Saturday, 21 May 2016

PM Lee Hsien Loong Official Visit to Russia, May 2016

PM Lee: Room for greater cooperation between Singapore and Russia in many areas
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

SOCHI - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is cautiously optimistic that a free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) can be completed in the next two years.

He is also positive about Russia's business potential, saying many opportunities exist for Singapore companies.

These can be found in Moscow as it redevelops and upgrades the city, transforming outdated industrial estates into modern business parks, cultural centres or education centres.

The changes, in turn, create opportunities in urban masterplanning and transport.

But to pursue them, businesses need to invest time and energy to understand the country, how its systems operate and how best to fit in, Mr Lee told Singapore reporters in an interview on Friday, at the end of his four-day working visit to Russia.

In the short term, Russia faces challenges such as shrinking growth, low energy prices and the impact of Western sanctions, Mr Lee noted. But for the long term, it is "the place we ought to be", he said.

"Russia is a country with a long history, with deep roots and powerful science and technology capabilities, determined to be an influence in the world - somebody we can cooperate with in many areas," he said.

"Our trade with them has been growing, still modest but growing quite rapidly over the last decade. We co-operate with them in science and technology, education and culture. Even our investments back and forth have increased noticeably over the years."

"It is an account which we would like to develop and grow," said Mr Lee.

On its part, Russia has shown a new keenness in building economic ties with ASEAN countries like Singapore.

At the ASEAN-Russia summit on Friday to commemorate their 20 years of dialogue, President Vladimir Putin stressed to ASEAN leaders that his country wants stronger business links with the regional grouping.

He presented to them a roadmap with 57 projects to build technology and innovation alliances, offered Russian assistance for any development initiative in ASEAN, and invited ASEAN businesses to take part in priority development programmes.

He also highlighted the potential of the EAEU, which has a market of 180 million people and a combined gross domestic product of US$4.2 trillion (S$5.8 trillion), and was supportive of the proposed EAEU-Singapore free trade agreement.

"We have been working to create the most attractive conditions for doing business - cutting red tape, lowering the tax burden and monitoring the investment climate in Russia's constituent entities," said Mr Putin.

In PM Lee's view, however, companies have to be in Russia for the long haul to see success. They need to spend the time to understand how Russian business networks are linked up, how government decisions are made, and what their principal considerations and objectives are in order to fit in, he added.

"If you make a quick trip in-and-out, you meet some people and you shake hands, drink some vodka, maybe that's helpful, but that will not cause you to have a deep understanding and be able to have your company sink roots and grow vibrantly," he said.

But he stressed this does not mean only companies with large resources can succeed in Russia. PM Lee cited Educare, a co-op set up by the Singapore Teachers' Union, which has had good demand for its services to modernise the teaching pedagogy of Russian schools.

"They have a very established project with the Tatarstan government and they're looking at opportunities elsewhere," he said.

"It's not a huge company; if they can do it, so can other companies," he added.

Asked if Russia's enthusiasm to boost links with faraway countries like Singapore can be sustained, Mr Lee said the ASEAN-Russia summit and Mr Putin's remarks indicate "a desire to take it another step forward".

Even when circumstances change, the urgency may lessen but "you already have something valuable there, and you will look at it with a different perspective".

Likening it to worker training and upgrading in Singapore, he said: "When the economy picks up over time, your bonuses are up, employers take their eyes off the ball and workers also say, well, maybe after I've finished my overtime, after I've gone on leave, then maybe we can think about (upgrading).

"It's natural, but it doesn't mean we can't make progress," he added.

Mr Lee also said that signing an EAEU-Singapore FTA by 2018 - the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Russia - is possible, as Singapore had negotiated other FTAs in two years. The EAEU has also signed an FTA with Vietnam.

"I made the pitch here in Russia to my host, to Mr Putin as well as to Mr Medvedev, and Mr Putin expressed support and talked about it," Mr Lee said, noting that negotiations can begin once the five countries in the EAEU agree to conduct a feasibility study.

"If there's a will, it can be done," he said.

PM Lee Hsien Loong meets Russian President Vladimir Putin, affirms deepening bilateral ties
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

SOCHI- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday evening (May 19), on the sidelines of a summit marking 20 years of ASEAN-Russia ties.

Mr Lee, who is on the third day of his visit to Russia, thanked President Putin for hosting the ASEAN-Russia commemorative summit, and affirmed the deepening relations between Singapore and Russia and the growing economic partnership.

Both leaders also welcomed the strong progress made by the high-level Russia-Singapore Intergovernmental Commission (IGC), said Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin.

