S'pore, Korea 'have much to learn from each other'

Singapore and South Korea have much to learn from each other as both countries adjust to domestic changes and increasing global uncertainty, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

The two Asian Tigers should thus build on their already "excellent" ties, founded on similarities including rapid economic growth and interest in the region's peace and stability, he said at a dinner hosted by South Korean President Park Geun Hye at the Blue House, her official residence.

Mr Lee described Singapore as "feeling a new way forward" in pursuing inclusive growth, while Korea is "moving towards a new era of hope, underpinned by a creative economy, a flourishing culture and personal happiness".

"We have much to learn from each other... I am very glad to enhance our bilateral cooperation in areas like research and development, education, and aviation. These will pave the way for even closer ties in future."

Despite Seoul's sub-zero temperatures, there was distinct warmth between the two Asian leaders, with Ms Park saying Singapore has been "unfailing as a friend" since Korea set up a trade mission in the Republic in 1970.

She also spoke of the warmth and kindness shown her by Mr Lee's parents, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mrs Lee. Ms Park's father was former Korean president Park Chung Hee.

She praised Singapore's "diplomatic calibre" and said it was a valued partner in South Korea's foreign policy efforts, including its goal of peaceful reunification with North Korea.

On a lighter note, Ms Park also noted the "growing mutual interest" between the two countries, buoyed by the popularity of Hallyu, or the Korean Wave.

Korean pop culture made an unexpected appearance at the state dinner last night: among the guests was 20-year-old Natasha Low, or Tasha, the Singaporean singer of K-pop band Skarf.

Mr Lee welcomed her, adding that Korean dramas also have a large fan base in Singapore - including his wife Ho Ching, who was present at the dinner.

The dinner followed a meeting at which Mr Lee and Ms Park agreed to review the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, concluded in 2006, to promote more trade and investment.

On air services, they will work to achieve a "mutually beneficial package of traffic rights", said a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

They also discussed the agenda for next year's ASEAN-Korea Commemorative Summit.

Mr Lee, who arrived in South Korea on Tuesday, also met Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Strategy and Finance Hyun Oh Seok on Thursday and attended a lunch with Korean business leaders organised by the Korea International Trade Association.

Bilateral trade between the two countries exceeded US$23 billion (S$28billion) last year and South Korea is Singapore's seventh-largest trading partner.

PM Lee leaves for Tokyo today to attend the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit.


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.