Singapore and Australia deepen bilateral ties with raft of new agreements

(From left) Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan attend a video teleconference on March 23, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Australia on Monday (March 23) signed 10 agreements to advance bilateral cooperation in new areas, including on data innovation and the digital economy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a video call for the 5th annual Singapore-Australia leaders' meeting, after both leaders earlier agreed to meet virtually instead of in person.

Said PM Lee: "This year was my turn to visit Canberra, but unfortunately we had to put it off because of Covid-19, but I'm glad that the pandemic has not stopped us from meeting, (as) our officials have found a creative solution and we're holding this video conference instead."

The virtual meeting shows that in this digital age, government business can continue despite the pandemic, he said, adding that it also showed both countries' commitment to advancing bilateral ties even as they deal with the coronavirus.

Mr Morrison agreed, and commended Singapore's response to the Covid-19 crisis, which he said Australia had looked at very carefully as it planned its own response.

Mr Morrison added he was pleased that "even in the midst of these very difficult circumstances, the ongoing important work around our digital economy agreement" and other important areas of cooperation like defence could continue.

Singapore and Australia signed an agreement that upgraded a memorandum of understanding on military training area development to a treaty.

The agreement will see the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) and a new Greenvale Training Area (GVTA).

Slated to be completed by 2024, the SWBTA expansion will see the training area for the Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) largest annual overseas training, Exercise Wallaby, grow significantly in size to allow for longer, more mechanised and integrated training across the SAF's three services.

Together, the SWBTA and GVTA will provide a military training area 10 times the size of Singapore.

Other agreements inked include several on digital economy cooperation, such as on artificial intelligence development and commercialisation.

The two countries will also collaborate closely on cyber security, data innovation and the mutual recognition of digital identities.

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