The first step towards a free trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) - which includes Russia - was taken on Wednesday, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to deepen ties.

Mr Lee had said after witnessing the signing of the MOU that it will hopefully pave the way for a feasibility study and negotiations on the FTA.

It was at an IGC meeting last November that officials from both sides had agreed to commence the process to negotiate a comprehensive FTA between Singapore and the EAEU.

Mr Lee said following his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that he hopes the FTA will be completed by 2018, in time for the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Russia.

Mr Putin, too, expressed support for the FTA during his meeting with Mr Lee. Both leaders also looked forward to further collaborations in new areas, said Ms Chang.

Following the meeting, Mr Putin hosted a gala reception for ASEAN leaders of the summit, where he emphasised the mutual benefit of closer economic ties between ASEAN countries and those of the EAEU.

"It is essential that both ASEAN and Russia seek to improve integration, with a view to establishing links between the current large-scale economic projects implemented in the territory of the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

ASEAN, Russia can do more to build on links: Leaders
They take stock of ties at summit and discuss strategies for ensuring peace and prosperity
By Lim Yan Liang, In Sochi, The Straits Times, 21 May 2016

ASEAN leaders yesterday gathered in the resort city of Sochi to mark 20 years of cooperation and dialogue with Russia.

At the closed-door ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit, the leaders of 10 South-east Asian countries and Russian President Vladimir Putin took stock of their relations and discussed strategies to work even closer on ensuring peace and prosperity for their regions.

Russia supports a stable, prosperous ASEAN, Mr Putin stressed.

At an earlier reception for ASEAN leaders, he noted that trade and investment links were far below their potential, and pledged his country's support to boost them.

"It is important that both Russia and the ASEAN countries support stronger integration and links between the big economic projects under way in the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

He also told business leaders he would discuss the idea of a free trade zone between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with other members Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, whose country is ASEAN chair this year, said: "Russia and many ASEAN countries have much deeper ties that go back to the more distant past. This is a very good framework for developing relations on a modern footing."

Addressing the commemorative summit, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out the significant role Russia can play in the Asia-Pacific.

"To fully harness the potential of our region, we should strive for a region which is characterised by, firstly, peace and stability. Secondly, building on that, growth and prosperity," he said.

But peace and stability require management of specific issues.

"In the South China Sea, we see a significant and worrying escalation of tensions... This bodes ill for a region that is highly dependent on maritime trade and commerce and on freedom of navigation," he said.

"On the Korean peninsula, the deliberate and provocative actions by (North Korea) can trigger its neighbours also to go nuclear and destabilise the whole region."

There is also the challenge of terrorism, with groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) recruiting many citizens in ASEAN and elsewhere to fight in Syria, and radicalising them to violent acts.

Mr Lee called on leaders to work together to tackle these issues. This means adhering to international law and peaceful resolution of disputes - including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes - and exercising self-restraint, and sharing intelligence and combating the spread of radical ideology.

"At the strategic level, it means we need to build an open and inclusive architecture, where regional players and major powers can constructively engage each other," he said, pointing to ASEAN-centric mechanisms for cooperation.

These include the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting (ADMM)-Plus for ASEAN and eight key partners - including the United States, China, India and Russia - to strengthen security and defence cooperation.

"That is why we welcome Russia as a dialogue partner, because Russia has a valuable role to play in upholding the region's peace and stability," said Mr Lee.

Moscow, he noted, has been a valuable participant in ADMM-Plus, co-chairing its experts' working group on military medicine.

It has also engaged ASEAN partners in non-traditional security matters like counter-terrorism and combating transnational crime.

With peace and stability, Asia-Pacific countries have a chance to establish a growing and prosperous region, Mr Lee added.

"Right now, we are experiencing anaemic global economic growth, volatile market fluctuations and low commodity prices," he said, adding that economic cooperation can be a "win-win approach to promote greater prosperity".

ASEAN is also heartened by the interest from Russia and the EAEU to deepen economic links, he added, saying an EAEU-Singapore free trade agreement (FTA) being studied can be a "useful pathfinder" towards an ASEAN-EAEU pact.

Mr Lee arrived in Sochi and met Mr Putin on Thursday. They affirmed the deepening bilateral ties and growing economic partnership. Mr Putin also expressed support for an EAEU-Singapore FTA, and both looked forward to further collaboration in new areas.

Yesterday, Mr Lee met Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc for the first time since the former deputy prime minister became premier last month. Both affirmed the good relations between their countries and looked forward to developing closer links and expanding economic cooperation under their strategic partnership agreement.

