HomeSingaporeSpeech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan During the Committee...

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan During the Committee of Supply Debate

Mr Chairman,

1 When I spoke at last year’s Committee of Supply debate, we had just repatriated 266 people from Wuhan, our own citizens, and this was just in the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

2 2020 has been a very busy year. At MFA, we undertook the largest ever consular operation in our history. Mr Alex Yam would know that we worked around the clock, and so far have brought back over 4,500 Singaporeans and their family members. There were many challenges. But we were determined to leave no Singaporean behind. Around the world, flights were disrupted, borders were closed, public health situations were deteriorating. We had an unprecedented number of requests for consular assistance. In some countries like India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, we were able to mount repatriation flights to bring large groups home. But there were other places where Singaporeans were stuck, in areas where we had no ground presence, no embassies. 

3 I am glad that members of this House have conveyed their appreciation to the men and women of MFA, all of whom, I want to emphasise, have remained unflinchingly at post overseas, throughout this crisis, even as it worsened. Many of them are still separated from their family members after more than one year. More than 300 of our officers continue serving at our overseas missions. They fly our flag abroad, keep in touch with Singaporeans overseas, help those who wish to come home, provide support to those who choose to remain. They also work closely with our economic and health agencies to sustain our flows of food, medical supplies, and vaccines. They are part of our Whole of Government effort for Singapore. I should also say, although I will not reveal the numbers, that some of our MFA officers have been infected by COVID-19 whilst they were overseas at post. For privacy and operational reasons, I hope you will not ask me for the numbers. Let me assure this House that fortunately, all of them have recovered and are well. But this reflects our debt to them, their grit, their resilience, and their commitment to duty in the face of crisis.

4 Our foreign service officers have worked over many years to build up diplomatic capital, and in the last one year we have drawn down on this capital. For example, where we had no embassies, we reached out to our partners including Malaysia, Japan, France, the UK, Israel, and Taiwan to help bring our people home. Similarly, where we could, we also facilitated the return and transit of other countries’ nationals, using either our aircraft or transiting through Changi Airport. Across the Causeway, we have been working closely with the Malaysian authorities to help more than 350 Singaporeans who are elderly, minors, or people with disabilities, so that they could reunite with their families in Singapore throughout these border closures.

5 Mr Alex Yam had also asked about how we helped to ensure supply chain connectivity. In the early days of the crisis, when borders were closing, we worked with partners like Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, and our fellow ASEAN countries to keep supplies of essential goods flowing. And this was absolutely crucial in that time of disruption and upheaval. Let me give you one example: we established an air freight connectivity partnership with New Zealand, where flights transported food from New Zealand to Singapore, and medical supplies from Singapore to New Zealand. Efforts over the years to enhance our presence at multilateral fora have also paid off. We have participated actively at the UN, the WHO, and the WTO, and our networks were also key to securing our vaccine supply early and minimising delays.

6 But beyond shoring up our foundation in a time of crisis, we are also building up resilience for a post-COVID future. In this shifting, uncertain, and volatile environment, strengthening our resilience is inextricably intertwined with increasing our relevance to the world. Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s reminder to us, to always seek relevance, has never rung more true than today. 

7 Let me touch on five priorities.  

8 First, diversifying and deepening our trade relationships. COVID-19 amplified the push for shorter supply chains for greater efficiency and security, and many countries stampeded into this. Nationalism, protectionism, became politically attractive in many parts of the world, especially when there was fear and uncertainty. So the fact that we were still able to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last year was an important boost for trade and economic integration, but also a statement, an affirmation in itself, of the importance of maintaining multilateral trade relationships. It reaffirmed the role of free trade for shared prosperity and peace. Both the RCEP and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) remain open for like-minded economies to join, as pathfinders to what we hope will ultimately be even wider agreements. For Singapore, I don’t think I need to remind this House that trade remains three times our GDP. So this is not a debating point – trade is our lifeblood. Sustaining international support for trade helps to bolster our economic growth, as well as create jobs for Singaporeans.

9 Second, to enhance ourselves as a nexus for trade, shipping, finance, and data, and even more importantly ideas, throughout this crisis, Singapore has continued to be a transit hub for foreign nationals who needed desperately to get home, as well as for crew changes for the maritime industry so that essential supplies, food, and medication can continue to move across the globe. This is one reason why the Ministry of Transport has been very busy. Changi Airport, our port, can never close. This is the other reason why you will continue to see from time to time, we will have imported cases, because unlike other countries, complete isolation and shutdown is not a viable strategy for Singapore. Even now, we are facilitating Singapore’s economic recovery by continuing to negotiate Reciprocal Green Lanes (RGLs), and other safe travel arrangements, although members of the House will also appreciate that green lanes, bubbles, will have to open and shut according to circumstances. We need flexibility. But the more important point is that we have continued to be a paragon of reliability, trustworthiness – that we have honoured at all times the sanctity of contracts. We have never impounded supplies, even when the crisis was deep. 

10 Third, to promote multi-stakeholder partnerships. COVID-19 has in fact shown that we can achieve new levels of partnership between government, civil society, and industry – across borders – when we are united around a common purpose. For example, we have seen unprecedented levels of international scientific and medical cooperation throughout this crisis, and let me give you an example. China’s scientists actually published the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in January last year, very early in the pandemic. Because they published it, and because Singapore also played a small but important role in curating and processing the massive amounts of data on the global genomic database for COVID-19, diagnostic tests were quickly developed all over the world, including in Singapore. And there has been effective cooperation across borders to share research and to develop tests, vaccines, and treatments.

11 Ms Tin Pei Ling asked how Singapore contributed to international efforts to fight COVID-19. Apart from our work on diagnostic kits, we were among the first in the world to launch digital contact tracing solutions, and one of the first to develop a contact tracing protocol, which we then open-sourced so that others could access it, use it, modify it. Singapore also played a key role in establishing the COVAX collective vaccine purchase mechanism. I believe several members, Ms Sylvia Lim and Mr Chong Kee Hiong, have asked about this. We must start with the principle that fair and equitable access to vaccines across the globe is essential. This is not an ideological position; this is a practical proposition because no one is safe until everyone is safe. And this is especially so for a small, open country like Singapore, because no matter how well we control the pandemic within our borders, life cannot resume and get back to the status quo ante unless the rest of the world is also made safer. This is why Singapore was an early supporter of the COVAX Facility, which seeks to harmonise public and private incentives for global vaccine development. We founded, and we co-chair, the Friends of the COVAX Facility (FOF) group, to provide impetus and support for the Facility’s development. It is very easy now to say that is obvious, and why did you not do more. But we put our hands up when it was not obvious, and when everyone was focused internally. Under this COVAX mechanism, self-funded countries like Singapore will be allocated a certain small amount; but really what this Facility does is to ensure that subsidised vaccines will be allocated to the other 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries. So on this count, Singapore is a net donor, have no doubts about that. In a panic, in a crisis, it is natural for each country to look to secure supplies for themselves first. But we know that the virus knows no borders. COVAX’s primary value is in supporting wider access to vaccines. Without it, we would all be collectively worse off. In fact, members may or may not be aware that it was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who introduced the term “vaccine multilateralism”, which everyone bandies about now. He used it in June last year, and it has been acknowledged by the WHO Director General and has entered the international anti-COVID lexicon. We have also contributed US$5 million to COVAX to help low-income countries access vaccines through this facility, and our quantum took into account the needs of the larger international community, our status as a tiny city state, but also as a responsible and contributing member of the international community. The need for a multilateral approach to fight COVID-19 is therefore self-evident. And this virus, I repeat, does not discriminate across language, race, religion, or borders. And therefore, it is in our collective interest to help each other.

12 The fourth priority is climate change, and many members have referred to this. I am pleased to report that even in the midst of the pandemic, many countries continued to push ahead with implementing their obligations under the Paris Agreement. China, South Korea, and Japan announced net zero targets, and we welcome the return of the US to the Paris Agreement. As a small island state, Singapore is disproportionately affected by climate change, but this is not a problem we can solve on our own. We must continue to work with the international community to operationalise, in a real and practical way, the Paris Agreement. For Singapore, MFA will work with other Ministries to do our part as a responsible member of the international community. We will seek new areas of cooperation with partners, in innovating to build greener, more liveable cities. And because the world has now reached the point where more than half of humanity live in cities, urban solutions that we generate in Singapore will have salience and will be relevant all over the world. We will therefore help sustain global momentum towards a more sustainable future.

