Small nations must remain open to survive, says Vivian

Openness and diversity more critical in current world, he tells Pacific island leaders

Small countries need to remain open and engaged with global networks if they are to survive and thrive, especially in the current world, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

"They do not have the option of turning inwards," Dr Balakrishnan told ministers and senior officials of the 14 Pacific island states and Timor Leste who are in Singapore on a three-day study visit.

He also said at a welcome reception that conversations on openness and diversity are even more critical now in the current world.

The visitors, including heads of key regional organisations in the Pacific, will get an insight into Singapore's experience in areas such as port and water management, as well as public administration and tourism.

Dr Balakrishnan noted that the 14 Pacific islands, Timor Leste and Singapore are similarly vulnerable owing to their openness: "There is much for us to learn from each other as we tackle these challenges."

The visit provides an effective platform for them to share ideas and experiences, and to foster strong camaraderie, he added.

It is the second visit following the 2012 inaugural Singapore-Pacific Ministerial Study Visit.

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore will renew a special technical assistance programme for the Small Island Developing States grouping.

The programme comes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, which trains foreign officials in areas such as human resource and economic development.

It has trained almost 5,000 officials from the Pacific island states and Timor Leste.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said he wants to explore ways for his country and Singapore to work together in more areas. Singapore has provided training to his country's airport authorities, he said.

Yesterday, the two nations signed an open skies agreement for their airlines to fly directly to and from their countries. Said Mr Puna: "It is a significant investment for us, not just economically. I see it as an investment... in further deepening and strengthening our relationship."

Ms Ritite Tekiau, deputy secretary of Kiribati's Public Service Office, said she is keen to find out more about tourism promotion and development in Singapore. "The priority sectors for Kiribati's 20-year plan are fisheries and tourism," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2017, with the headline 'Small nations must remain open to survive, says Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe