SINGAPORE - Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Brunei and Singapore worked closely on vaccines, supply chains and connectivity, supporting each other in weathering the storm together, President Halimah Yacob said on Wednesday (Aug 24).
Two and a half years on, both countries have emerged stronger, and endured as havens of peace and stability in a world increasingly beset by geopolitical competition, uncertainty and fault lines, she added.
She was speaking at a state banquet in honour of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, who is on a two-day state visit to Singapore.
Both countries are also working on new avenues for cooperation in areas of mutual strategic interest, she noted, citing the signing of four agreements.
These memorandums of understanding (MOUs) cover energy and the green economy, trade and investment cooperation in food and medical products, youth education and public service capacity development.
Said President Halimah: "We have defied the odds to succeed. As small countries, we must continue to stay united, while being nimble, open and connected to the rest of the world."
Sultan Bolkiah's state visit here is his fifth, and represents the high point of a series of top-level exchanges between the two countries following the reopening of their respective borders. The visits are a testament to their special relationship.
Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Ms Ho Ching attended Sultan Bolkiah's 76th birthday celebrations and received royal honours. Earlier this month, Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah led a delegation here for the 8th Singapore-Brunei Young Leaders' Programme.
On Wednesday evening, Sultan Bolkiah was given a ceremonial welcome at the Istana before he called on the President.
Madam Halimah said his unstinting support enabled both countries to build on the solid foundation for bilateral ties first laid by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Sultan Bolkiah's father, the late Seri Begawan.
"Our bilateral relations have grown from strength to strength ever since. Bound by close cultural and people-to-people links, there is much more that we can do together," she said.
These relations are underpinned by longstanding defence and economic cooperation, she noted, saying Singapore remains grateful for Brunei's provision to the Singapore Armed Forces of jungle training areas, where generations of soldiers have trained.
"The Currency Interchangeability Agreement established in 1967 remains a shining symbol of our mutual trust and deep interdependence," she added.
Under the agreement, Singapore dollar notes are on a par with the Brunei dollar and are legal tender in Brunei, and vice versa.
Madam Halimah also noted that as the Asean chairman last year, Brunei steered the region through the pandemic and brought Asean closer to its goal of a people-centric, inclusive and forward-looking region.
"As the two smallest countries in Asean, we have shared a strong and natural affinity from the very outset. By standing shoulder to shoulder, our strong partnership has amplified our voices on the regional and international stages. It has also helped us flourish as two sovereign nations which our peoples can be proud of," she said.
In his speech, Sultan Bolkiah said he was pleased that both countries came together during the pandemic, and credited their founding leaders' wisdom, friendship and confidence and trust built over the years for enabling the currency agreement and close defence cooperation.
He expressed gratitude for Singapore's contribution of medical equipment and vaccines at the peak of the pandemic, and when Covid-19 vaccines were in short supply globally.
"Now, as we learn to live in a new normal, we are increasingly faced with new challenges, the most recent being supply chains' disruption due to geopolitical tensions happening elsewhere," he added.
"We have already realised that as small countries, we cannot fight the currents of uncertainty on our own. Therefore, I am happy that we are working together to ensure our resilience, particularly through several MOUs which have been signed during this visit."
Two of the MOUs were signed by Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong and Brunei's Minister of Finance and Economy II Amin Liew Abdullah.
Under the MOU on Cooperation in Energy and Green Economy, both countries will strengthen collaboration in areas such as emerging low-carbon technologies like hydrogen and solar energy, in carbon capture and storage, and in carbon markets.
The MOU on Strengthening Trade and Investment Cooperation in Food and Medical Products will see both sides develop the capacity and capability to mutually support each other in times of crisis, such as facilitating the efficient movement of food and medical products between Singapore and Brunei.
Mr Gan said the signing signals their mutual interest in moving towards a more sustainable and resilient future.
Meanwhile, the MOU on youth education scholarship will support more young Bruneians in studying in Singapore, and the MOU on Cooperation in Public Service Capacity Development will facilitate the exchange of best governance practices between both civil services.
Madam Halimah noted that some of the ideas discussed during Prince Billah's visit had been translated into the MOUs, and looked forward to them bringing tangible benefits to both countries and their peoples, especially the younger generation.
The Sultan’s visit ends on Thursday.