If there is one thing Singapore as a small country is exceptionally good at, it is building relationships with foreign nations. Right after a 4-day official visit to China last week (Dec 5 – 8), Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong is off to Brunei for the 9th Singapore-Brunei Young Leaders’ Programme (11 – 14 Dec).
For DPM Wong and earlier generations of leaders, these overseas visits are how Singapore engages with the world. Moreover, in an increasingly polarised and turbulent world, Singapore must continue to build bridges and foster relationships to stay relevant and advance its national interests.
Bilateral meetings at the highest level
Earlier this year, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to China ended on a high note, leading to an “All-Round, High-Quality, Future-Oriented Partnership”. But more than being a mouthful, the upgraded ties are the culmination of a long and fruitful relationship with China. One that has been strengthened through decades of goodwill and collaboration by our political leaders. Elsewhere, Singapore leaders continue to maintain that kind of high level engagement with key partners, including US, Japan, EU and ASEAN neighbours.
As Singapore ushers in a new era of diplomatic relations with China, the baton has now fallen on DPM Wong to take this partnership to greater heights. Touching down in Beijing, bilateral meetings with Chinese leaders were high up on the agenda.
“I had fruitful discussions with Premier Li Qiang and Vice Premier He Lifeng on how we can prepare for future opportunities…and further strengthen our economic ties through financial connectivity,” shared DPM Wong.
Next, it was time for the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) in Tianjin. As the highest-level platform for China and Singapore to discuss their strategic direction, the JCBC is practically the Oscars of bilateral meetings. Co-chaired for the first time by DPM Wong and Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang, the significance is not lost on us. After all, here is an opportunity for the next generation of leaders to know each other and continue to find ways to contribute to each other’s growth.
And it’s not just empty talk. As the first physical forum in two years, the 19th JCBC concluded with the signing of 24 agreements. Besides an upgraded free trade deal, Singapore and China will explore new areas of collaboration, including renewable energy, food security and the digital economy. There are also plans to encourage people-to-people exchanges with more direct flights and a 30-day visa exemption between countries.
Reflecting on these positive outcomes, DPM Wong noted that these deliverables will open new opportunities, support our businesses and create more jobs for Singaporeans.
Similarly, the visit to Brunei seeks to reaffirm the special relationship between two of the smallest countries (in terms of population) in Southeast Asia and deepen ties between their future leaders.
“From defence to trade, there is much we can do together to take our relations forward,” shared DPM Wong over a lunchtime discussion with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah.
Continuing an established tradition in political leadership
The friendship Singapore has with both China and Brunei is one that spans over decades. However, nothing is left to chance in the world of international affairs. Since coming into power, each successive generation of PAP leaders has sought deeper engagements with the world, nurturing the requisite political capital to project Singapore as a shining red dot.
With these recent overseas visits, DPM Wong is continuing a long-established tradition of international engagements. It is also a role that requires him to exercise judgement, cultivate relationships and build rapport with politicians across a spectrum of beliefs and personalities.
In the last couple of years, our 4G leaders, led by DPM Wong, have stepped up to the plate, emerging as steadfast and confident statesmen, capable of holding their own alongside global leaders to fly the Singapore flag high.
Picture Source: Lawrence Wong via Facebook