Australia's commitment to Asia 'serious'

Australia's commitment to Asia 'serious'

Australia is serious about engaging Asia and it is "natural" for it to see Singapore as a partner as it expands in the region, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday as he wrapped up a six-day trip Down Under.

Speaking to reporters at the end of his first state visit to Australia as head of state, Dr Tan said Singapore will continue to explore ways to bring its longstanding bilateral ties with Australia to new heights.

The trip was a timely one, he said, with a new government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott that has "strongly reaffirmed" its engagement with Asia. This reaffirmation was a recurrent theme in Dr Tan's meetings with high-level Australian officials throughout his trip, he added.

"It was quite clear to me in my discussions that the new Australian government under Prime Minister Abbott is very serious about his desire and commitment to engage Asia. They recognise this is a new world. Asia is growing in importance with China, India, South-east Asia and ASEAN," said President Tan.

Australia, he added, considers Singapore not only as a market, but also as a base from which it can expand into the region, particularly in light of the formation of an ASEAN Economic Community next year with a combined population of 600 million.

It was thus "natural" for Australia to work with a partner like Singapore in its efforts to deepen this engagement, given the close to five decades of diplomatic ties and the high level of comfort that exists between both countries, Dr Tan added.

The six-day visit covered the capital city of Canberra, Adelaide and Perth, where Dr Tan met top officials including Mr Abbott, Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister David Johnston.

Dr Tan, who was conferred an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the University of Adelaide, also made stops at the Australian War Memorial and the Republic of Singapore Air Force Pearce Detachment base in Western Australia.

Australia's commitment to Asia has been symbolised in a "significant initiative" by the new Abbott government - the launch of the New Colombo Plan that sends Australian students to study and learn in Singapore and other countries in the region.

Dr Tan expressed his support of the programme, which he said was a significant effort to build bridges with Singapore and Asia.

Commenting on his meeting with Mr Abbott, who was sworn in as Australia's PM last year, Dr Tan said the two "covered a lot of ground", with both leaders agreeing that the partnership between both countries can be brought to new heights.

In August, the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee, to be held in Singapore, will see the foreign, defence and trade ministers of both countries meeting to further discuss how bilateral ties can be developed.

Further elaborating on the "comfortable and all-embracing relationship" between both countries, Dr Tan said this stemmed from a shared strategic convergence on ties with the United States that forms the foundation of Singapore's cooperation with Australia both bilaterally and within the region.

"We believe that it is very important for the United States to continue to actively engage in our part of the world, and that a stable US-China relationship is ultimately the most important relationship, and is critical to the region's stability and prosperity, so that underpins our strategic perspective," he added.

This article was first published on June 21, 2014.
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