13 This brings me to the fifth area, digital cooperation, which I think Mr Henry Kwek addressed. The digital revolution was well under way before the onset of COVID-19. But this pandemic acted as a stress test. It was a catalyst, it sped up our movement online, voluntarily or otherwise, and everyone had to rely on digital tools for work, for school, for purchases, for transactions. To sustain growth, and help us move ahead in the digital economy, we need to develop common frameworks, common global standards, to ensure that cross-border transactions, engagements, and digital exchanges, including e-payments and data flows, are safe, secure, and efficient. This is why we concluded Digital Economy Agreements with Australia, Chile, and New Zealand, and are exploring more with other partners. At home and abroad, we are also supporting capacity-building. DPM Heng has put a lot into education, skills, and training. This is to make sure that Singaporeans will have the skills and the capacity to be at the forefront of this global revolution. At the UN, ASEAN, and other platforms, we will continue to work with our partners to develop and strengthen norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. Here I am referring to cybersecurity, which in fact remains a clear and present danger for all of us, even more so that now that we are so dependent on digital technologies.

14 Making progress on these priorities that I just outlined will not be easy. The world will feel the pandemic’s aftereffects for several years to come. There will still be great geopolitical and macroeconomic risk for Singapore, and I want to spend some time addressing this question of risk to Singapore

15 First, global debt is already rising at unprecedented levels in the post-financial crisis era. Now, with COVID-19, you see a doubling of the global debt overhang. Governments have rolled out fiscal measures, loosened monetary measures and corporations have borrowed to stay afloat during the pandemic. In the short term, these steps have helped to avert the worst economic consequences for the globe. But these are ultimately not sustainable in the long term. That means managing the transition will be a perilous journey for all of us and especially for Singapore, because of the role that we play in the global economy.

16 Second, the economic impact of COVID-19 has deepened fault lines all across the globe and led to divisions both within and between countries and societies. Politically, that is why we have witnessed growing friction and distrust, rather than cooperation and confidence-building. There has been increased pressure for governments to take a nationalistic, protectionist, isolationist approach. We have already seen this happen, whether it is the scramble for masks or PPE, or even now, in the distribution of vaccines.

17 The third risk that we are going to confront is that COVID-19 has in fact accelerated the pre-existing downward spiral of US-China relations. Over the past year, we have witnessed sharp exchanges between senior figures on both sides and this is deeply worrying. The US-China relationship remains the linchpin for geopolitical stability. But, the fundamental shift in relations between the two superpowers preceded the outbreak of COVID-19. China is increasing its influence, asserting its place in the world. The younger generation in China, who grew up during the last 40 years, have only known ascendency. They will not tolerate being treated, or even perceive to be treated unfairly, by any foreign power. At the same time – and I tell you as a person who has had to travel frequently to the United States over the past five years except for last year – there is absolutely no doubt that there is now bipartisan support in the US for a tougher stance against China, to rectify what they believe are unfair practices, trade practices, as well as to deal with a contest – a competition – with a strategic rival, on a scale that the United States has never faced before. Even with the new Biden Administration, it is unlikely that the measures and tariffs against China will be removed in the near future. Friction over trade, emerging technologies, human rights, defence, finance, and cybersecurity have all continued unabated.

18 But I still believe, or perhaps you can say that it is a hope, that the US and China will find ways to manage their relations. Practical cooperation is possible, especially if it is conducted within a rules-based multilateral system, where there are established rules and norms of engagement. COVID-19 is an example. It has starkly reminded the world of our interdependence, and it would have been far more effective if the US and China had been able to cooperate effectively from day one.

19 Another area where you need effective cooperation between the two superpowers is climate change, and here I speak from personal experience. In 2015, as a ministerial facilitator for the negotiations that ultimately led to the Paris Agreement, I witnessed first-hand how effective cooperation between the US and China enabled us to achieve what would otherwise would have been unobtainable.  

20 President Biden and President Xi had their first official phone call recently, on the eve of Chinese New Year. It was a polite but firm conversation. They spoke about their respective concerns and differences, but they also discussed tackling COVID-19, the global health system, climate change, and countering proliferation. I think that is a good start, without wishing away all the fundamental hurdles, obstacles and prickliness in their relationship.

