Enduring Singapore-UK ties

The pageantry that greeted President Tony Tan's state visit to the United Kingdom added colour to a relationship that is based on fundamental connections of history and mutuality. These stretch from the peaceful creation of contemporary Singapore by Stamford Raffles, to the peaceful transfer of power that led to the independence of Singapore and beyond. Relations between the peoples of the two countries have been marked by a residual and resilient quality of trust that has contributed to a high level of cultural comfort.

Singapore is striding towards the 50th anniversary of its independence without either the colonial cringe or the violent rejection of the past that afflicts some post-colonial nations. Britain, post-empire, treats Singapore as an equal international partner.

What Dr Tan's visit, the first by a Singaporean President to Britain, achieved was to bring the past into the present. Today, both countries have to make a living in a globalised world. For Britain, that means having to strike a balance between the demands of its membership of the European Union and the need for wider partnerships, not least with Asia and North America. For Singapore, Asean is the first circle of many concentric relationships that tie it to Europe, North-east Asia and North America. There are overlaps here.

In particular, the two great global cities of London and Singapore need to leverage on their cultural and financial openness to the world to preserve their prosperity. Both cities face the imported pressures of globalisation in key areas of domestic cohesion such as affordable housing and social integration. Singapore's situation is the more acute of the two because, unlike London, it is both a city and a state, and therefore has no national hinterland which can absorb the demographic tensions and spillovers of globalisation.

However, neither city has a choice but to remain a global node, and each can learn from the other. At the national level, the sharing of best practices in economic thinking, education policy, and research and innovation methods could bring the two states closer in a market- and technology-driven world.

It is inevitable that Britain and Singapore will need to cooperate even more closely in the strategic sphere. They both will have to come to terms with the rise of new powers as the post-Cold War era enters an unpredictable phase. Also, both states are governed by the secular rule of law. That very concept is threatened by the virulent rise of religious insurgents who use violence to redirect the flow of history. Tackling the threat of extremism and terrorism provides yet another platform on which Britain and Singapore will have to contemplate the future jointly.