British Prime Minister David Cameron, who arrives today for a two-day official visit, hopes it will lead to a flourishing of new ties and the strengthening of old ones that date back nearly 200 years.
In an exclusive e-mail interview with The Straits Times, Mr Cameron noted that his visit followed that of President Tony Tan Keng Yam to the United Kingdom last October, during which the Singapore leader summed up the bilateral relationship as one of "old ties, new links and more opportunities".
"I hope my visit can help both countries to seize those opportunities and create more," said Mr Cameron, whose delegation of mainly business leaders and officials points to a visit that is strongly focused on forging greater trade and investment links.
The visit also comes at a time of key milestones - this year marks Singapore's golden jubilee, and also the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Britain.
"As we near the 200th anniversary of our ties, our two countries are closer than ever. Singapore accounts for half of all UK exports to Asean, there are over 1,000 UK companies in Singapore," said Mr Cameron. "I want us to build on these ties, and I will be discussing with Prime Minister Lee (Hsien Loong) how we encourage greater trade between our two countries."
We are encouraged by Asean’s efforts to enhance free trade and regional connectivity and want to support it.
MR DAVID CAMERON
The building of regional trade connections and the search for business opportunities are inextricably linked in the relationship going back to the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. These interests are also key motivators in the current British mission.
Two business delegations are accompanying the official team, who includes the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd, Minister of State for Trade Francis Maude and Minister of State for Small Business Anna Soubry.
Singapore is the second stop of Mr Cameron's four-nation tour of South-east Asia, which includes Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Noting that the visit to the region is his first outside of Europe since his re-election in May, Mr Cameron said it was a deliberate choice.
"The UK wants to see the region fulfil its great potential, including successful regional institutions. We are encouraged by Asean's efforts to enhance free trade and regional connectivity and want to support it on this agenda, so we will be providing further technical assistance on areas such as financial services development and integration, infrastructure financing, competition policy and intellectual property."
Mr Cameron also flagged interests other than trade. Britain, he said, shares some of Asean's security challenges, such as the need to promote a rule-based global order and the fight against extremism.
"Britain can offer expertise on practical counter-terrorism work - dealing with the threat from foreign fighters and investigating potential terrorist plots. And I think Britain can learn from countries in the Asean region on the work they have done to tackle the extremist ideology and to build tolerant and resilient societies," he said.
"It is also in the UK's interest, and that of all countries, that maritime disputes are resolved peacefully and in line with international law, and that the flow of trade is not put at risk or disrupted," he added. "For example, we want to work with Singapore to better protect the Strait of Malacca from the growing threat of piracy."
Britain is also looking to closer cooperation with Singapore in areas such as research and development and cyber security.
Mr Cameron will attend an official welcome ceremony tomorrow and call on Dr Tan and meet PM Lee, who will host him to lunch.
The British Prime Minister is to deliver a speech at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy today.