21 In our own region, it is crucial for us to maintain ASEAN Centrality amidst this greater geopolitical competition and uncertainty. We must continue strengthening ASEAN integration in concrete ways, whether in public health, economic cooperation, or establishing protocols to prepare for safe re-opening. This will reinforce the concentric circles of an open and inclusive regional architecture, which includes mechanisms like the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and help hold ASEAN together, even as external forces try to pull us or push us one way or the other, as will invariably happen.

22 But ASEAN also has additional internal challenges and Myanmar, unfortunately, is a case in point. Recent developments in Myanmar are a source of grave concern to Singapore and to the larger ASEAN family. The immediate priority is to halt all acts of violence and the use of lethal force, and to step back from a rapidly deteriorating situation. Yesterday, there was a significant escalation in violence across cities in Myanmar. Security forces shot at civilians with live rounds, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas. Many deaths and injuries were caused. We are appalled by the use of lethal force against civilians. We express our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, and we hope that the injured will recover quickly. We strongly reiterate that the use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians is inexcusable under all circumstances. We call on the Myanmar military authorities to exercise utmost restraint, to desist from the use of lethal force, and to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation in order to prevent further bloodshed, violence, and deaths. Prolonged instability in Myanmar will have serious consequences for Myanmar, for ASEAN, and across our region. We therefore call on all parties in Myanmar to engage in discussions and to negotiate in good faith, to pursue a long-term peaceful political solution to achieve national reconciliation, including a return to the path of democratic transition. And we believe this can only begin if President U Win Myint, State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, and the other political detainees are immediately released. 

23 Despite ASEAN’s core principles of consensus and non-interference, ASEAN can still play a constructive role in facilitating, hopefully, a return to normalcy and stability in Myanmar. This was why Singapore strongly supported ASEAN’s efforts from the start, including the ASEAN Chair’s Statement. We believe in engagement and dialogue in good faith with all relevant stakeholders. A special ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be convened via videoconference tomorrow, where we will listen to the representative of the Myanmar military authorities. ASEAN will also work closely with all our external partners to foster an inclusive dialogue with all key stakeholders. We must ensure that the mutually beneficial relations that ASEAN and our partners have built do not become paralysed by this issue.

24 If we can hold together and maintain ASEAN Centrality, the longer-term prospects for our region are still robust. The word “centrality”, it is not just jargon. The choice for Southeast Asia is either we hang together, as Mr Rajaratnam had said at our founding, or we become fragmented into battleground and proxy states, and vessel states. So when we say “centrality” and “integration”, these are crucial for all ten members of Southeast Asia, all the more so when there is geopolitical instability. But if we can hold together, hang together, maintain Centrality, then the longer-term prospects for our region in fact are bright. Despite the pandemic, consider the fundamentals of growth in our region, which remain sound. We have 650 million people. ASEAN has a growing middle class, and in fact will be one of the parts of the world in the next 20 years with the fastest-growing middle class. We also have a rapidly expanding digital economy. It is no accident that we have a disproportionate number of unicorns, not just in Singapore, but also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and it is expanding across ASEAN. We are also well-placed to leverage the reconfiguration of supply chains that is occurring now in the world. Accelerated no doubt by COVID-19, but really, fundamental trends that were already there beforehand. And so it is imperative that we press on with economic integration, fulfil the ASEAN Community Blueprints, and continue to expand cooperation with all of ASEAN’s external partners in an inclusive way.

25 Let me now turn more specifically to how Singapore will navigate the relationship between the US and China. We have a longstanding and strong relationship with the United States of America. Our cooperation is multi-faceted and includes vital areas like defence, security, economic relations, cybersecurity, people-to-people, and education. As the digital economy grows, we should all remember that the US is home to a vast pool of innovation, technology, and talent that they harvest from all over the world. Its companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are global champions. It remains at the forefront of developments in science and technology. American companies like Pfizer and Moderna have been trailblazers on vaccines and on treatments. American innovation and enterprise remain key engines for global growth. American companies will continue to lead the digital revolution. This is why I never count the Americans out. The cumulative stock of US Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Southeast Asia stands at more than US$338 billion. The exact number is not so important. What is more important is that this sum is more than what the US has invested in India, Japan, South Korea, and China combined. Stop for a moment to think about that. The US is more invested in Southeast Asia than India, China, Japan, and South Korea combined. Every time I met President Trump, I reminded him of this statistic. And there is another factor: approximately 85% of the US’ total investments in Southeast Asia are in Singapore – which creates many good jobs here. You would understand why our relationship with the US remains crucial. And the US military presence has underpinned peace and stability in our region for over half a century.

