ALOR SETAR - Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday (Aug 29) embarked on the first of many trips to engage Malaysia's leaders at the state level, kicking off with a visit to the northern states of Kedah and Penang.
"Most of our interactions are at the federal level, we decided we do need to engage at the state level," Dr Balakrishnan told Singaporean media after his meetings in Kedah state capital Alor Setar. "This is the first trip of many to come."
He said Thursday's meeting with members of the Kedah state government opened up ideas and opportunities that can be explored between the two governments.
Among the topics broached were industrial manufacturing of high-technology parts, tourism and agriculture development.
"This is the rice bowl of Malaysia… You look around and see these beautiful green paddy fields," said Dr Balakrishnan. "This gives us a good basis to interact more, collaborate, look for investment opportunities."
But the first step, the minister pointed out, was to raise awareness of the state among Singaporeans.
"I think there hasn't been enough interaction. People to people. Business to business. Even at the governing level," he said.
He said that a crucial factor for Kedah's progression into manufacturing high value-added items would be logistics, and noted that the state is already looking at improving the sector.
Dr Balakrishnan said that while most Singaporeans are familiar with holiday island Langkawi, the state could raise awareness of other tourist attractions in mainland Kedah.
According to Dr Balakrishnan, Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir's main concern for Kedah was "economic development, raising wages and economic opportunities for the people".
Datuk Seri Mukhriz is the son of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
"Those are areas if we work together we can help him to also achieve his ambition," the minister said.
Dr Balakrishnan also had an audience with the ruler of Kedah, Sultan Sallehuddin Sultan Badlishah, on Thursday.
The minister invited Sultan Sallehuddin and Mr Mukhriz to visit Singapore at a mutually convenient time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Dr Balakrishnan also hosted tea for five Kedah State Executive Council members. At the tea, he had fruitful discussions on potential areas of further cooperation, including on tourism and investment opportunities.
In the evening, Dr Balakrishnan travelled to Penang and visited the constituency of Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh YB Puan Nurul Izzah Anwar. He was hosted on a tour of the constituency and service centre, followed by dinner.