Singapore and Britain launch new partnership to forge broader, deeper ties

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (left) made a call on Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Jan 4, 2019. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

SINGAPORE - As Singapore marks the Bicentennial of Sir Stamford Raffles' arrival and Britain begins a new era, both countries have started a partnership to broaden and deepen their ties in the years ahead.

The Singapore-United Kingdom Partnership for the Future was launched by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt during Mr Hunt's two-day official visit, which ends on Saturday (Jan 5).

The bilateral relationship "is as broad as it is deep", both ministers said in a joint statement that highlighted their countries' shared belief in free trade and international law, as well as their commitment to the rules-based multilateral system and to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.

The partnership will see both sides build on existing links and strengthen collaboration, especially in these four areas: the digital economy; sustainable business and innovation; security and defence; and education, culture and youth.

On Friday, Mr Hunt called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and they reaffirmed the strong, growing and broad-based ties between Singapore and Britain.

PM Lee and British Prime Minister Theresa May had discussed the partnership when they met at the Commonwealth Summit last April.

In an interview with The Straits Times ahead of the launch of the partnership, Mr Hunt said Britain's relationship with Singapore and the region will be critical as it heads towards leaving the European Union.

"We think that Singapore has a leadership role in this region. We think that we have a huge amount in common with Singapore - we share a lot of values and not just our history. So, we think we should be partners," he added.

"We don't agree on absolutely everything, but this (Singapore) is, for me, a good example of a very successful country with which Britain has very longstanding links, and I think we need to burnish those links as we take our first steps in a post-Brexit world."

He also commended Singapore's economic model and long-term focus, as well as its education system and its far-sighted investments in economic infrastructure. These are areas Britain can learn from as it starts a new chapter of its economic history, he added.

Mr Hunt said he also hopes to strengthen ties and trade relations with Asean. "The economic dynamism of Asia, the innovation that is apparent here, the focus on skills, on infrastructure - is something that the UK can learn from," he added. Britain will open a new mission to Asean this year.

The British Parliament will resume debate on Mrs May's Brexit deal in the coming week, with a new vote on it the week after.

Asked about talk of his ambitions to take over from Mrs May, Mr Hunt referred to his earlier remarks, saying: "What I have said is on the record."

Last month, he had said that every MP has a corner of his heart that says he would like to have a crack at the top job. "I'm no different." But he stressed in the interview that he is now focused on supporting PM May through the Brexit process.

"We are in the final stages of a very tense and difficult negotiation with the EU and we've got a very tense and difficult vote to get through Parliament... I don't think it would help the situation and I think PM May is doing an outstanding job in a very, very difficult situation. I want her to succeed and I want to support her to do that."

He had said at a lecture on Wednesday that he did not support a second Brexit referendum, describing it as "incredibly damaging" and "not something that any government should willy-nilly wish on its people".

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