26 I recently spoke with newly appointed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Fortunately, both are old friends. I am familiar with them and I have known them in various incarnations before their current positions. We reaffirmed our excellent relationship and robust cooperation, and discussed doing more in areas like global health, cybersecurity, and digital economy so that together, we can better tackle the challenges of our generation.

27 With China, we share a deep, historical, cultural, and linguistic legacy. We have a wide-ranging and important relationship. SMS Chee Hong Tat will speak more about that after this, but I want to highlight a few points. 

28 China remains our largest trading partner and we are, surprisingly, their largest foreign investor. We have three Government-to-Government projects, the Suzhou Industrial Park, the Tianjin Eco City, and Chongqing Connectivity Initiative and all these have made commendable progress over the years. And you would know that DPM Heng has co-chaired the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC). Despite the pandemic, we have kept up the pace of cooperation and engagements with China. We have sent medical equipment and supplies to each other at crucial stages of the crisis. For operational reasons, I cannot go into details. But let me reassure you that when the chips were down on either side, fortunately at different times, we stepped up and we helped, and that is how we built trust. That is how you prove that you are a reliable partner: when the crisis breaks out, and the chips are down. Therefore, you should not be surprised that China was also the first country with which we established a Reciprocal Green Lane, both because we were able to control the pandemic domestically, but also because of the large reservoir of trust. Politburo Member Yang Jiechi visited Singapore last August, and I also met State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his transit in Singapore in October. And needless to say, I have been on the phone with him several times in the last year. Going forward, we will continue to strengthen existing collaboration, with Singapore plugged into China’s dual-circulation strategy, and we will look for new opportunities and break new ground.

29 Given our deep friendships and our investments with both the US and China, it is inevitable that we will feel the tug of great power competition from time to time. We must expect this; we must not be upset or panic whenever we feel these tugs. In fact, I would say it is a design feature of the way we engage the two superpowers.  It is normal for two superpowers to try to influence others into their way of thinking, particularly if we are considered to be an important account, worth pushing and pulling. But I want to stress that it is normal, and in fact it is imperative, for Singapore or for any other country for that matter to want to be able to choose for ourselves, instead of being forced into making decisions by other people. In other words, not to be forced into making invidious choices. So, in navigating between the superpowers, we must continue to maintain a consistent and principled foreign policy. And for me, in simple terms, it means I say the same thing to Wang Yi as I say to Antony Blinken. I do not have the luxury of saying different things to both of them and hoping that they do not compare notes. 

30 Next, we exercise our sovereign rights, but with full respect for a rules-based multilateral world order and international law, and regardless of inducements or threats. What that means is that from time to time, we will have to say no to one or the other, or both. And when that happens – if you look back over the last five years, there have been incidents. We depend on the unity and cohesion of the Singapore public and members of the House, across party lines, to stick together. That is how we maintain our relevance and our strategic autonomy, and that is how we preserve our independence and unique identity as a multi-racial, multicultural city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia, by being relevant to both, and at the same time making it very clear to both of them that we will never be a stalking horse or a Trojan horse for the other.

31 This same principle applies in our dealings with our closest neighbours, which I think Ms Rachel Ong and others have asked about. With Malaysia, we have always sought a win-win approach in the many areas where we have common interests. I had previously spoken about how we had helped to bring each other’s citizens home. I told Hishammuddin that we tumpang each other’s transport, and we facilitated travel between our countries for those with urgent and compassionate needs, because so many of us have relatives across the Causeway. We have coordinated well with Malaysia on our COVID-19 safeguards to minimise disruptions to our companies, workers, and citizens, as well as the cross-border flow of goods and supplies. Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is a good friend whom I have known for two decades now. We met at the Causeway with the boundary separating us, on 26 July 2020, to discuss travel arrangements in light of the border closures. Shortly after, we launched the RGL and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) on 10 August 2020 for essential work, business, and official travel. Given the resurgence of COVID-19 cases worldwide, including in Malaysia in recent months, we had to suspend the RGL for three months from 1 February 2021, but we will review this at the end of the suspension period. We will continue to work with Malaysia to gradually resume the cross-border movement of people, but this will need to include mutually agreed public health protocols, preserve the public health and the safety of our peoples, while taking into account the medical resources available on both countries. I will continue to maintain regular communication with both Foreign Minister Hishammuddin and Menteri Besar of Johor Hasni Mohammad. 

