S'pore and New Zealand mark 50 years of friendship

Sir Jerry Mateparae (centre) and his wife with the Dendrobium Jerry Janine Mateparae, at Singapore Botanic Gardens yesterday. With them is NParks deputy director David Middleton.
Sir Jerry Mateparae (centre) and his wife with the Dendrobium Jerry Janine Mateparae, at Singapore Botanic Gardens yesterday. With them is NParks deputy director David Middleton.PHOTO: NATIONAL PARKS BOARD

It was a night of celebrating a long, supportive and intimate friendship, as Singapore and New Zealand marked 50 years of diplomatic relations.

At a state banquet hosted by President Tony Tan Keng Yam for New Zealand Governor-General Jerry Mateparae yesterday, both heads of state paid glowing tributes to the deep bilateral relationship, with cooperation in numerous areas, such as defence, business and in the international arena.

Sir Jerry also drew attention to New Zealand's special "people-to- people" connection to Singapore, saying: "There can't be too many countries that can say that they have the head of state and head of government who have offspring born in Singapore."

Sir Jerry's two daughters, Renee and Krisha, were born in Singapore, as was New Zealand Prime Minister John Key's son, Max. Both leaders have lived here before. Sir Jerry served two stints here in the 1970s and 1980s as part of the New Zealand Defence Force deployment, while Mr Key lived here when he was with Merrill Lynch.

Today, 4,000 New Zealanders reside in Singapore, including Sir Jerry's daughter Krisha, while some 5,400 Singapore-born residents live in New Zealand.

Underpinning the historical and personal relations, Singapore and New Zealand share strong economic and defence relations. Singapore's first bilateral free trade agreement was with New Zealand, in 2000.

Remarking on the close people-to-people links, Dr Tan singled out Kiwi Ruth Aitken for praise, for her efforts in coaching Singapore's netball team to a gold medal in the recent SEA Games.

The theme of the night was a fond recollection of strong ties between two small countries with shared interests.

Dr Tan spoke warmly of New Zealand's enduring support for Singapore, which began even before the Republic's independence.

New Zealand soldiers were among the forces that defended Singapore during World War II, he said, adding that "New Zealand's sacrifice is an indelible part of our shared history".

Dr Tan noted that New Zealand's troops remained in Singapore until 1989, well after British troops had withdrawn in 1971, calling it a "testament to our close friendship".

The President also thanked New Zealand for its gestures after the passing of Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in March. Sir Jerry attended the funeral and New Zealand was one of two foreign countries, the other being India, that flew its flags at half mast on the day of the funeral.

Underpinning the historical and personal relations, Singapore and New Zealand share strong economic and defence relations. Singapore's first bilateral free trade agreement was with New Zealand, in 2000, noted Dr Tan.

The two countries collaborate in conflict zones like Timor Leste and Afghanistan. New Zealand also hosts the Singapore Armed Forces' training exercises in Waiouru.

In his speech, Sir Jerry highlighted another milestone - New Zealand's 40th year of ties with Asean.

He thanked Singapore for its support in New Zealand's engagement with the regional group, and said that New Zealand wants to "move our relationship with Asean to a closer and more strategic level".

This is Sir Jerry's first state visit to Singapore. Yesterday, he visited the Botanic Gardens, where an orchid, the Dendrobium Jerry Janine Mateparae, was named after him and his wife. Following that, he was officially welcomed at the Istana in separate meetings with Dr Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Today, he will visit Treelodge@ Punggol, Singapore's first eco-precinct, accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, as well as Gardens by the Bay.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore and New Zealand mark 50 years of friendship'. Print Edition | Subscribe