PM Lee to visit Australia in May looking to forge new agreements, including on defence cooperation

Singapore ministers with their Australian counterparts in the ninth Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) meeting in Sydney.
Singapore ministers with their Australian counterparts in the ninth Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee (SAJMC) meeting in Sydney.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SINGAPORE
Singapore's ministers Ng Eng Hen (left),  Lim Hng Kiang (fourth from left) and Vivian Balakrishnan (second from right) with Australian officials including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (third from right).
Singapore's ministers Ng Eng Hen (left), Lim Hng Kiang (fourth from left) and Vivian Balakrishnan (second from right) with Australian officials including Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (third from right). PHOTO: EPA
Singapore and Australia's ministers at Sydney Harbour on March 18, 2016.
Singapore and Australia's ministers at Sydney Harbour on March 18, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is planning to visit Australia in May for discussions that will seek to forge a series of new agreements between the two countries, including a deal to enhance defence cooperation.

The upcoming visit - scheduled for late May - was announced in Sydney on Friday (March 18) following meetings between the Singaporean and Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence.

The meetings included discussions of the need for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea as well as efforts to find new ways for Singaporean and Australian students to study and undertake internships in each other's countries. 

Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the prime ministers of the two nations would seek to bolster defence and trade ties during Mr Lee's upcoming visit. 

"My Prime Minister will be arriving here hopefully on May 26," he said.

 

"We hope that the joint prime ministers will be able to put their signatures onto a series of agreements which will run a spectrum of areas, starting with enhanced defence cooperation. That level of interaction, cooperation, training and mutual exchange of staff at a policy level and a senior level can only occur where there is already a large reservoir of strategic trust."

Dr Balakrishnan said the two nations will look to upgrade the free-trade agreement and examine further cooperation on innovation and research and development. 

"We will be looking for opportunities for start-ups in both Australia and Singapore, the leverage of each other's markets and presence, so that literally you can plug in and play into our systems," he said.

A joint communique issued by the ministers following the biennial ministerial talks welcomed the "steady progress" of the 10-year road map of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership signed by then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Lee last June. 

It said the ministers were pursuing efforts to deepen economic ties between the nations, including a planned review of the free trade agreement.

 "Ministers instructed officials to negotiate outcomes which facilitate  the temporary entry of business persons and visitors in both directions; encourage the mutual recognition of qualifications by respective professional organisations; and further liberalise trade," the communique said.

"Ministers noted the strong potential for innovation and technological change to transform the two countries' economies."

Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said the two countries were both strongly committed to "unimpeded trade" in the South China Sea.

"Both Australia and Singapore commit to the right of states to conduct freedom of navigation and overflights in accordance with international law," she said.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The key point is to have a peaceful and stable regional architecture so that all these trade people and goods can flow through unimpeded."

The Singaporean ministers have invited their Australian counterparts to Singapore for the next Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee in 2017-2018.