MFA to continue forging bilateral and regional ties

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann said that MFA helped more Singaporeans while they were overseas as travel restrictions eased over the past year. PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - Singapore’s bilateral relations with China remain excellent, anchored by cooperation in various areas such as healthcare, sustainability and tourism, as well as engagement between leaders from both sides, said Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sim Ann on Monday in Parliament.

Speaking in Mandarin on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) outreach and engagement plans, she highlighted longstanding initiatives such as the 18-year-old Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) and the government-to-government projects in Suzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing as a reflection of the “breadth and depth of Singapore-China cooperation”.

She also noted the good engagement between leaders on both sides, with President Halimah Yacob meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in 2022.

Singapore also welcomed several delegations from China including, notably, Vice-Premier Han Zheng for the 18th JCBC in 2022.

Ms Sim said that in-person meetings, especially with the Chinese adjusting their pandemic management approach, are necessary to build trust.

She also called Singapore’s relationship with the United States “excellent”, noting the visits to Singapore in 2022 by key members of President Joe Biden’s administration, such as then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Singapore’s greater engagement with the US will benefit not just the Republic but also the region, she said.

For example, she added, by participating actively in the US-initiated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework involving 14 countries, Singapore can work closely with the members to develop an open, inclusive and flexible framework that brings tangible benefits for workers, businesses and communities.

Singapore also continues to deepen collaboration with like-minded partners such as Japan and South Korea, especially in areas such as digitalisation.

It is also looking for more opportunities to grow its relationship with emerging markets such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific Islands, said Ms Sim.

Several Members of Parliament, including Nominated MP Raj Joshua Thomas, raised questions about MFA’s Non-Resident Ambassador (NRA) scheme.

There are 46 such ambassadors accredited to 48 countries and four international organisations.

Ms Sim said that NRAs amplify Singapore’s diplomatic outreach and nurture ties with various partners, especially in places where the Republic does not have diplomatic missions.

“Our NRAs are reputable individuals both in the public and private sectors, who have distinguished themselves in the fields of their respective professions and have contributed extensively to the community,” she said, adding that their performance is assessed regularly.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if Singapore could increase its contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Ms Sim replied that Singapore makes multiple voluntary financial contributions to a range of UN funds and programmes.

Singapore focuses on capacity building in developing countries by extending technical assistance and training, she said.

For example, about 150,000 foreign officials have taken part in the Singapore Cooperation Programme to date.

The programme has been adjusted to meet the evolving needs of these countries, such as by refining health-related courses to help strengthen pandemic resilience, and having a stronger focus on digital transformation.

In response to MPs’ questions on consular assistance, Ms Sim said that MFA helped more Singaporeans while they were overseas as travel restrictions were eased over the past year.

This included facilitating the issuance of 730 Documents of Identity, or temporary travel documents, so that Singaporeans who have lost their passports overseas can return home. This was twice the number issued before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019.

Even in conflict areas or where Singapore does not have a diplomatic mission, MFA will do its best to leave no Singaporean behind, she said.

She related how the ministry worked with its Thai counterparts in 2022 to evacuate a Singaporean mother and her baby from war-torn Ukraine back to Singapore.

She added: “This reflects the human and personal touch in MFA’s consular assistance, which we endeavour to provide.”

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