UK State Visit: President Tony Tan pays tribute to Singapore-UK ties

Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam speaking as Britain's Queen Elizabeth looks on during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in central London, on day one of Mr Tan's state visit to Britain on October 21, 2014. Mr Tan and his wife Mary started a
Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam speaking as Britain's Queen Elizabeth looks on during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in central London, on day one of Mr Tan's state visit to Britain on October 21, 2014. Mr Tan and his wife Mary started a four-day state visit to Britain on Tuesday -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON - Much has changed in the almost two centuries since Sir Stamford Raffles established a British trading port in Singapore in 1819, and since Singapore and Britain established diplomatic relations in 1965.

But the bond and friendship between both countries has endured and strengthened over the years, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Tuesday in London.

"We are friends in all types of weather, whether it is British or Singapore weather," Dr Tan told the British Parliament during his state visit that comes on the cusp of Singapore's 50th year of independence in 2015.

"Our friendship will undoubtedly prove valuable in the face of emerging global challenges that will impact the future generations of both our countries," he added.

He gave two speeches on Tuesday on the common interests and common heritage shared by Britain and Singapore: one to the British Parliament, and the other at the state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth II in his honour.

At the Palace of Westminster, the seat of Parliament, Dr Tan touched on several areas of cooperation.

On economic cooperation, he noted that the United Kingdom is Singapore's top investment destination in the European Union (EU) and that many British companies also operate in Singapore, and vice versa.

He added that both countries are proponents of free trade, and the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement will benefit Singapore and Britain once it is ratified.

And in the areas of defence and security, Singapore and Britain have robust grounds to continue working together in areas like counter-terrorism, emergency preparedness and countering trasnational crime, he said.

Dr Tan also noted that the ties between the people of both countries underpin Singapore and Britain's bilateral relationship.

Many Singaporeans have made Britain their second home and contribute actively to it, he said.

The British community in Singapore similarly contributes to the Republic in areas like education and science, adding to the "already deep reservoir of goodwill" between both peoples, he added.

He repeated this message at the state banquet in Buckingham Palace, where guests included prominent Singaporeans such as Cultural Medallion winner Ivan Heng, award-winning film director Anthony Chen and property magnate Ong Beng Seng.

During the banquet, the Queen wore the Order of Temasek red sash and white star - Singapore's second highest national order - which she received in 1972 when she visited Singapore.

Dr Tan had then been Education Minister, and in his speech he added that he had fond memories of accompanying the Queen on her visits to Townsville Primary School and the National University of Singapore.

The Queen said in a speech that Dr Tan's state visit "marks the continued deepening of the relationship between our countries", and is a chance to celebrate the links between both countries, especially in education, research and innovation.

She announced new scholarships to the UK for Singaporeans under the newly-revived Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore. The scholarships will be focused in the area of innovation.

Dr Tan at the end of his speech invited the Queen, or her representative, to visit Singapore in 2015 as the country celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, the President visited Westminster Abbey, where he laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Soldier, a tribute to soldiers who have fallen in war.

There, he also visited a memorial statue of Sir Stamford Raffles.

Dr Tan also received a call from British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who leads the Liberal Democrats that, together with the Conservatives, form Britain's ruling coalition.