Singapore and Seoul face similar challenges: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was made an Honorary Citizen of Seoul, receiving the award from Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon. -- PHOTO: MCI
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was made an Honorary Citizen of Seoul, receiving the award from Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon. -- PHOTO: MCI

BUSAN - Singapore and Seoul are similar in many ways, with both densely populated cities embracing diversity and sharing similar challenges, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday.

He pointed out these similarities in a speech in Seoul, and said he was happy that the people and officials of both cities were frequently visiting each other.

PM Lee was in the South Korean capital for a meeting with Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon, before attending the Asean-Korea Commemorative Summit in the south-eastern port city of Busan.

At the meeting in Seoul, PM Lee was made an Honorary Citizen of Seoul, receiving the award from Mr Park.

The official Yonhap news agency reported that PM Lee is the 13th foreign dignitary to receive the honour. Two other prominent Singaporeans who have also received the honour are former president SR Nathan and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong.

At the ceremony, where he received a Certificate of Citizenship and an identity card, PM Lee said that President Tony Tan Keng Yam would make a State Visit to South Korea next year and that both countries will mark 40 years of diplomatic relations.

"I'm confident that we will continue to strengthen our friendship and cooperation," PM Lee said.

He added that Singapore highly valued Korea as a key dialogue partner of Asean and said both countries shared an interest in peace and stability in the region, including on the Korean peninsula.

"We both benefit from an open and inclusive regional architecture and we are both convinced that by working and cooperating we can benefit our people," he said.

Mr Lee, who was last in Seoul a year ago for an official visit, said Singapore and the city shared many similarities.

Both are densely populated with similar challenges on housing, transport and an ageing population. Singapore and Seoul also embrace diversity as a pre-condition for prosperity, he said, adding that he had read Mayor Park's recent comments on diversity.

People-to-people and cultural ties between Singapore and Seoul had also been growing rapidly. For example, K-pop is popular with young people in Singapore, and Korean dramas are well-appreciated by all segments, he said.

Added PM Lee: "In fact, my wife is a big fan."

During his speech, he noted that Seoul has grown and developed while preserving its heritage as the capital city of Korea for 600 years. He said he strolled along the Cheonggyecheon stream on Wednesday night and was impressed by an urban renewal project which involved restoration and preservation of the stream.

He added that Seoul, as the gateway between South Korea and the world, has set the pace in transforming and modernising the country.

In his remarks, Mr Park said Singapore had also been transformed and he credited PM Lee for bringing the country even further, after former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew led Singapore's initial transformation into a modern metropolis.

The meeting between PM Lee and Mr Park on Thursday morning was their first, and PM Lee invited Mr Park to visit Singapore. The Mayor also updated him on latest developments in the capital.

PM Lee was later briefed on the Seoul Transportation Operation and Information Service, which is the control centre for Seoul's transportation network. He heads to Busan in the afternoon for the Asean-Korea Commemorative Summit, which marks the 25th anniversary of relations between the 10-nation grouping and South Korea.