ULAANBAATAR - Singapore has a land area of 719 sq km, a tiny nation compared with Mongolia, which spreads out across 1.56 million sq km.
But both nations are sandwiched by much bigger neighbours and are fully aware of that, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the start of his official visit to Mongolia on Wednesday (July 13).
He made the observation at a reception in capital city Ulaanbaatar for Singaporeans living and working in Mongolia.
It was a point, he said, that came from a conversation with a Mongolian leader visiting Singapore more than 10 years ago. "I explained to him that Singapore is a small country with two big neighbours, and he said Mongolia is the same."
With this clear perspective of the way the world is, both know they not only have to make friends with their neighbours, but also with countries further afield and to cooperate, he added.
Mr Lee's four-day trip to the country marks the first official visit by a Singapore prime minister to landlocked Mongolia, which lies between Russia and China. Mongolia has about 3 million people, while Singapore has a resident population of 3.9 million.
Mr Lee will also attend the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit on July 15 and 16.
On Thursday (July 14), he will meet his counterpart Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat, President Tsakhia Elbegdorj and Speaker of Parliament Miyeegombo Enkhbold.
At the reception, he said Singapore would like to increase its trade with Mongolia. The two-way trade is modest, totalling just $64 million last year.
Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Mongolia Yip Wei Kiat is optimistic, saying he is encouraged by the steady increase in interest among Singapore businesses in Mongolia.
Businessmen of both countries and Mongolians who had attended Singapore's technical assistance programmes and universities were also at the reception.
About 20 Singaporeans live in Mongolia, most of whom are in teaching.
Ms Tan Yee Ling, 41, who runs her own English language school, said she moved to Ulaanbaatar in 2005 after experiencing the sense of freedom in the vast expanses of the country while on vacation.
"I first visited Mongolia in 1996 in July, and went horse riding in the grasslands. There were wide open spaces, no fences, blue skies. I really like the feeling of freedom here," she said.