Singapore, NZ can work together to make an impact: President Tan

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, during an interview with Singapore journalists yesterday. With him is Singapore's High Commissioner to New Zealand Bernard Baker.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam, during an interview with Singapore journalists yesterday. With him is Singapore's High Commissioner to New Zealand Bernard Baker.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Singapore and New Zealand are small countries but when they work together, they "can punch well above our weight and make a strategic impact on the rest of the world", President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday.

One such instance he cited is the far-reaching Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact to expand free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

It grew out of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, a trade pact initiated and launched by four nations that included New Zealand and Singapore, he noted.

The two countries can achieve such a working relationship because of their shared history and strong ties in the areas of economics, diplomacy and defence as well as between their people, Dr Tan told Singapore journalists in an interview wrapping up his week-long state visit to New Zealand.

They share key interests and traits as well, he said. Both are open economies that depend on world trade, and have small populations: New Zealand has 4.5 million people and Singapore, about 5.4 million.

New Zealand is also a trusted friend and steadfast partner, he said, calling for the relationship to be strengthened further to not just advance bilateral interests but to create initiatives like the TPP that "benefit the whole world".

He also encouraged more Singapore companies to seek business opportunities in New Zealand, "in hotels, in resorts, in industry".

Reflecting on his visit to the cities of Wellington and Christchurch, Dr Tan was particularly struck by how the creative industry in New Zealand had blossomed following the Lord Of The Rings movies and the two individuals behind the films: director Peter Jackson and prop master Richard Taylor.

Singapore, in developing its creative industry, can learn from New Zealand, which despite its small population has produced world- class creative individuals, he said.

"The films changed the way people look at animation and how stories are told for a worldwide audience. We can't have Lord Of The Rings in Singapore, but we can have 'Lord of something else'," he said.

"It's the power of imagination and the creativity of individuals which make all of this possible," he added.

The pace at which Christchurch is rebuilding large parts of the city devastated by a 2011 earthquake also made an impression on Dr Tan.

It has taken a long-term perspective in going beyond just repairing buildings to rejuvenating the city, with an eye on turning Christchurch into an economic hub and an arts centre, he said.

The community was asked to come up with new ideas, he noted, drawing parallels to Singaporeans doing likewise for the SG50 celebrations.

"I think it's the right way to go. Not to hurry, but to take the time to think through all of the issues, and to engage the community as well to come up with new ideas," he said.

Singapore, similarly, has to continue to reinvent itself to stay successful, he said, and be "prepared to look at things from a fresh perspective".

"I think the Government and the people are well prepared to do that."

New Zealanders' sense of community is also worth emulating.

Said Dr Tan: "New Zealanders look at themselves first to see what they can do to solve their own problems."

They also look out for one another, he said.

Singapore can learn from them, he said, even as he noted that more Singaporeans are volunteering.

"People are now coming forth to help themselves and to help others, rather than relying on the Government to do everything.

"We should encourage that," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore, NZ can work together to make an impact: President Tan'. Print Edition | Subscribe