Brunei and Singapore: Abiding ties of close neighbours
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong begins a three-day visit to Brunei today, and reflects on the kingdom's long and close ties with Singapore in a rapidly changing region
I AM delighted to be visiting Brunei again. My first visit was almost exactly 30 years ago, in November 1982. I was then serving in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and came to visit our soldiers training in Temburong. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah graciously granted me an audience. I recall being impressed by His Majesty's vision for Brunei, care for his people and personal warmth towards me.
Since then, I have visited Brunei many times. Each time, I am struck anew by the closeness and warmth of our special relationship. My first overseas visit after I became Prime Minister was to attend the wedding of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, together with my predecessors Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew.
The foundation of this friendship was laid by Mr Lee and the late Seri Begawan. They first met in 1960 when Singapore's Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak visited Brunei. Mr Lee and the Seri Begawan were drawn together because Singapore and Brunei then faced similar strategic challenges. We were the two smallest states in South-east Asia. The colonial era was ending. Both leaders were focused on securing their countries' futures in a tumultuous and dangerous region. Both negotiated to join Malaysia. In the end, Singapore joined the new federation while Brunei did not. But in the process, the two leaders got to know each other well, and nurtured an enduring friendship between our two countries.
Both Brunei and Singapore have long since become independent states, and have made tremendous progress in the past half-century. Brunei has prospered under His Majesty's wise leadership, and Singapore too has been transformed. Our partnership has blossomed.
We cooperate in many fields, including economics, education and defence. As small countries, we value free trade and a stable international order. We take the world as it is, and make common cause with other small countries to advance our interests. In every international forum, whether it is Asean, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum or the United Nations, Brunei and Singapore work closely together to promote these goals.
Defence cooperation is an important pillar of our partnership. I would like to thank His Majesty and the government and people of Brunei for generously allowing the SAF to train in Brunei for so many years. Generations of Singaporean soldiers have trained in Temburong. They will never forget climbing Mount Biang or crossing Sungei Batu Apoi, or the beauty of Brunei's verdant jungles.
Brunei has been a kind and gracious host. Singaporeans were deeply touched by the overwhelming concern and support from Brunei's leaders and people during the tragic SAF training accident in Temburong recently.
Another longstanding arrangement between Singapore and Brunei is the Currency Interchangeability Agreement (CIA), which allows our currencies to be used as customary tender in the other country.
The CIA has made it convenient for Singaporeans and Bruneians to travel between our two countries, and facilitated trade, investment and tourism. The CIA reflects the longstanding friendship and mutual trust that our countries share. This year marks its 45th anniversary, evidence of its continuing relevance and value.
On this visit, I look forward to exchanging views with His Majesty on regional and international developments, and to meeting the Crown Prince, ministers and officials to renew existing friendships and forge new ones. I hope to explore new opportunities for cooperation. For example, we can do much more in education, where we enjoy a long partnership. Several of our schools are twinned with one another and we share strong alumni networks.
By enhancing our education links and promoting exchanges between our youth, we will lay the basis for strong relations into the next generation. I therefore look forward to visiting Universiti Brunei Darussalam and interacting with Brunei students during this trip.
Brunei will take over the Asean chairmanship next year. Asean is at a critical juncture. The global environment is challenging. Regional issues like the South China Sea require an Asean response that is neutral, forward-looking and promotes the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Our goal of an Asean Community by 2015 is also drawing close. Brunei practises a low-key but effective diplomacy, working quietly behind the scenes to foster Asean consensus. Singapore will give its fullest support to Brunei during its Asean chairmanship.
In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, the depth and strength of Singapore-Brunei relations provide a steady anchor for both of us. Singapore greatly values this special friendship, and will work with Brunei to enhance it for our future generations.