Leaders of S'pore, NZ highlight close ties

Depth of friendship shown during Mr Lee's funeral, Christchurch quake: President Tan

President Tony Tan Keng Yam paying his respects after laying a ceremonial wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in honour of New Zealand soldiers who died serving their country.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam paying his respects after laying a ceremonial wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in honour of New Zealand soldiers who died serving their country.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Though founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was not its leader, New Zealand flew its flags on public buildings at half-mast on the day of his funeral in March, in a show of respect and solidarity with Singapore.

Back in 2011, when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake rocked Christ-church, Singapore swiftly pitched in to help in the city's rescue efforts.

These acts of supporting each other through times of national grief show the depth of friendship between the two countries, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said yesterday - the second day of his state visit to New Zealand. He was speaking at a state banquet held in his honour by New Zealand Governor-General Jerry Mateparae.

Like Sir Jerry, Dr Tan highlighted the close links between the two countries in defence, trade and people-to-people ties, as well as at regional and international forums.

Both leaders, in their speeches, also underlined their belief in the benefits of trade liberalisation.

Singapore's first bilateral free trade agreement, for instance, was signed with New Zealand in 2000.

The two nations were also part of the 2006 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, the precursor to the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact concluded this month.

"As two of the four members of the original agreement that evolved into the TPP, we can be especially proud of the accomplishment," said Sir Jerry.

Both nations also believe in the importance of international diplomacy, he said, adding that Singapore is at the forefront of New Zealand's ties with Asean, and both work together at the United Nations. They work closely as well to achieve greater regional economic integration, he added.

Dr Tan similarly said Singapore values New Zealand's 40 years of work with Asean. "Singapore looks forward to the elevation of this partnership to the strategic level."

The two countries established diplomatic relations 50 years ago.

Dr Tan noted that New Zealand has hosted the Singapore Armed Forces' annual exercises in Waiouru since 1997 and Singapore, he said, appreciates it.

Sir Jerry, noting that "defence cooperation has been a cornerstone of our relationship", called Singapore his country's closest defence partner in Asia. They are members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements and partner each other in missions in Timor Leste and Afghanistan.

Singapore and New Zealand also have a healthy and complementary trade relationship, said both leaders, adding that their people are close to each other as well.

Referring to New Zealand's national rugby team, Dr Tan said: "I am sure that many Singaporeans will join their New Zealand friends to cheer on the All Blacks during the Rugby World Cup finals."

It takes place in London on Saturday.

Sir Jerry also highlighted areas, including science, innovation, trade and tourism, that both can further cooperate in.

Dr Tan noted that they have expanded their cooperation in research and development and biomedical sciences. "I believe small nations like Singapore and New Zealand can overcome their constraints through international collaboration," he said.

The banquet capped a busy day of official meetings and visits by President Tan.

In the morning, he received a traditional Maori greeting in an official welcome ceremony at Government House, where he also called on Sir Jerry. He then laid a ceremonial wreath at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.

He also met Acting Prime Minister Bill English before touring Weta Workshop props studio, which produced the movie magic of the Lord Of The Rings franchise.

Today, Dr Tan goes to Christ-church to see its post-earthquake rebuilding efforts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Leaders of S'pore, NZ highlight close ties'. Subscribe