President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier here in a ceremony that marked the two countries' long friendship.
More than 70 years ago, Australian troops fought in vain to defend Singapore from Japanese invasion during World War II. President Tan said this "indelible part of our shared history" has contributed to "the high level of comfort and familiarity we have with one another".
Today, Singapore's links with Australia span the defence, economic and social sectors, with some 50,000 Singaporeans living and working Down Under, including 6,400 students.
Speaking at a state lunch hosted by Australian Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, President Tan said that military personnel of both countries have in recent years also served together in Afghanistan and East Timor.
And as a former Defence Minister, he was "well-acquainted with Australia's generosity" in hosting training facilities for the Singapore Armed Forces.
Sir Cosgrove, who was formerly Australia's Chief of Defence Force and commanded the International Force for East Timor, said it was a privilege to have the SAF under his command during that peacekeeping mission in 1999 and that he had also seen its soldiers' "professionalism and skill" in many operations and exercises during his military career.
Dr Tan and his wife Mary, who are on a six-day state visit to Australia, received a full ceremonial welcome earlier in the day, complete with a 21-gun salute, royal marching band and an inspection of Australia's Federation Guard.
Dr Tan also spoke of the Colombo Plan scholarship which, in the early years after Singapore's independence, enabled many Singaporeans to study in Australia and graduate from its universities. He noted that today, Australian students are making their way to Singapore under the pilot programme of the New Colombo Plan, which enables them to study and gain experience in the Asia-Pacific region and is an "important demonstration of Australia's commitment to better understand and engage Asia".
Also commenting on the programme, Sir Cosgrove, its patron, thanked the Singapore Government for its "strong support" of the New Colombo Plan. He said Singapore has been a popular destination for participants, with about 180 Australian students studying or taking up internships in the Republic this year.
In his speech, Dr Tan also said trade and investment have flourished since the signing of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement in 2003, with both countries working closely to promote regional free trade.
These bilateral ties are a part of Australia's wider relations with the region, said Dr Tan, adding that Australia is an important part of the region's architecture. As the first dialogue partner of ASEAN, Australia has played an "important role in promoting regional stability and prosperity", he added.
The presence of America in Asia over the last few decades has also "underpinned regional stability", allowing countries like Singapore and Australia to grow and prosper.
Said Dr Tan: "Our two countries recognise the importance of continued US engagement in the region, as well as the fact that the US-China relationship will shape the regional environment."
Today, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will call on Dr Tan before the latter departs for Adelaide, where he will be conferred an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the University of Adelaide.
This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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