Iceland, Singapore 'have much in common'

Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (centre), and President Tony Tan Keng Yam raising their glasses for a toast during the state banquet at the Istana last night. Dr Grimsson's three-day state visit to Singapore is the first by an Icelandic Pr
Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson (centre), and President Tony Tan Keng Yam raising their glasses for a toast during the state banquet at the Istana last night. Dr Grimsson's three-day state visit to Singapore is the first by an Icelandic President. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Iceland stands in the Northern Atlantic and is blessed with an abundance of natural resources while Singapore, sitting halfway across the globe in South-east Asia at the crossroads of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, can rely only on its people.

But the stark geographical difference between the two island nations belies the many common characteristics they share, especially their views on many issues, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said at a state banquet for visiting Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.

"For both of us, the sea is a crucial lifeline. Fishing is in Iceland's lifeblood, while Singapore flourishes as a maritime trading port," Dr Tan said, adding that climate change and how oceans are governed are issues close to the heart of both countries.

Dr Grimsson, invited by Dr Tan, is on a three-day state visit here, the first by an Icelandic President.

Economic relations between Singapore and Iceland, with almost 330,000 people, have grown since the European Free Trade Association-Singapore Free Trade Agreement took effect in 2003.

Both also cooperate closely in the Arctic region, said Dr Tan.

At the broader strategic level, Dr Tan said: "Small countries like Singapore and Iceland will have to stay nimble to navigate the waves and currents of the shifting global geopolitics."

Dr Grimsson, in his speech, said: "As island nations, we can both bring important lessons to challenges facing the world."

He added that, for example, pollution and environmental degradation increasingly threaten the future of the ocean.

He also said Singapore's experience, knowledge and developmental insights can help ensure the future success of the Arctic.

For this reason, it was welcomed as a permanent observer nation to the Arctic Council in 2013, he said.

Singapore, he noted, has been an active participant in the grouping of eight Arctic nations comprising the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Today, it will host the first major meeting in Asia on the future of the Arctic.

"I thank Singapore for its constructive engagement in the Arctic dialogue and cooperation, and I express hope that the evolution of Arctic cooperation will continue to benefit from your country's contributions and involvement," he added.

Dr Grimsson also congratulated the Singapore people on the country's golden jubilee.

"Throughout my life of public service, I have admired the vision and the leadership of Singapore," he said.

Dr Grimsson began his state visit yesterday. He was given a ceremonial welcome at the Istana and called on Dr Tan.

The two leaders reaffirmed the warm and growing ties between their countries, and discussed ways to strengthen bilateral and regional cooperation.

Dr Grimsson also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. They exchanged views on a variety of issues, including Singapore's interests in the Arctic, climate change, and developments in their respective countries.

Earlier in the day, Dr Grimsson and First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff visited the Botanic Gardens, where an orchid was named after them. He also met officials from regulator Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore and port operator PSA Corp.

Dr Tan noted the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve plays host to migratory Arctic birds every winter, and it is one reason that Singapore's flora and fauna are closely connected with the Arctic despite the geographic distance.

There is also a small but highly skilled Icelandic community here, while some Singaporeans have made Iceland their home.

"It is my hope that our officials can continue to traverse the geographical distance and step up mutual engagement, both bilaterally as well as vis-a-vis the Arctic," said Dr Tan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Iceland, Singapore 'have much in common''. Print Edition | Subscribe