Singapore and the Czech Republic have more in common than Bata shoes and beer: PM Lee

Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Jan 14, 2019.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Jan 14, 2019.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Jan 14, 2019.
Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis calls on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Jan 14, 2019.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Bata shoes and beer. These are two strong associations that Singaporeans have with the Czech Republic.

Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, like the "many generations of school children in Singapore", can attest to having worn a pair of white canvas Bata shoes to school.

"I wore them too," he said in his speech at the Istana, where he hosted Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis to an official dinner on Monday (Jan14).

Singapore and the Czech Republic also share similar outlooks: both are small and are export-oriented trading economies, PM Lee said.

"Because both our countries are dependent on trade, we share an interest in an open and rules-based multilateral trading system," PM Lee said, adding that he was grateful for the Czech Republic's "strong and consistent support" for the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which was signed last October. He hoped the agreement will be ratified early so that both sides can benefit.

The two countries celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations last year (2018).

Mr Babis, who is accompanied by the Czech Republic's Minister of Industry and Trade Marta Novakova, senior government officials and a business delegation, is in town for a two-day official visit which started with an official welcome ceremony at the Istana on Monday. It is his first trip to Singapore and to Asia since taking office in December 2017.

Speaking at the dinner, Mr Babis also highlighted other similarities between the two countries.

"The stance of our governments on various issues is close enough - not only because we are affected by global problems, but also because our countries form a part of (the) international democratic community and have the privilege to enjoy peace, prosperity and security," he said.

Both countries should "start building new chapters" of their bilateral ties in areas from education to science and research, he added.

He also noted his country could be viewed as "a gateway to the EU" and that Singapore could similarly help "open doors" for Czech entrepreneurs in South-east Asia.

Earlier, Mr Babis called on President Halimah Yacob and PM Lee.

He and President Halimah reaffirmed warm and friendly relations and also welcomed the increasing bilateral exchanges at all levels in recent years, particularly the growing economic exchanges and ties between both countries' institutes of higher learning.

He and PM Lee discussed growing collaborations between the two countries as well as in areas including trade, technology and research to enhance their relationship. They also exchanged views on domestic and regional developments.

In 2017, then President Tony Tan Keng Yam went to the Czech Republic on a four-day state visit. Mr Babis has invited PM Lee, who has not been to the Czech Republic, for an official visit soon.

On Tuesday (Jan 15), Mr Babis will visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens and attend a Singapore-Czech Republic Business Forum at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel.

He will also meet Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and visit, in the afternoon, Nanyang Technological University's Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles.