Close ties between Brunei and Singapore got another boost yesterday with an announcement that Singapore will host the first youth leadership exchange programme between the two countries in the second half of this year to cement bonds into the next generation.
The programme will bring together youth leaders from both countries who are aged between 19 and 35, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said at a state banquet last night in honour of the visiting Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah.
"I am confident that the personal ties fostered through this programme will strengthen our relations even further," said Dr Tan, who in his speech recalled that he visited Brunei in May last year.
Describing the relationship between the two countries as being rooted in "strong people-to-people ties", he noted that the Sultan had on several occasions said that "Singapore and Brunei share a special relationship that was established during the time of the late Seri Begawan and Mr Lee Kuan Yew".
The late Seri Begawan, the Sultan's father, together with the former Singapore prime minister, was instrumental in forging the close partnership between the two countries in the 1960s.
In his banquet speech, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah applauded the deepening relationship that Dr Tan referred to.
He said: "It is important to ensure that the special ties between our two countries are always nurtured so future generations can continue to benefit from and uphold the significance of our relationship."
He also described defence cooperation as an integral part of the relationship, adding that "our armed forces are stronger" through regular exercises and training.
Fruitful cooperation has also extended to many other areas, including the economy, education, health, finance and youth issues.
Earlier yesterday, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a four-eye meeting.
A statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said both leaders reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the longstanding bilateral partnership, and agreed to keep up the close ties at the leadership level into the next generation.
It added that PM Lee welcomed the visit of Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah to Singapore later this year as a follow-up to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's visit to Brunei last August under the Young Leaders' Programme. PM Lee also invited the Crown Prince to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Mr and Mrs Lee later hosted a lunch for the Sultan and his royal consort, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha.
This is the Sultan's third state visit to Singapore, with the first one in 1990 followed by another in 2003.
The ruler yesterday also visited the Institute of Technical Education College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio in the afternoon.
He also met Mr Lee Kuan Yew at the Istana.
The Sultan is accompanied by a senior delegation, which includes Prince Abdul Malik, Princess Hajah Masna, Minister of Education Pehin Abu Bakar Apong, Minister of Finance II Pehin Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II Pehin Lim Jock Seng, and Minister of Energy at the Prime Minister's Office Pehin Yasmin Umar as well as Bruneian officials.
The first agreement between the monetary authorities of the two countries to enhance financial cooperation in such areas as capital market development and capacity building, and the exchange of best practices is expected to be signed during the ruler's three-day visit.
Today, the Sultan will deliver the 34th Singapore Lecture on "The Future of ASEAN" at The St Regis Singapore, which will be chaired by DPM Teo. Brunei was ASEAN chair last year.
This article was published on April 22 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.