Small nations like Singapore and New Zealand can work together to benefit the world: President Tan

President Tony Tan Keng Yam interacting with Singaporeans in New Zealand at a reception in Christchurch on Oct 29, 2015.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam interacting with Singaporeans in New Zealand at a reception in Christchurch on Oct 29, 2015.PHOTO: MCI

CHRISTCHURCH - Singapore and New Zealand are examples of small countries that can have a big impact on the world when they work together, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam as he ended a six-day state visit on Friday (Oct 30).

Although their populations are small, they cooperated to expand free trade through far-reaching initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is an expansion of the earlier four-member Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership which New Zealand and Singapore discussed and launched, noted Dr Tan.

"Both of us can punch well over our weight and make a strategic impact on the rest of the world, notwithstanding our small size," he said in an interview.

This working relationship is possible because of their shared history and strong ties in the areas of economics, diplomacy and defence, and between their people, he said.

They also share key interests and traits. Both are open economies that depend on world trade, and have small populations - New Zealand has 4.5 million people, while Singapore has about 5.4 million.

Dr Tan described New Zealand as a trusted friend and steadfast partner of Singapore, and added that this relationship should be built on.

"We are in a good position to work with New Zealand, not only to advance our bilateral interests, but also together see how we can create initiatives, such as free trade and the TPP, which benefit the whole world," he said.

He also encouraged more Singaporean firms to seek out business opportunities in New Zealand.

In the interview, he looked back on his visit to the cities of Wellington and Christchurch, which included meetings with ministers and officials and tours to businesses.

One thing that struck him was how the creative industry in New Zealand had blossomed since the Lord of the Rings movies came out.

The films themselves were possible because of two individuals, director Peter Jackson and propmaster Richard Taylor, whose Weta Workshop studio Dr Tan visited.

In developing its creative industry, Singapore can learn from New Zealand, which despite its small population produced world-class creative individuals, he said.

"The films changed the way that people look at animation and how stories are told for a worldwide audience. We can't have Lord of the Rings in Singapore, but we can have 'Lord of something else'," he said.

"It's the power of imagination and the creativity of individuals, which make all of this possible," he added.

On the visit, he also learned about Christchurch's rebuilding efforts after an earthquake in 2011 damaged parts of the city.

In rebuilding the city, they have taken a long-term perspective in going beyond just repairing buildings to rejuvenating the city, he said.

The community was also asked to come up with new ideas, he added, drawing parallels to how Singaporeans did likewise during Singapore's SG50 celebrations.

Said Dr Tan: "I think it's the right way to go. Not to hurry, but to take the time to think through all of the issues, and to engage the community as well to come up with new ideas."

Dr Tan was also impressed by the self-reliance of New Zealand's people and their sense of community.

"New Zealanders look at themselves first to see what they can do to solve their own problems... They look out for each other," he said, adding that they were resilient and able to bounce back from hardships.

Singapore can learn from them, he added, noting that more Singaporeans are volunteering now.

"I think that people are now coming forth to help themselves and to help others, rather than relying on the Government to do everything. We should encourage that," he said.