S'pore 'grateful for its network of friends'

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." 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.


This article was first published on April 25, 2015.
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