President Halimah and German president highlight "Vertrauter'' at state banquet

President Halimah Yacob hosts a state banquet at the Istana for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Katana on Nov 2, 2017.
President Halimah Yacob hosts a state banquet at the Istana for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Katana on Nov 2, 2017.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - On the surface, Germany and Singapore look very different, but the two countries have forged a tight bond, President Halimah Yacob said on Thursday (Nov 2).

This is because of "like-mindedness and shared strategic interests", Madam Halimah said at a state banquet for German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

She noted that their languages and cultures differ, their histories have never really overlapped and Germany is much larger than Singapore and has natural resources.

But both share a close partnership and are trusted friends at international fora, a role known in German as "Vertrauter", she said to applause.

Describing a meeting with her counterpart earlier in the day, she added: "We agreed that in today's world, where the tide appears to be turning against globalisation and integration, it is more critical than ever to continue to be steadfast proponents of free trade, multilateralism and the rule of international law."

Both leaders hailed the warm ties between their countries at the Istana dinner.

Trade links between them are strong: Germany is Singapore's largest trading partner in Europe with bilateral trade reaching $20 billion last year, while Singapore had been Germany's largest trading partner in Asean for many years.

Both presidents expect this economic partnership to grow further when the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement comes into force.

There are more than 1,600 German companies in Singapore, contributing not just investments but also to the development of the local workforce, especially in advanced manufacturing and biotechnology, said Madam Halimah. She recalled, from her years as a unionist, the old Rollei camera factory in Kampong Chai Chee, which employed thousands of Singaporeans.

She also cited the bilateral cooperation in defence, education, culture, and science and technology. For example, the Republic of Singapore Navy conducts submarine training in Germany's Baltic Sea coast, and there is much Singapore can continue to learn from Germany on vocational training and lifelong skills development, she added.

Madam Halimah and her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, hosted the dinner at the Istana for Dr Steinmeier and his wife, Madam Elke Budenbender.

Dr Steinmeier is in Singapore for a two-day state visit which ends on Friday (Nov 3) - the first by a German head of state. It is a historic milestone in their 52-year relationship, Madam Halimah noted.

Coincidentally, she said, Thursday marked 95 years since the arrival of German scientist Albert Einstein in Singapore. He spent a night here on his journey in a steamship from Germany to Japan.

Dr Steinmeier said Singapore has made great economic and political progress owing to its leaders' foresight, and Germany wants to continue working closely with Singapore "hopefully along with other European partners, on this basis of political reason and foresight", he said.

"The fact that I'm visiting you at the very start of your term in office underlines how close and how important these relations are," he added, to Madam Halimah.

"We Germans are increasingly focusing our interests and energy on Asia. In this context, it is of key importance for us to expand our relations with Singapore and to work together for a rules based international and regional order."

Earlier, Dr Steinmeier received a ceremonial welcome at the Istana, where he called on Madam Halimah and met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He also delivered a lecture on foreign policy and global issues at Singapore Management University.

On Thursday, the Singapore Tourism Board said it had signed an agreement with German trade fair organiser Deutsche Messe AG to hold an Asian edition of the world's largest trade show for industrial technology in Singapore for the next three years. It will be organised with local trade event company SingEx Group.

Called "Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific - A Hannover Messe Event", the show is expected to boost Singapore's manufacturing sector, said the board.