Singapore reaffirms strong ties with Russia
PM Lee hopes for a cultural centre, trade pact by 2018, when countries mark 50 years of ties
By Lim Yan Liang, in Moscow, The Straits Times, 20 May 2016

Singapore hopes a Russian Cultural Centre will open in the Republic in two years' time, when it celebrates 50 years of diplomatic relations with Russia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He is also optimistic Singapore and the five-country Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) will reach a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) by then, opening doors to new markets for each other's companies.

Speaking to reporters after an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the 19th-century Government Reception House, a converted fortress home, Mr Lee reaffirmed the longstanding and deep ties with Russia since Singapore's independence.

Both countries signed a trade agreement in April 1966, and established diplomatic relations two years later.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made his first visit to Russia in 1970, and would return many more times.

"My father, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, believed that Russia would play a major role in world affairs, so when I was a teenager he encouraged me to study Russian, which I did," said Mr Lee.

"Even after he retired as prime minister, he kept the links up. He took an interest in the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management (and) became its board member."

The late Mr Lee was also a keen supporter of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum, which helps connect business leaders and broaden economic cooperation, he added.

PM Lee recounted that his first visit to Russia was as a student in 1972, when he spent several weeks in Moscow and Leningrad, today's St Petersburg. He returned again six years later for his honeymoon.

"I am happy to be able to continue building on this foundation and taking our relationship another step forward," he said, calling his visit "long overdue for me personally and a significant milestone for bilateral ties".

Singapore's signing on Wednesday of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Eurasian Economic Commission - the regulatory body of the EAEU - will hopefully pave the way for a feasibility study and negotiations on the FTA, said PM Lee.

But ties with Russia go beyond just economics, he added. Cultural ties are strong, while Singapore universities have deep partnerships with Russian institutions.

Yesterday, two more MOUs were signed. One was between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and its Russian counterpart to strengthen cultural relations.

Minister Grace Fu, who signed it, hoped it would see more Russian arts and culture programmes in the ASEAN region.

The other MOU is between Nanyang Technological University and the Russian Academy of Sciences, to explore developing products and taking them to market.

PM Medvedev said in Russian it is a good sign that trade between Singapore and Russia has grown substantially - almost quadrupling in the last decade - and that "almost every important area of economic cooperation is in our focus".

"We have embraced different aspects of cooperation: construction, shipping and transport, airlines and big air projects, and lately also agriculture. This was discussed substantially today," Mr Medvedev said.

"The models used by Singapore in government and business management are also in demand, and of interest to our country," he added.

Mr Lee invited Mr Medvedev to visit Singapore, which he last visited in 2009. It resulted in the setting up of the high-level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission. The commission led to both sides agreeing to start the process to negotiate a comprehensive FTA between Singapore and the EAEU.

The visit also boosted cooperation in many areas, including education, healthcare and agriculture.

"It continues to expand in scope into governance and counterterrorism," Mr Lee said.

"The next time PM comes, I hope we'll be able to do even more."

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Lee flew to Sochi, where he was scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin.

He will attend a summit of ASEAN leaders and Mr Putin today to mark 20 years of ASEAN-Russia ties.

MOU with Eurasian Union to boost economic links
Signing first step to FTA; PM Lee urges both sides to work closely
By Lim Yan Liang, In Moscow, The Straits Times, 19 May 2016

The first step towards a free trade agreement (FTA) between Singapore and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) was taken yesterday, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding to deepen ties between them.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who witnessed the signing at the office of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), noted that an FTA will intensify economic cooperation and urged both sides to work closely to start the negotiations.

"Our two economies will benefit greatly from a free trade agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and Singapore, because such an FTA will reduce the obstacles to trade and establish a conducive strategic environment for business and bilateral cooperation," said Mr Lee.

"So I hope both sides will work closely together to study the possibilities and opportunities, and hopefully, to work towards launching negotiations for the FTA," he added.

The MOU was signed by Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon and EEC Minister for Development of Integration and Macroeconomics Tatyana Valovaya. It will provide a platform for regular interactions and facilitate closer collaboration between the EEC and Singapore in areas such as customs administration, trade in services and investments, and information technology.

The need to negotiate for an FTA between Singapore and the EAEU was mooted last November at a meeting of top officials from Singapore and Russia. The EEC is the regulatory body of the EAEU, which groups Russia and former Soviet states Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in a common market of 180 million people, with a total gross domestic product of US$4.2 trillion (S$5.8 trillion).

