Singapore and UK share a rich and enduring friendship based on long history: President Halimah

(From left) Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, President Halimah Yacob and Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee at the Istana on Oct 31, 2017.
(From left) Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Charles, President Halimah Yacob and Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee at the Istana on Oct 31, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore and the United Kingdom enjoy a natural affinity owing to a common history as well as share a "rich and enduring relationship'', President Halimah Yacob said on Tuesday (Oct 31).

The shared history dates back to 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded a trading port here, setting the stage for the development of modern Singapore, she added.

Sir Stamford also planted a global outlook into Singapore's DNA, said Madam Halimah, highlighting the trade and research ties between the two countries. The UK is Singapore's fifth largest European trading partner and sixth largest investor globally.

There are more than 4,000 British companies in Singapore, including Rolls-Royce, GlaxoSmithKline and Dyson, all of whom have contributed significantly to innovation here, she noted.

The President was speaking at an official dinner at the Istana's Banquet Hall for heir apparent Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. She hosted the dinner with her husband, Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee.

Madam Halimah noted that Sir Stamford's influence can be seen in the nation's language, form of governance and legal systems, as well as in architectural details of buildings, road names and schools.

For instance, the vision for Singapore Botanic Gardens, the first Unesco World Heritage Site here, came from Sir Stamford himself, who was a keen naturalist, she added.

"These connections offer us a glimpse of a relationship that spans two centuries, during which bilateral ties have matured in many aspects. I am confident Singapore-UK ties will continue to flourish," said Madam Halimah, before raising a toast to the Queen.

Prince Charles, who toasted the President and people of Singapore, also highlighted the close bilateral ties.

He recounted his first official visit here in 1979. He thought he would have a small lunch with founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Instead, it included "over 20 courses of Chinese food, together with a large proportion of the Cabinet", he said with a laugh.

"By the end of the lunch, I was feeling thoroughly intellectually challenged, and had learned a lot from one of the most eminent leaders of the Commonwealth."

Over the years, Singapore and the UK have prospered as well as suffered together, he said, referring to the soldiers who fought in the two World Wars.

"Today, ours is a close partnership of equals underpinned by a shared history and, if I may say so, the trust and understanding that comes with true friendship."

Partnership is key to addressing the challenges the world faces today, from climate change to terrorism, and also to fuel the economy to deliver better futures for all, he added. "At the core of our relationship, Madam President, is our shared belief that, by working together, one plus one can equal so much more than two."

Ahead of the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London next year, the Prince and his wife began their Commonwealth Tour in Singapore, where the first such meeting was held 36 years ago. They will also vist Malaysia and India.

The two countries' heads of state have also visited their counterpart's country, Madam Halimah noted.

Queen Elizabeth II had made three state visits to Singapore and hosted then-President Tony Tan Keng Yam on his state visit in 2014, the first such visit to UK by a Singapore president.

The UK hosts one of the largest communities of overseas Singaporeans, and about 40,000 Britons reside here, forming the largest oversea British community in Southeast Asia. "Strong people-to-people ties continue to underpin the many facets of the excellent bilateral relations between Singapore and the UK," she said.

Earlier in the day, the royal couple received a ceremonial welcome at the Istana and called on Madam Halimah and her husband.

They also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana.

 

Madam Halimah and Prince Charles reaffirmed the excellent ties between Singapore and the UK and discussed the importance of interfaith harmony.

PM Lee and the prince discussed regional and climate change issues, said the Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement.

Prince Charles also laid a wreath at the Cenotaph in Connaught Drive in memory of those who died fighting in the two World Wars, attended a dialogue on interfaith issues with religious leaders and young people, and did the treetop walk at MacRitche Reservoir Park.