KUALA LUMPUR - Economic interdependence and partnership remain a fundamental component of strong Singapore-Malaysia relations, said President Halimah Yacob during her first state visit to Malaysia, where she urged both sides to work closely together.
The two nations can then promote sustainable development, spur technological breakthroughs and create good jobs for their respective peoples, she said at a reception on Monday for more than 170 overseas Singaporeans living in Malaysia.
Madam Halimah, who will be in Kuala Lumpur till Wednesday, said: “That we remain Malaysia’s largest foreign investor in terms of stock investments over the years and each other’s second-largest trading partners speaks volumes about our symbiotic, win-win economic relationship.”
Yet, the connection between both countries goes far beyond dollars and cents, she added.
“At the heart of our unique relationship is the strong people-to-people linkages rooted in kinship, friendship and a shared heritage,” she said.
For example, along with Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are working together to jointly nominate the kebaya for the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The kebaya is a traditional woman’s garment popular across the region.
The head of state also noted that sometimes, between close neighbours, differences may arise.
“However, a strong reservoir of trust and familiarity has helped both sides navigate such issues calmly and pragmatically,” she said.
“I am heartened to learn that there is a strong sense of camaraderie among Singaporeans living in Malaysia,” she added. “If there is anything which the pandemic has taught us, it is the central importance of looking out for each other.”
Madam Halimah also urged the reception attendees at the St Regis hotel to contribute their unique perspectives and remain plugged in with developments at home – for instance, by contributing to the Forward Singapore initiative.
The Forward Singapore nationwide engagement exercise was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong last June, with a road map guiding the future of Singapore expected to be released in the second half of 2023.
Meeting more than 20 Singaporean and Malaysian business representatives earlier in the day, Madam Halimah noted that even the Covid-19 pandemic had not been able to shake the economic interdependence.
In 2022, bilateral trade grew 18.9 per cent to reach $153 billion, and Singapore remains Malaysia’s top foreign investor, while Singapore is still its top investment destination.
“We can be competitors but we can also be collaborators, and in that way, we are able to achieve more for our people and for your companies,” she said.
The close economic ties extend to the flourishing partnerships between the two business communities.
“Our two countries have not rested on our laurels. Indeed, we have actively diversified our collaboration in new and emerging sectors,” she said. For example, when Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim visited Singapore in January, three memorandums of understanding were signed to bolster cooperation in cyber security and the digital and green economies.
“Working closely together on these and other areas will enable Singapore and Malaysia to better navigate the choppier economic waters ahead and ensure that here in South-east Asia, we remain two bright spots – open to global technologies, talent and investment,” said Madam Halimah.
“At the same time, we need to ensure that our peoples benefit from the fruits of free trade, greater digitalisation, and sustainable development. We must not assume that our societies are immune to the kind of forces which have fuelled isolationist and anti-globalisation sentiments elsewhere.”
Madam Halimah is in Malaysia at the invitation of the Malaysian King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah. On Tuesday, the Sultan and his wife will host a state welcome ceremony and banquet for Madam Halimah and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee.
The couple will have an orchid named after them, a first for a foreign dignitary on a state visit to Malaysia.