Before the signing, Mr Lee met EEC chairman Tigran Sargsyan, a former prime minister of Armenia, and discussed the untapped potential in ties between Singapore and the Eurasian Union. Mr Lee noted that with the MOU, the more frequent interactions will help find new trade and investment opportunities in each other's markets that companies can take advantage of.

Mr Sargsyan said a working group will be set up to look at how ties can be developed further.

He also thanked Singapore for its interest in economic cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union and said the MOU with Singapore represents "a new age of relations".

Trade between Singapore and Russia grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 13.1 per cent between 2011 and 2015, rising from $4.68 billion to $7.66 billion.

But it is still not in proportion to its potential, Mr Lee said earlier.

Yesterday, he said the signing of the MOU represents "a positive and concrete step towards deepening engagement between Singapore and the EEC".

Mr Lee was hosted to lunch by Mr Ruben Vardanyan, a founding member of the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.

He also met Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who updated him on his plans for the city. They had a fruitful exchange on urban planning and development, and agreed there was much that Singapore and Moscow could exchange experiences on, Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said. They also discussed business and investment opportunities in Moscow and welcomed greater participation from Singapore.

Today, Mr Lee will meet Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev before flying to the Black Sea city of Sochi.

PM Lee visits Kremlin, meets Singaporeans
After visiting Russia's historic and political centre, he attends reception for Singaporeans and meets business delegation
By Lim Yan Liang, In Moscow and Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

A little bit of Singapore was waiting for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday morning when he arrived in Russia's capital for a four-day working visit yesterday.

He met about 30 Singaporeans working and studying here at a reception. Among them were computer science graduate Lim Loon Haw and Singapore Airlines' Moscow station manager Derrick Leow.

Mr Lim, 25, said his attachment at software security company Kaspersky Lab has got him hooked on a field he had hardly given a second look.

"Cybersecurity is still not very popular in Singapore but here, in such a big company, I've been able to learn the breadth and depth of the field," he said.

But like Mr Leow, 32, he has been pleasantly surprised by Moscow. The city is safe, the people are friendly, and the changing seasons are beautiful.

Mr Leow added: "Once you break the ice, the people are very friendly. It's very different from how they are depicted in Hollywood."

Before the reception, PM Lee visited Red Square and the Kremlin, Russia's historic and political centre. At both tourist attractions, he met Singaporeans on holiday, including Mr Timothy Lim, 24, a student at New York University, and two students from Nanyang Technological University.

Said Mr Ignatius Wong, 25, a final-year accountancy student: "It's such a coincidence to bump into Mr Lee here; we saw some members of the delegation wearing Singapore lapel pins and wanted to say hi."

Later, PM Lee had lunch with members of the Singapore Business Federation delegation that is on a business mission to Russia.

Trade between Singapore and Russia has a lot of potential for growth, PM Lee had said in a wide- ranging interview with Tass news agency before his visit.

He hopes to give it a boost with the proposed free trade agreement between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member.

He noted that the high-level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission was set up in 2009 to beef up cooperation in such areas as trade, investment and education.

"There is active participation on both sides - government as well as business. But our trade is not in proportion to the potential," he said.

Though bilateral trade has about quadrupled in the last 10 years, Russia is still "just our 21st largest trading partner", he added.

In the same way, PM Lee said, "economic ties between ASEAN countries and Russia have been growing but (it is not) commensurate with the importance of Russia in the world. This is gradually changing".

A proposed free trade pact between Singapore and the Eurasian Economic Union will boost Russia's ties with individual ASEAN countries, which will "strengthen the ties between Russia and South-east Asia, and the ASEAN region as a whole", he added.

PM Lee's agenda includes meeting Russian businessmen and executives to "get them interested in Singapore a bit".

The last Singapore prime minister to go on such a mission was the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who visited the then Soviet Union in 1990.

PM Lee also disclosed that there are advanced plans to build a Russian Cultural Centre in Singapore.

"We have found a site and it is a good location," he said.

"I look forward to the day when we see a Russian Orthodox onion dome appearing in Singapore," he added, referring to the architecture of Russian churches.

PM Lee arrives in Russia for visit to boost business ties
By Lim Yan Liang, In Moscow, The Straits Times, 18 May 2016

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in Russia yesterday for a four-day working visit that is focused on strengthening business ties.

He told Tass news agency in an interview that he hoped to boost trade between Singapore and Russia with a free trade deal between the Republic and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Russia is a member.

He noted that bilateral trade is below what it should be, although it has quadrupled in the last 10 years.

Mr Lee also disclosed that there are advanced plans to build a Russian Cultural Centre in Singapore.

