UK may draw strength from Singapore independence: British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Singapore's education system, long-term investment in infrastructure and strategic approach to staying competitive in the world hold some lessons for Britain.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Singapore's education system, long-term investment in infrastructure and strategic approach to staying competitive in the world hold some lessons for Britain.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It did not make Republic more insular but more open, says British Foreign Secretary

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union in three months, its Foreign Secretary said it can draw encouragement from Singapore - on how gaining independence in 1965 did not make the Republic more insular, but more open.

A post-Brexit Britain hopes to deepen its ties with South-east Asia, through measures such as a partnership with Singapore to be launched this week, and the opening of a new mission to Asean in the British Embassy in Jakarta later this year, said Mr Jeremy Hunt yesterday.

With the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar's landing in Singapore just over three weeks away, Mr Hunt said that the people of Singapore have built on the British legacy of the rule of law, clean administration, independent courts and the English language.

"The United Kingdom will always be ready to work alongside like-minded countries, and few in Asia are more like-minded than Singapore," he said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 34th Fullerton Lecture at The Fullerton Hotel.

Mr Hunt, speaking ahead of his official visit to Singapore tomorrow - the first to Singapore by a UK Foreign Secretary since 2015 - said what was right for Singapore will not always be right for Britain.

"But there is much we can learn from Singapore, not least the excellence of its education system, the long-term investment in infrastructure and a strategic approach to how a nation sustains competitive advantage in the world," said Mr Hunt, who is visiting Malaysia today.

BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY JEREMY HUNT ON:

BREXIT AND... SEPARATION

Like Britain on 29th March this year, Singapore, too, faced an extraordinary challenge back on 9th August, 1965, when it separated from its larger neighbour. In Lee Kuan Yew's famous words: "Some countries are born independent. Some achieve independence. Singapore had independence thrust upon it."

Yet, his memoirs record how not everyone shared his anguish, least of all the investors who swiftly decided that "independence was good for the economy". By the second day, the value of almost all of Singapore's industrial stocks was climbing...

Today, Singapore has risen to become the eighth-richest country in the world per capita, surpassing Germany, France, Sweden and - though I whisper it softly - the United Kingdom.

As we leave the European Union, Britain can draw encouragement from how Singapore's separation from the peninsula did not make it more insular but more open. In Lee Kuan Yew's phrase, 1965 marked the moment when Singapore "plugged into the international economic grid".


LEARNING WHAT WORKS

What was right for Singapore won't always be right for Britain. We are committed to our social model, and as a former health secretary, I am particularly proud of our National Health Service with universal provision, free at the point of use, and in which my counterpart, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, worked with great dedication for two years.

But there is much we can learn from Singapore, not least the excellence of its education system, the long-term investment in infrastructure and a strategic approach to how a nation sustains competitive advantage in the world.


BRITAIN'S POST-BREXIT ROLE

Britain's post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies.

That doesn't mean being dogmatic or forcing our values on others. And, of course, we recognise that every country is different.

But it does mean speaking out for those fundamental principles to our friends, as well as those who set themselves up in opposition to them.

He noted that Singapore's real gross domestic product per capita has multiplied 15 times since its independence to reach US$58,000 (S$79,000), making it the eighth-richest country in the world by this measure, and surpassing even Britain.

Quoting founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, he said 1965 marked the year when Singapore "plugged into the international economic grid".

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29, following a referendum in 2016.

British lawmakers are due to debate the Brexit deal next Wednesday, before voting the following week.

In a speech on Britain's role in a post-Brexit world, Mr Hunt said the international order that has broadly existed since 1945 is under threat.

"What is wonkishly called the rules-based international system is under greater strain than for many decades, and the evidence is all around us," he said, citing examples such as Russia's annexation in Ukraine, the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime and the expulsion of 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

However, while Britain is not a superpower nor does it have an empire, it has its strengths - as the fifth-largest economy in the world, home to some of the world's top universities and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, he said.

"Most importantly, in a world where it is rarely possible for one country to achieve its ambitions alone, the UK has some of the best connections of any country - whether through the Commonwealth, our alliance with the United States and our friendship with our neighbours in Europe."

He said he would be launching the new UK-Singapore Partnership for the Future with Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan tomorrow.

The partnership was agreed by the prime ministers of both countries last April at the Commonwealth Summit, with education, innovation, security and defence, culture and youth being some of the areas that will be covered.

Mr Hunt said Britain is the biggest European investor in South-east Asia, with Asean trade of nearly £37 billion (S$63.7 billion), and over 4,000 British companies employing more than 50,000 people in Singapore.

"Those connections are why Britain's post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies," he added.

Correction note: The story has been updated for accuracy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'UK may draw strength from S'pore independence: Hunt'. Print Edition | Subscribe