Australia and Singapore might make for an odd couple at first glance. One is a continent-sized nation of people with a disposition to strike a sound work-life balance, appreciate the great outdoors, endure heavy taxes in the interests of a welfare state, and be always ready for a sturdy argument. The other is a tiny island whose citizens are intensely focused, anxious not to be left behind, wedded to individual responsibility and studiously measured in diplomacy. For the uninitiated, therefore, last week's signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) between the two nations - the first such accord inked by Singapore, and one that elevates their New Partnership Agreement of two decades ago - may come as a surprise.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he would like to see his country's ties with Singapore to be as close as they are with New Zealand. In strategic terms the CSP, discussed for more than a year, builds on the convergence the two already share - for example, both regard continued US involvement in the region as fundamental to peace and prosperity. They also welcome China's constructive engagement, as well as that of Japan, South Korea and India.
The partnership will see cross postings of military personnel and expanded training facilities for the Singapore Armed Forces in Australia. Over the coming decade, the two will strive to further integrate their economies, consult and cooperate on global issues, share intelligence, and collaborate to combat terrorism. On the latter, Australia is being forced to finetune strategies. It lost 88 of its citizens in the Bali bombings and is currently investigating several thousand persons of concern, not counting the 120 of its citizens who are fighting on the side of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Singapore suffered its first casualty to terrorism in the Mumbai attacks of 2008, but is under no illusion that it has seen the last of it. For this reason both have lent principled support to the global coalition against ISIS, even though the theatre of action is by no means in their backyard.
But the CSP also means more. For Singapore, whose economic hinterland has steadily expanded, Australia offers a secure investment destination with its good infrastructure, resources, shared British heritage and rule of law. More than 100,000 Singaporeans were educated in universities Down Under, which also is a favoured tourist destination. For Australia, whose economy is slowing due to slumping demand for commodities, the partnership could help promote growth at home, enhance trading opportunities in Singapore for its citizens, and boost cultural cooperation and people-to-people links. Importantly, the fruition of the pact's goals would be a signal to the world of how far Australia has travelled in integrating with Asia. Looked at this way, this is no odd pair. Opposites do attract after all.