Friday 24 April 2015

Singapore thanks champions of its interests abroad

By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2015

STOLEN passports, murder investigations and evacuating Singaporeans from war-torn areas - these are just some of the issues that Singapore's honorary consuls-general (HCGs) deal with.

Since 1974, 31 HCGs have been appointed in 26 countries.

Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said that their growing number reflects the evolution of Singapore's interests abroad and the demand for consular services by the city-state's travellers and overseas diaspora.

"If you look at, say, 40 years ago, our interactions with Latin America, Central America... Africa... would have been limited," he told reporters at the 7th Meeting of Singapore Honorary Consuls-General at the Shangri-La Hotel yesterday. "Today, politically and strategically, we have strong linkages with many of the countries in Latin America and Africa simply because... it's a more interconnected world," he said.

He added that the world's "economic power centres" have also shifted, and Singapore's economic interests are now "much greater".

With Singaporeans making more than 25 million overseas trips last year alone and another 200,000 residing abroad, there is also a need for consular services across the globe.

Most HCGs are influential natives of their countries who help to further Singapore's economic, political and strategic interests without receiving payment. They include businessmen, lawyers and engineers. Some accept the positions because of personal affinity with Singapore, and many see it as an honour to be selected.

Three months ago, Singapore's Papua New Guinea HCG, Sir Henry Chow, found himself assisting in a murder investigation and the repatriation of a body.

The Singaporean managing director of Morobe Stationery, Mr Tan Tiam Teng, 69, was found dead in his Lae home with a gash in his neck on Jan 4. He was a friend of Sir Henry. In another incident, Lebanese HCG Joseph Salim Habis took two Singaporeans out of a war zone through his network of contacts.

HCGs "perform very valuable services", said Mr Shanmugam. "You exist and you survive by being connected, and the HCGs help us in that role because... we're simply too small to have embassies on the ground in many, many countries."

Had a good meeting with our Honorary Consuls-General (HCGs) before lunch. They are foreign citizens who represent...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Honorary citizen: No divorcing 'second wife'
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2015

TWO Singaporeans trapped in Lebanon during the 2006 war had no one to turn to as Singapore did not have an embassy there.
Then Foreign Minister George Yeo called Singapore's honorary consul-general (HCG) in Lebanon, Mr Joseph Salim Habis, asking him for urgent help.

"He said, 'Joseph, you have to do your utmost because this is very dangerous, and these people, they have their parents here (in Singapore) crying,'" recalled Mr Habis, who then made some calls to "very important people".

He successfully located the two, who had been hiding in an underground shelter.

The airport in Beirut was closed and ships other countries had sent did not have room for the Singaporeans, so Mr Habis arranged transport from Lebanon to the border of Syria, with convoys for protection because it was a "very dangerous" route.

From Syria, the pair then flew to Singapore. It took them 10 days, from the time Mr Habis got the call, to get home safely.

For his efforts, Mr Habis, Singapore's first and longest-serving HCG, received a letter of appreciation from the Government of Singapore.

The 71-year-old said he has come a long way from when he was first asked to be HCG in 1974. Back then, his first reaction was "Where is Singapore?"

Now he takes great pride in being an "honorary citizen" of the country, and calls the Republic his "second wife".

He added: "There will be no divorce."

Mary and I hosted 25 of our Honorary Consuls-General (HCGs) to a tea reception at the Istana this morning. Our HCGs help...
Posted by Dr Tony Tan on Thursday, April 23, 2015

Singapore 'grateful for its network of friends'
President says nation in turn now helping others to develop
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Apr 2015

WHEN Singapore became an independent nation in 1965, it received help from friends and experts in areas as varied as the economy, building up its fledgling armed forces and even the greening of the island.

Today, Singapore, in turn, is doing its part in helping other countries by sharing its developmental experience through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday at a reception for diplomats based in Singapore.

"Close to 100,000 officials from over 170 countries have attended our SCP programmes, which cover a wide array of topics, ranging from sustainable urbanisation to human resource development to public governance," he said at the annual reception held at the Istana.

"We hope that these programmes will be useful to our foreign friends and help smoothen their developmental paths."

Mary and I were pleased to host some 300 diplomats and their spouses to the President’s Annual Diplomatic Reception...
Posted by Dr Tony Tan on Friday, April 24, 2015

Dr Tan also paid tribute to Singapore's network of friends, which he said was one reason for its continued survival and success.

These friends include the late Dutch economist Albert Winsemius, who has been credited with transforming Singapore's early industrial landscape.

They also include the other members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements - Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. These nations helped to ensure Singapore's security when Britain unexpectedly decided to withdraw early its armed forces based in Singapore.

Dr Tan also noted the expansion of the network of missions over the years. There are about 70 foreign embassies in Singapore, with 80 more envoys to Singapore based in other countries - a big leap from 24 in 1965, he said.

"You have all helped to enable your capitals and citizens to better understand Singapore's policies, values and aspirations," he told the diplomats.

Dr Tan also acknowledged the work of honorary consuls-general and honorary consuls who help promote Singapore's interests as well as Singaporeans in their home countries.

Singapore celebrates 50 years of diplomatic ties this year with 13 countries, including Malaysia, Australia and India.

As it celebrates its Golden Jubilee, "it is timely to take stock of where we came from, consider where we are now and start to plan to go forward to where we want to be", he said.

Diplomats interviewed spoke of the close ties between their peoples and Singaporeans, as well as between their leaders.

For Thailand, these ties date back to before Singapore's independence, said the country's ambassador Bansarn Bunnag, pointing to the bronze elephant outside Old Parliament House.

It was a gift to mark the 1871 visit by King Chulalongkorn.

"Singapore is like a springboard for us to go abroad," he said, noting that Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be in Singapore later this year to celebrate the Golden Jubilee.

People-to-people links are also why Singapore-Malaysia ties are so special, said Malaysia's High Commissioner Husni Zai Yaacob.

He cited the large Malaysian community here and the 13 million visits made by Singaporeans to Malaysia last year, a figure that exceeds the combined tourist arrivals of the next 10 countries.

He also noted that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will be in Singapore in May for a leaders' retreat.

Yesterday, I attended President Dr Tony Tan’s Annual Diplomatic Reception for foreign Ambassadors, High Commissioners...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday, April 25, 2015

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