Swire, Published The Straits Times, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2014

LAST week, on the eve of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's state visit to the United Kingdom, The Straits Times noted in its article, "When the Merlion sups with the British lion", that it would be "an opportunity for both sides to reflect on their long relationship" and to "celebrate the ever-evolving dynamics of an old relationship that started with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819".

The programme put together by our officials and their colleagues in the Royal Household and the Istana certainly focused on the shared heritage of our two countries, developed over almost two centuries since Raffles landed in Singapore. The fact that President Tan stopped at Raffles' statue in Westminster Abbey was one nod to that history, as was his lunch at Lloyd's of London, built on the site of the old East India Company, Raffles' employer.

Both President Tan and Her Majesty The Queen also paid tribute to the depth of our friendship and the importance of our ties in their speeches at the state banquet, which we both attended. But, more importantly, they both also addressed the key question of what our two countries can achieve together in the future.

Because that is what the state visit was really about. While it certainly helped to highlight the deep reservoir of affection and goodwill that President Tan mentioned on more than one occasion, it also set out the broad themes of our future collaborations.

We announced a new Innovation and Research Partnership (IRP), signed by our two prime ministers. The IRP builds upon the UK-Singapore Partners in Science programme, through which over 50 joint workshops have been organised.

Some important collaborations include the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technology, a partnership between the University of Cambridge, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, as well as the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, a partnership between Imperial College and Nanyang Technological University. The new IRP takes our cooperation to a new level, to promote the process of translating research and technology into jobs and prosperity in both countries.

Also announced were new Commonwealth Scholarships in Innovation for Singaporeans to study in the UK, to be managed through a revived Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore.

Many of our companies and academics also took part in the Innovating Together In The 21st Century seminar during the state visit, sharing best practices and exploring opportunities to do more in areas such as health care and cities alongside President Tan, his accompanying ministers and British Trade Minister Lord Livingston.

Two separate workshops on Science Of Learning and Future Cities were also held during the state visit - the latter workshop was attended by our colleagues, Minister of State for National Development and Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, and Minister for Cities Greg Clark.

We will be stepping up our efforts to work together on cyber security, making sure our businesses and vital services are protected from new threats. We'll work together on climate change, looking ahead to crucial meetings in 2015.

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Tan discussed how we can do more to tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria), including exchanging experiences in deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes; and about learning from Singapore's experience in tackling the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) when it comes to dealing with Ebola and other pandemic health risks. They also explored how best to maximise the opportunities offered to our companies by the expeditious ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

The visit illustrated the extensive people-to-people ties between Singapore and the UK, an important element to our future relationship.

President Tan met around 200 students, out of the more than 6,000 who currently live in the UK, at Bristol University and Imperial College. At Aardman Animations in Bristol, he heard about how two friends, freshly graduated from school, created a successful creative business and are now entering a partnership with the British Council to deliver English language training through a pilot site in Singapore from next January. And at Kew Gardens, he commemorated their ties with Singapore dating back to the mid-19th century, and heard about their plans to enhance the exchanges between Kew and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), including in support of SBG's bid for Unesco World Heritage Status.

A number of other areas remain of great importance, including our roles as members of the Commonwealth, and our defence cooperation at the bilateral level and through the Five Power Defence Arrangements, whose most recent exercise concluded in Singapore during the state visit. The exercise involved not only Typhoon fighter jets from the Royal Air Force deploying alongside air and naval forces from Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand, but also land forces from all five member-nations for the first time.

Although the state visit is now over, we are sure that it will live long in the memory for all who took part and witnessed the evident warmth between our countries. The visit came, of course, on the eve of Singapore's celebrations of its 50th anniversary of independence in 2015.

President Tan invited Her Majesty or Her representative to attend those celebrations and there will surely be many opportunities for the UK to celebrate this important milestone for Singapore.

That, together with the state visit, marks the beginning of the next important chapter in the story of the deep and enduring partnership between our countries.

The first writer is Singapore's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs. The second writer is the UK's Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

No comments:

Post a Comment