He visited the Red Square in the city, and the Kremlin, the country's historic and political centre. He also met about 30 members of the Singapore community in Moscow, including students and professionals, before having lunch with members of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) delegation that is on a business mission in Russia.

"It's been a long time since I've been in Moscow: The last time was 1978, which was probably before some of you were born," he said at the reception. "But the Kremlin hasn't changed; Moscow has changed, the world has changed."

Mr Lee is scheduled to meet Eurasian Economic Commission chairman Tigran Sargsyan today, and witness the signing of a pact between the commission and Singapore to promote greater cooperation.

SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit, who is leading the business delegation, noted that Western sanctions have created opportunities for Singapore businesses in Russia.

"They are a European country, but as a result of the political difficulty now between Russia and the West, therein lies opportunities for us to come in, because they cannot trade so easily with the West," he said. "This strategic orientation is going to last a long time."

Mr Lee will fly to Sochi tomorrow to attend the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit marking 20 years of ASEAN-Russia relations.

"We hope that from this (summit), we'll be able to develop our friendship and push our relationship another step forward," he said.

Racial, religious harmony in Singapore a result of give-and-take: PM Lee
The give-and-take between the different communities in Singapore is a matter of constant effort, social policy and integration, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says in an interview with Russian news agency TASS.
Channel NewsAsia, 17 May 2016

The racial and religious harmony that Singapore enjoys is a result of give-and-take between the different communities in the country, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

“This is something which we have to always continue to work upon, because it is not something which will ever become a solved problem,” Mr Lee said in an interview with Russian news agency TASS at the Istana on Saturday (May 14). 

“All the major religions of the world are in Singapore. There are three major races, but many other communities in Singapore. We speak very different languages. Tamil is Dravidian, Chinese is totally different from English and we have to get on together.”

This give-and-take between the different communities is a matter of constant effort, social policy and integration, PM Lee said.

In his comments responding to a question on how Singapore maintains a harmonious balance between different ethnic groups and religions, Mr Lee added that this policy of integration sees Singaporeans of different races and religions come together in schools, housing estates, workplaces and during National Service and learning to work and live together in a multi-racial context.

“If you are in Singapore as a Christian, you do not treat this as a Christian country. If you are in Singapore as a Buddhist, this is not a Buddhist country, even though the Buddhist may be one of the biggest religious groups in Singapore. If you are a Muslim in Singapore, you can practice your faith, you can fast, you have mosques, but you understand that this is a multi-racial society and you are working and living within a multi-racial context.

“It is this give and take, and trust that has been built up over a very long period of time, which we think makes for the nature of our society, which makes for what is gradually emerging as a Singapore identity.”


During the interview, which was held ahead of Mr Lee’s visit to Russia to attend the Russia-ASEAN summit, he also touched on the relationship between Russia and ASEAN, describing bilateral relations as “very good”.

Singapore appreciates Russia’s participation in regional affairs and its contribution to ensuring stability and peace in South-east Asia, PM Lee added.

“Russia is an important power and economy in the world. The economic ties between ASEAN countries and Russia have been growing, but (do) not really commensurate with the importance of Russia in the world.”

This is gradually changing, Mr Lee noted. For example, Singapore is planning to negotiate a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union.

“In this way, by strengthening the ties between Russia and individual ASEAN countries, we can strengthen the ties between Russia and Southeast Asia, and ASEAN region as a whole,” he said.


Russia and Singapore will celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations this year – a “major milestone”, Mr Lee said.

“Fifty years ago, Singapore was newly independent, and the world was completely different, and Russia was still the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Today, Singapore has celebrated its 50th anniversary of statehood and the world has completely changed,” he said.

Plans to build a Russian Cultural Centre in Singapore are at an advanced stage, Mr Lee said, adding that a site at a “good location” has been found.

In terms of economic ties, major Russian companies like Lukoil and Gazprom are in Singapore while Singapore companies like Olam are in Russia and Changi Airports International is co-managing several airports in Russia, he noted.

The two countries also cooperate in the educational, scientific and cultural fields. Singapore’s universities have cooperation partnerships with Russian institutions, and Singapore is also a popular destination for Russian tourists, he said.

Still, more can be done in terms of trade between the two countries, Mr Lee said. “Our trade is not in proportion to the potential. It has risen rapidly in the last 10 years – has about quadrupled – but still Russia is just our 21st largest trading partner. It should not be like that.

“With my trip to Moscow, I hope to meet some Russian business people and executives and get them interested in Singapore a bit. We hope something will grow from there.”

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an exclusive interview with TASS ahead of the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi

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