Much scope for Singapore and Malaysia to expand cooperation: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob (centre) delivering a speech at a banquet held by Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, and his wife, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, at the Istana Negara in Malaysia on Tuesday. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
President Halimah Yacob being welcomed by performers enroute to a state banquet hosted by Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

KUALA LUMPUR – There is much scope for Singapore and Malaysia to expand their cooperation for mutual benefit, President Halimah Yacob said at the Istana Negara on Tuesday during a state visit to Malaysia.

In the 58 years since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, bilateral ties have grown from strength to strength, Madam Halimah noted as she delivered a toast at a banquet in her honour held by Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, and his wife, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah.

“Today, our two countries enjoy substantive and mutually beneficial cooperation spanning the economic, security and people-to-people spheres,” Madam Halimah said.

The three-day visit ending on Wednesday is her first state visit to Malaysia, and reciprocates Sultan Abdullah’s visit to Singapore in October 2022.

Noting that April will mark the first anniversary of the reopening of both countries’ borders to each other after they were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, Madam Halimah said she was also heartened to know that there have since been slightly more than one million Singaporeans travelling to Malaysia each month through the land checkpoints alone.

“When the much-awaited Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link is completed by 2026, connectivity between two already-close neighbours will be further strengthened,” she said.

Madam Halimah said that during her meeting with Singaporean and Malaysian business leaders on Monday, there was a “palpable sense” that companies were looking forward to the opportunities on both sides of the Causeway, from telecommunications and infrastructure to e-commerce and climate solutions.

Beyond economic ties, both countries have a shared history and ties of kinship, she said, noting that the King and Queen also have many personal connections to Singapore. For example, Sultan Abdullah won a gold medal for Malaysia in polo in the 1983 South-east Asia Games held in Singapore.

Madam Halimah said both countries must ensure that their young people continue to grow up familiar with one another, through arrangements such as bilateral education partnerships.

Additionally, with the external environment becoming more volatile and challenging, Singapore and Malaysia – as founding members of Asean and like-minded partners – must help to keep the region united and credible, she said.

“Without a stable external environment, all of us in Asean will find it harder to transform our economies and improve the lives of our peoples,” she added.

In his toast, Sultan Abdullah said he shared Madam Halimah’s sentiments that both countries should work together more closely, calling for collaborations in new and emerging areas such as the digital and green economies, and food security.

He noted the shared history, cultural similarities and people-to-people ties between both countries, adding: “I firmly believe the strong bond of friendship among our peoples will continue to be an important factor forming the core of our bilateral relationship.”

He added that as founding members of Asean, Malaysia and Singapore must continue to work closely in promoting the region’s stability and security, and in making Asean a dynamic regional grouping.

On Tuesday, Madam Halimah also received a state welcome ceremony at the Istana Negara, following which she and the King planted a gelam tree in the courtyard of the palace in Kuala Lumpur.

The tree planting ceremony is a tradition usually accorded only to rulers of each state in Malaysia when they visit the Istana Negara.

The gelam tree was picked for its significance in Singapore, with Kampong Glam named after it.

This preceded a ceremony at which an orchid was named in honour of Madam Halimah and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, who is accompanying her on the trip. It was the first time an orchid naming ceremony was part of a state visit by a foreign dignitary to Malaysia.

The Vanda Halimah Yacob Mohamed is a cross between the Vanda Kulwadee Fragrance and the Vanda tessellata. Each stalk of between 19cm and 24cm in length bears nine to 10 flowers that have white petals with bright violet-blue lips and purple spots.

President Halimah Yacob (second from right) and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, attending an orchid naming ceremony hosted by Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (left), and his wife, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, at Istana Negara on March 21, 2023. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Separately, Madam Halimah also received a call by Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday at the St Regis hotel after her visit to the Istana Negara.

In a Facebook post, she said that the two of them reaffirmed the strong commitment of both countries to work constructively and pragmatically together, especially in an era of greater geopolitical uncertainty.

She also said that Singapore is confident that under Datuk Seri Anwar’s leadership, bilateral cooperation would strengthen across multiple domains and deliver concrete benefits to the people and businesses of both countries.

“We also discussed the importance of leaders promoting social unity in this post-pandemic world,” she added.

She said she told Mr Anwar about the work of various structures in Singapore to promote social cohesion, including key platforms such as the International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which she had started in 2019.

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