32 We have also managed to make progress on bilateral projects and issues. For example, we concluded negotiations to resume the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Project in July last year. And when completed, the RTS Link will ease Causeway congestion, improve connectivity, and foster more convenient people-to-people ties, and generate shared economic and social benefits. Where we have had differences, we have also been able to manage them in a calm, rational way. For example, Malaysia allowed the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) Bilateral Agreement (BA) to be terminated on 31 December 2020, and has agreed to compensate Singapore for costs already incurred by Singapore in fulfilling our obligations under the HSR BA, in accordance with the agreement. We had been flexible in trying to work out an arrangement that was acceptable to both sides, and had agreed to suspend the construction of the HSR Project in September 2018. And then in May 2020, we agreed to extend the suspension period to 31 December 2020. However, and I think that Minister Ong has explained to this House before, we could not accept Malaysia’s latest HSR proposal as it constituted a fundamental departure from our prior agreement. Ultimately, while we seek cooperation with our neighbours, we must always ensure that Singapore’s long-term interests and rights are also protected. Still, it is good that both sides have been able to handle this amicably, and will continue cooperation in other areas. 

33 In Malaysia, Movement Control Orders (MCOs) have also been implemented in different states. Malaysia declared a State of Emergency which will last until August 2021. Both the pandemic and political situation will remain fluid, and we probably will see an election in Malaysia later this year. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to look for opportunities to work with Malaysia, and to make progress where we can. 

34 On Indonesia, we continue to have a close and substantive partnership, and even more so during COVID-19. High-level exchanges have continued, including Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s recent visit to Singapore. In fact, I have been in almost daily contact with her either on the phone or by WhatsApp for quite some time. We will continue to work together towards a strong recovery. Areas for cooperation between Singapore and Indonesia include public health, economic growth, investments, financial cooperation, and safe travel. There has already been progress on some of these areas, and I will give you a few quick examples. PM and President Joko Widodo endorsed the renewal of our Bilateral Financial Arrangement in 2020, which will help support monetary and financial stability in both our countries. We also launched an RGL with Indonesia in October 2020, to keep up business activities and people-to-people exchanges in a safe way. While the RGL is currently suspended, we look forward to working with Indonesia to resume this when both sides are ready to do so when the pandemic is under better control. We have also been providing medical supplies, including diagnostic test kits, PCR machines, and PPE to both the central and regional governments, as well as various non-governmental organisations.

35 In addition, we have taken steps on outstanding bilateral issues. At the last Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat, PM and President Jokowi welcomed our agreed “Framework for Discussions” where military training and the Flight Information Region (FIR) will be discussed separately but concurrently. And I am pleased that our officials on both sides have continued discussions to move these issues forward. It speaks to the strength of our relationship that though the current situation may be challenging, we continue to look for ways to work constructively together. 

36 As we look ahead, there is much uncertainty on the horizon, particularly the foreign horizon. The waters around us remain turbulent. There will continue to be unexpected currents, gales, typhoons, and even tsunamis that could potentially throw us off course. But the last year has shown that we, as Singapore Inc., as the Singapore people, we have demonstrated our resilience as a people and as a country. We have made sacrifices for each other. We have looked out for each other’s well-being and safety. We kept the public health situation under control. And leaving no Singaporean behind anywhere in the world has been perhaps the best reminder of the value of citizenship – not just the red passport opening doors to the rest of the world. We have also preserved our relevance and strengthened our reputation as a principled, reliable, and credible actor on the international stage. And this will put us in good stead going forward, as we continue to pursue Singapore’s long-term interests, always preserving our independence and unique identity as a multi-racial, multicultural, city-state in the heart of Southeast Asia. This is our way of fulfilling DPM Heng’s challenge of emerging stronger. We will emerge stronger in an uncertain world.

37 Thank you.

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