Singapore and the Maldives inked two agreements yesterday to expand air connectivity and strengthen bilateral cooperation.
With the Open Skies Agreement, the airlines of Singapore and the Maldives will be able to operate as many passenger flights or cargo services as they want, between and beyond both countries.
A separate memorandum of understanding was also signed between the countries' foreign ministries to step up bilateral exchanges and cooperation.
The signings at the Istana were witnessed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who is on his first state visit to Singapore.
President Halimah Yacob, who hosted Mr Solih to a state lunch, said that since diplomatic ties were established in 1975, links between the two countries and their peoples have been growing steadily.
The Open Skies Agreement will bring the peoples and businesses even closer together, Madam Hali-mah said. "Air connectivity is a crucial lifeline for our economies. It supports tourism and connects people and services," she said.
She added that Singapore Airlines was one of the first airlines to start direct flights to and from the Maldives in 1984, and this supports the active presence of Singapore companies such as Banyan Tree and Hotel Properties in the Maldives, and the thousands of Maldivian visitors to Singapore every year.
Singapore carriers currently operate a total of 20 weekly services to Male, the capital of the Maldives.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min signed the air pact with Maldives' Foreign Affairs Minister Abdulla Shahid.
Madam Halimah also said that both countries have worked well together in the international arena and share many common interests as small island nations.
"Singapore and the Maldives are both located at the centre of the world's busiest maritime trade routes, and are highly susceptible to global strategic, economic and environmental forces," she said.
She said the agreement signed between the countries' foreign ministries will not only strengthen cooperation bilaterally, but also at international fora.
It was inked by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman and Mr Shahid.
Mr Solih said the pact will "prove a boon to our respective foreign services and will be of great help in nurturing the next generation of young Maldivian diplomats".
Meanwhile, Madam Halimah expressed Singapore's appreciation for the Maldives' support and cooperation at the United Nations and other multilateral platforms, along with the Maldives' leadership as chair of the Alliance of Small Island States from 2015 to last year.
She said Singapore is happy to continue sharing its developmental experiences, announcing that the Republic will offer a two-year technical cooperation package to the Maldives. With it, Singapore will conduct study visits for Maldivian officials in the areas of governance and sustainable development.
To date, more than 1,300 Maldivian officials have participated in the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which provides training for officials from other nations.
Mr Solih said the Maldives may be small in size, but it is determined to find its "honourable place in history". He quoted Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as having said: "A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of their leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history."
The Maldivian leader said that last September, his country went to the polls to "revive" the democratic journey which it undertook nearly a decade ago.
The Maldivian people, he said, asked for an honest government which will work in the interests of the people and country. "It is this idea of an honourable place that compels us to re-engage with the rest of the world," he said.
Mr Solih said his country "needs a little help from our friends" to achieve the aims of ensuring good governance, realising its developmental goals, battling terrorism, educating its youth, fighting climate change and embracing the digital future.
"I'm confident that Singapore will share its knowledge, experience and expertise to help us achieve our goals," he added.
He invited Madam Halimah to visit the Maldives at a mutually agreeable time.
Mr Solih, who was accompanied by his wife, First Lady Fazna Ahmed, and ministers and officials, was given a welcome ceremony at the Istana.
He met PM Lee and Madam Halimah and visited Semakau Landfill to learn about Singapore's experience in waste management.
Mr Solih and Madam Fazna also visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where an orchid was named in their honour.