Old ties, new links and more opportunities for Singapore and UK

President of Singapore Tony Tan Keng Yam and Queen Elizabeth II share a toast during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in central London, on day one of the President of Singapore's state visit to Britain, on Oct 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
President of Singapore Tony Tan Keng Yam and Queen Elizabeth II share a toast during a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in central London, on day one of the President of Singapore's state visit to Britain, on Oct 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Last week, on the eve of President Tony Tan Keng Yam's state visit to the United Kingdom, The Straits Times noted in its article, "When the Merlion sups with the British lion", that it would be "an opportunity for both sides to reflect on their long relationship" and to "celebrate the ever-evolving dynamics of an old relationship that started with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819".

The programme put together by our officials and their colleagues in the Royal Household and the Istana certainly focused on the shared heritage of our two countries, developed over almost two centuries since Raffles landed in Singapore. The fact that President Tan stopped at Raffles' statue in Westminster Abbey was one nod to that history, as was his lunch at Lloyd's of London, built on the site of the old East India Company, Raffles' employer.

Both President Tan and Her Majesty The Queen also paid tribute to the depth of our friendship and the importance of our ties in their speeches at the state banquet, which we both attended. But, more importantly, they both also addressed the key question of what our two countries can achieve together in the future.

Because that is what the state visit was really about. While it certainly helped to highlight the deep reservoir of affection and goodwill that President Tan mentioned on more than one occasion, it also set out the broad themes of our future collaborations.

We announced a new Innovation and Research Partnership (IRP), signed by our two prime ministers. The IRP builds upon the UK-Singapore Partners in Science programme, through which over 50 joint workshops have been organised.

Some important collaborations include the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technology, a partnership between the University of Cambridge, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, as well as the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, a partnership between Imperial College and Nanyang Technological University. The new IRP takes our cooperation to a new level, to promote the process of translating research and technology into jobs and prosperity in both countries.

Also announced were new Commonwealth Scholarships in Innovation for Singaporeans to study in the UK, to be managed through a revived Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore.

Many of our companies and academics also took part in the Innovating Together In The 21st Century seminar during the state visit, sharing best practices and exploring opportunities to do more in areas such as health care and cities alongside President Tan, his accompanying ministers and British Trade Minister Lord Livingston.

Two separate workshops on Science Of Learning and Future Cities were also held during the state visit - the latter workshop was attended by our colleagues, Minister of State for National Development and Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, and Minister for Cities Greg Clark.

We will be stepping up our efforts to work together on cyber security, making sure our businesses and vital services are protected from new threats. We'll work together on climate change, looking ahead to crucial meetings in 2015.

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Tan discussed how we can do more to tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria), including exchanging experiences in deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes; and about learning from Singapore's experience in tackling the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) when it comes to dealing with Ebola and other pandemic health risks. They also explored how best to maximise the opportunities offered to our companies by the expeditious ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.

The visit illustrated the extensive people-to-people ties between Singapore and the UK, an important element to our future relationship.

President Tan met around 200 students, out of the more than 6,000 who currently live in the UK, at Bristol University and Imperial College. At Aardman Animations in Bristol, he heard about how two friends, freshly graduated from school, created a successful creative business and are now entering a partnership with the British Council to deliver English language training through a pilot site in Singapore from next January. And at Kew Gardens, he commemorated their ties with Singapore dating back to the mid-19th century, and heard about their plans to enhance the exchanges between Kew and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), including in support of SBG's bid for Unesco World Heritage Status.

A number of other areas remain of great importance, including our roles as members of the Commonwealth, and our defence cooperation at the bilateral level and through the Five Power Defence Arrangements, whose most recent exercise concluded in Singapore during the state visit. The exercise involved not only Typhoon fighter jets from the Royal Air Force deploying alongside air and naval forces from Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand, but also land forces from all five member-nations for the first time.

Although the state visit is now over, we are sure that it will live long in the memory for all who took part and witnessed the evident warmth between our countries. The visit came, of course, on the eve of Singapore's celebrations of its 50th anniversary of independence in 2015.

President Tan invited Her Majesty or Her representative to attend those celebrations and there will surely be many opportunities for the UK to celebrate this important milestone for Singapore.

That, together with the state visit, marks the beginning of the next important chapter in the story of the deep and enduring partnership between our countries.

The first writer is Singapore's Second Minister for Foreign Affairs. The second writer is the UK's Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.