Singapore's National Day celebrated early with performance at Astana Expo in Kazakhstan

Dancers perform at the Astana Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan.
Dancers perform at the Astana Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan.ST PHOTO: CHANG AI-LIEN
Musicians perform at the Astana Expo-2017 during a programme to showcase Singapore's culture and history.
Musicians perform at the Astana Expo-2017 during a programme to showcase Singapore's culture and history.ST PHOTO: CHANG AI-LIEN
The flags of Singapore and Kazakhstan were both raised at the Astana Expo-2017.
The flags of Singapore and Kazakhstan were both raised at the Astana Expo-2017.ST PHOTO: CHANG AI-LIEN

ASTANA - Singapore's National Day arrived early in sunny Kazakhstan on Tuesday (July 25), as the Republic announced its presence at the Astana Expo-2017.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon and Kazakh Vice Minister of Investments and Development Yerlan Khairov were among over 350 guests and Expo visitors at a flag-raising ceremony for both countries.

It was followed by a dance and musical performance showcasing Singapore's history and achievements.

Called "A Celebration of Colours: A Singapore Story", it took the audience through the Republic's journey, and looked ahead to the future. The catchy beat resonated with the audience, as performers had them up on their feet and clapping along to the music.

Mr Zulkifli Baharudin, Singapore's Ambassador to Kazakhstan, said ties between both countries date back to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's first visit in 1991.

"The late Mr Lee had a very close personal relationship with President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Without that political capital, there wouldn't have been the economic opportunities we have now."

Singaporean Martin Lee, 46, a consultant who has been living in Astana for the past decade, was at the ceremony with his wife Diana.

"Standing here, singing the national anthem, looking at the slide show and performances, made us very proud to be here as Singaporeans," he said.

The Expo is being held in a futuristic city built specially for the event in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, that will later be turned into a technology and financial hub. Themed Future Energy, the mega event saw the participation of over 130 countries.

Singapore's pavilion showcased its innovations in sustainable energy including Marina Bay's District Cooling Network and the EcoCampus at Nanyang Technological University.

Pointing to the strong relations and warm friendship between both countries, Dr Koh said Kazakhstan is an important partner for Singapore, not just as a significant growing market, but also as a potential gateway to the Eurasian Economic Union and the rest of Central Asia.

"At the government level, we are working together to build sound foundations for business and investment links to grow," he said.

Singapore is working with Kazakhstan and the Eurasian Economic Union to launch negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement.

Kazakhstan is Singapore's largest trading partner in Central Asia, with bilateral trade in goods adding up to S$23.5 million last year.

Mr Yerlan said: "The exceptional experience of Singapore... has become a visual guidance for many developing countries on how to turn from a third world country into a first world state, and the name of Lee Kuan Yew has become synonmyous with innovation, courage and determination.

"Many of Kazakhstan's reforms are also based on the successful experience of Singapore," he pointed out, noting that his country's main development fund was created in the image of Temasek Holdings.

Dr Koh, who is in Kazakhstan for an official visit, also called on Kazakh Minister of National Economy Timur Suleimenov, Mr Yerlan and Astana Mayor Asset Issekeshev.

The ministers reaffirmed the close ties between both countries and reiterated their commitment to working toward the free trade agreement.

Dr Koh also visited the Astana Solar Park to learn about Kazakhstan's sustainable energy development.