Singapore and Australia reaffirm ties, look to work closer together on sustainability

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison reaffirmed the excellent state of bilateral relations between the two nations.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison reaffirmed the excellent state of bilateral relations between the two nations.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Singapore and Australia are looking to work closer together to enhance trade and investment in environmentally sustainable goods and services as well as drive down emissions in maritime operations, as part of deepening ties between the two nations.

A new Green Economy Agreement and a public-private partnership to lower emissions in maritime shipping and port operations were part of discussions between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday (June 10).

The two leaders met at the Istana and reaffirmed the excellent state of bilateral relations, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a statement.

Mr Lee and Mr Morrison also reaffirmed their shared commitment to strengthening the Singapore-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) agreement, which the two countries signed in 2015 to deepen cooperation. They noted the good progress made in the CSP over the past year, despite the challenges presented by Covid-19.

The agreement's five pillars are economics and trade, defence and foreign affairs, science and innovation, people-to-people and the digital economy, which was added as a fifth pillar last year. The MFA said that both prime ministers agreed to keep the CSP forward-looking by furthering cooperation in emerging areas.

By building upon a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on low-cost emissions signed last year, both countries will be embarking on a public-private partnership on low-emissions maritime and shipping, said the MFA.

A joint statement by the two prime ministers on Thursday said that this partnership will start off with a combined initial contribution of up to A$30 million ($30.8 million), and will see business and government in Australia and Singapore work together on low emissions fuels and technologies.

"The prime ministers also discussed exploring a broader partnership on a Green Economy Agreement to facilitate trade and investment in environmentally sustainable goods and services," the MFA added.

The ministry also said both countries will start discussions on a FinTech Bridge to enhance cooperation in fintech policy and regulation, which will build upon the high-level digital economy agreement that the two countries made last year.

This FinTech Bridge will look for opportunities for collaboration on joint innovation projects, as well as facilitate investments and new business opportunities in digital trade and financial services, said the two prime ministers.

On the defence front, PM Lee said at a joint press conference with Mr Morrison that the Republic greatly appreciates Australia's generous support for the Singapore Armed Forces' training "over many years, in many air bases and camps all over Australia".

He cited the two countries' Treaty on Military Training and Training Area Development in Australia, which came into force in December, as a milestone in their longstanding defence partnership.

The treaty allows the SAF to have access to a larger training area in central and northern Queensland, and facilitates the development of military training areas and facilities.

A new MOU between the health ministries of the two countries was signed on Thursday to enhance cooperation on healthcare and health technologies.

The two countries have also agreed to ink an agreement on operational science and technology cooperation to develop and enhance capabilities for homeland security and law enforcement agencies to prevent crime and maintain law and order.

An existing MOU between the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will be renewed as well.

Both leaders said that in an increasingly uncertain and complex strategic environment, Australia and Singapore are like-minded partners with a high degree of strategic trust. They agreed to increase the frequency and complexity of professional exchanges, dialogues and training activities between the two countries.

The two leaders also discussed regional developments on Thursday, and they both said that a strong, cohesive, and responsive Asean is vital to the region's success and recovery.

Agreeing that Asean could play an important role in facilitating a peaceful solution to the situation in Myanmar, Mr Lee and Mr Morrison called for an immediate cessation of violence, the release of all political detainees there, including foreigners, and inclusive dialogue between all parties.

Both prime ministers also reaffirmed their shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with international law.

They underlined Australia and Singapore's strong support for freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded trade in the South China Sea.

"They also emphasised the importance of non-militarisation of disputed features and self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability," said the joint statement.

"They urged all claimants to take meaningful steps to ease tensions and build trust, including through dialogue."

Mr Morrison is in Singapore on Thursday en route to the Group of Seven summit in Britain, where he is expected to have his first face-to-face meeting with United States President Joe Biden.