Singapore and Norway reaffirm close and growing ties

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (left) shaking hands with Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on April 13, 2016.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg (left) shaking hands with Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on April 13, 2016. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
 Norwegian Prime Minsiter Erna Solberg speaking with Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana on April 13, 2016.
Norwegian Prime Minsiter Erna Solberg speaking with Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana on April 13, 2016. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - One year after Norway became independent in 1905, the Scandinavian country set up a consulate here - a sign of Singapore's importance as a harbour for Norwegian vessels.

On Wednesday, 110 years later, Norway's visiting Prime Minister Erna Solberg paid tribute to the enduring friendship between the two countries, calling Singapore "one of our closest friends in Asia".

Ms Solberg, who was hosted to lunch at the Istana by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said both share a history and a forward-looking economic relationship.

This includes digital services, renewable energy and start-ups with a global future, on top of longstanding ties in maritime and oil and gas.

Mr Lee reaffirmed the close and growing ties between the two countries, and said Norway will host a state visit by President Tony Tan Keng Yam in October.

PM Lee noted that Singapore has long been "a home away from home" for the Norwegian seafaring community. Norway is now the sixth largest contributor to Singapore's Registry of Ships, while Singapore hosts the largest Norwegian business community in Asia, with nearly 400 companies here.

"There is also a significant Norwegian presence in our maritime ecosystem, including shipping banks and brokerage firms," he added.

Mr Lee also shared with Ms Solberg and her delegation how Dutch economist Albert Winsemius had once wondered aloud as to why he felt an affinity with Singapore and found success here. Dr Winsemius, who was Singapore's economic advisor from 1961 to 1984, concluded that it was because of the Dutch tradition of Calvinism that emphasised self-reliance and hardwork, traits he saw in Singapore's pioneer generation.

"A similar mindset applies in northern Europe, to be able to survive long winters, harsh climates, not necessarily fertile lands and to be able to endure, grow and develop a high civilisation," said Mr Lee.

"We need that kind of mindset, and so we find kindred souls on the other side of the world and we make common cause together."

Mr Lee also cited Norway's foresight and discipline when it discovered large reserves of oil and gas in its continental shelf in the 1960s. It set up the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, with spending rules that are strictly adhered to.

Norway's prudent management of its windfall as an endowment for its future generations is worth learning from, he added: "That ethic of toughness, hard work and prudence is something we admire and hope to emulate in Singapore."

Ms Solberg also spoke at the Norway-Asia Business Summit, and gave the International Institute for Strategic Studies Fullerton Lecture. Her three-day visit to Singapore ends on Thursday.

yanliang@sph.com.sg