Singapore, Czech Republic have much in common, beyond Bata

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis at the Istana yesterday. They discussed growing collaborations between the two countries, and areas to enhance the relationship, including trade, technology and researc
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis at the Istana yesterday. They discussed growing collaborations between the two countries, and areas to enhance the relationship, including trade, technology and research.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

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 last night.

Singapore and the Czech Republic also share similar outlooks: Both are small and 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," he 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 would be ratified early so that both sides can benefit.

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

Mr Babis, who is accompanied by Minister of Industry and Trade Marta Novakova, senior government officials and a business delegation, is in town for a two-day official visit that started with an official welcome ceremony at the Istana yesterday. 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 said 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, and areas to enhance the relationship, including trade, technology and research. They also exchanged views on domestic and regional developments.

In 2017, then President Tony Tan Keng Yam made a four-day state visit to the Czech Republic.

Mr Babis has invited PM Lee, who has not been to the Czech Republic, for an official visit soon.

Today, Mr Babis will visit the Botanic Gardens and attend the Singapore-Czech Republic Business Forum 2019 at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore.

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore, Czech Republic have much in common, beyond Bata'. Print Edition | Subscribe