Much in common between Singapore and Kazakhstan

Bridge to the residential area in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. Though there are some clear geographical differences between Singapore and Kazakhstan, the two countries share much in common, writes Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov. --
Bridge to the residential area in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan. Though there are some clear geographical differences between Singapore and Kazakhstan, the two countries share much in common, writes Kazakhstan Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov. -- PHOTO: EMBASSY OF KAZAKHSTAN

When you look at a map of the world, there must be few countries with less in common than Singapore and Kazakhstan. While Singapore is an economic powerhouse, it is by global standards a small nation. In contrast, Kazakhstan is the world's ninth largest - and the biggest landlocked - country. In climate, too, our freezing winters could hardly be further away from Singapore's year-round tropical heat.

But there are many more similarities than a glance at the map or temperature graphs might suggest. Both our nations, for example, take pride in having diverse and tolerant societies. Kazakhstan, like Singapore, is home to people of many backgrounds who live in harmony with each other. It is something we both regard as a great achievement and strength.

This diversity also helps explain our open attitudes to the world. Singapore's tremendous economic success has been built on welcoming ideas, investment and a strong pro-business approach. Together with the state's influential role in providing modern infrastructure as a major catalyst for economic development, Singaporeans have seen their country become one of the world's most prosperous.

Kazakhstan is, of course, further behind on this economic journey. Born out of the break-up of the Soviet Union, we have only been an independent nation since 1991. But from the start, we have opened our borders to foreign investors and companies and ensured our state provides the policies and support needed to help businesses grow.

We have also used Singapore directly as a model of how to achieve success. Our state asset management body is modelled after Singapore's long-standing Temasek state investment company. Singapore's expertise is also being used to help improve public services including education and to modernise and diversify our economy, particularly in the fields of chemical production and information technology.

We still have a long way to go. But in recent years Kazakhstan has been one of the world's fastest growing economies and is acclaimed for having the most pro-business policies in the region. We are already among the top global 50 economies and have set ourselves the target of joining the ranks of the top 30 by 2050. We are investing heavily to modernise our infrastructure and educate our young people. Our citizens have seen their standard of living transformed.

These common attitudes and experiences explains why, despite the geographical differences, relations between Singapore and Kazakhstan are very warm. They have been strengthened by regular high-level meetings including two visits to Singapore by our President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. I am delighted to be here this week to meet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and my counterpart K. Shanmugam.

We will have a great deal to discuss. Apart from taking steps to deepen government and commercial bilateral relations across all sectors, our two countries also share a determination to foster peace and encourage regional and international co-operation. In a world threatened with instability and extremism, this is more important than ever.

Kazakhstan, like Singapore, works hard to be a good neighbour and a trusted international partner. We are seen as a bridge between east and west, and north and south. Our decision to renounce the world's 4th biggest nuclear arsenal on independence has given us a strong voice in helping push for global peace and disarmament. It is in the hope of doing more to help heal divisions and ease tensions that we are seeking a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2017-2018.

We also share Singapore's view of the importance of strong regional economic ties as a building block for stability and prosperity. Singapore, of course, was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the highly successful ASEAN community and maintaining its inclusive, open and outward-looking nature. We are determined to keep these lessons in mind in the development of the new Eurasian Economic Union which we are confident will bring benefits not just to its member countries but also the wider world.

Despite our geographical differences, it is what we have in common which is important. It is our shared attitudes, ambitions and vision which are the basis for our good relations. We are confident that Kazakhstan can continue to move forward and emulate Singapore's outstanding success in the decades ahead.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The author is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.