Singapore reaffirms strong ties with Russia

PM Lee and PM Medvedev at a media conference at the Government Reception House in Moscow yesterday. PM Lee will attend the Asean-Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi today.
PM Lee and PM Medvedev at a media conference at the Government Reception House in Moscow yesterday. PM Lee will attend the Asean-Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi today.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

PM Lee hopes for a cultural centre, trade pact by 2018, when countries mark 50 years of ties

Singapore hopes a Russian Cultural Centre will open in the Republic in two years' time, when it celebrates 50 years of diplomatic relations with Russia, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He is also optimistic Singapore and the five-country Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) will reach a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) by then, opening doors to new markets for each other's companies.

Speaking to reporters after an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the 19th-century Government Reception House, a converted fortress home, Mr Lee reaffirmed the longstanding and deep ties with Russia since Singapore's independence.

Both countries signed a trade agreement in April 1966, and established diplomatic relations two years later.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made his first visit to Russia in 1970, and would return many more times.

ANOTHER STEP FORWARD

I am happy to be able to continue building on this foundation, and taking our relationship another step forward.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, on how his past visits to Russia served as a foundation for Singapore's ties with it.

"My father, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, believed that Russia would play a major role in world affairs, so when I was a teenager he encouraged me to study Russian, which I did," said Mr Lee.

"Even after he retired as prime minister, he kept the links up. He took an interest in the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management (and) became its board member."

The late Mr Lee was also a keen supporter of the Russia-Singapore Business Forum, which helps connect business leaders and broaden economic cooperation, he added.

PM Lee recounted that his first visit to Russia was as a student in 1972, when he spent several weeks in Moscow and Leningrad, today's St Petersburg. He returned again six years later for his honeymoon.

"I am happy to be able to continue building on this foundation and taking our relationship another step forward," he said, calling his visit "long overdue for me personally and a significant milestone for bilateral ties".

Singapore's signing on Wednesday of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Eurasian Economic Commission - the regulatory body of the EAEU - will hopefully pave the way for a feasibility study and negotiations on the FTA, said PM Lee.

But ties with Russia go beyond just economics, he added. Cultural ties are strong, while Singapore universities have deep partnerships with Russian institutions.

Yesterday, two more MOUs were signed. One was between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and its Russian counterpart to strengthen cultural relations.

Minister Grace Fu, who signed it, hoped it would see more Russian arts and culture programmes in the Asean region.

The other MOU is between Nanyang Technological University and the Russian Academy of Sciences, to explore developing products and taking them to market.

PM Medvedev said in Russian it is a good sign that trade between Singapore and Russia has grown substantially - almost quadrupling in the last decade - and that "almost every important area of economic cooperation is in our focus".

"We have embraced different aspects of cooperation: construction, shipping and transport, airlines and big air projects, and lately also agriculture. This was discussed substantially today," Mr Medvedev said.

"The models used by Singapore in government and business management are also in demand, and of interest to our country," he added.

Mr Lee invited Mr Medvedev to visit Singapore, which he last visited in 2009. It resulted in the setting up of the high-level Russia-Singapore Inter-Governmental Commission. The commission led to both sides agreeing to start the process to negotiate a comprehensive FTA between Singapore and the EAEU.

The visit also boosted cooperation in many areas, including education, healthcare and agriculture.

"It continues to expand in scope into governance and counterterrorism," Mr Lee said.

"The next time PM comes, I hope we'll be able to do even more."

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Lee flew to Sochi, where he was scheduled to meet President Vladimir Putin.

He will attend a summit of Asean leaders and Mr Putin today to mark 20 years of Asean-Russia ties.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore reaffirms strong ties with Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe