MFA Press Release: (Edited) Transcript of Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Opening Address at the 12th Coordinating Meeting of the Thailand-Singapore Civil Service Exchange Programme on 28 March 2016 in Bangkok

Your Excellency Mr Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Thailand

Friends from Thailand

My colleagues from Singapore

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very honoured to be here in Bangkok for the 12th Coordinating Meeting of the Thailand-Singapore Civil Service Exchange Programme. In fact Foreign Minister Don was just telling me that he was present at the first meeting in 1998 in Singapore. And I also want to thank you and your colleagues for being such wonderful hosts. Actually for Singaporeans, we're always very happy to come to Bangkok. So this is just another good excuse for us to come here.

Singapore and Thailand have a long history of excellent bilateral ties. In fact, Thailand was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Singapore in 1965, just one month after our independence. The friendship at all levels continues to strengthen. And Thailand and Singapore were also founding members of ASEAN and both countries have worked hard over the decades to promote regional stability and integration. There's a steady stream of high-level exchanges that just reflects the strength of the relationship. For instance, last year Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited Singapore three times including attending the State Funeral of our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and also our 50th National Day Parade. I was also personally very honoured to welcome Minister Don to Singapore few months ago when he organised the Khon performance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. And we have also been very honoured to welcome Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to Singapore in January just two months ago.

The economic ties between Singapore and Thailand are strong and there are substantial bilateral trade and investment flows. Our economies are closely intertwined. Total bilateral trade reached about S$30 billion in 2015, and Thailand was one of Singapore's top 10 trading partners. Our updated Double Taxation Agreement came into force last month and this will be mutually beneficial for our enterprises and people in both countries. Singapore has been amongst Thailand's top investors for many years. In fact, the latest data indicates that Singapore is Thailand's second largest investor in terms of projects approved by Thailand's Board of Investment for the first eleven months of 2015. I don't think that number's going to change when we add in the last month of the year. Thailand is an important investment destination for Singapore companies, and our investments are active in diverse areas including food and beverage, hospitality, transport and the logistic sectors. Many familiar Singapore brands such as CapitaLand, UOB, BreadTalk and Charles & Keith have an established presence in Thailand. And the Singapore-Thailand Enhanced Economic Relationship (STEER), which was established in 2002, remains an important institutional link to enhance bilateral economic cooperation. As part of the ASEAN Economic Community, our two countries also work very closely to promote intra-regional trade and greater connectivity. Both sides are committed to implementing the regulations and the measures of the AEC, and growing together as one interconnected region with a single market and a single investment zone.

On the people-to-people front, greater connectivity not only encourages an exchange of goods, but really has to involve an exchange and a flow of people and ideas. Thailand is a favourite travel destination for Singaporeans, just as Singapore ranks among the top travel destinations for Thai tourists. As a result of this high level of exchanges, our people have grown to know each other better. There's good understanding and appreciation of each other's cultures, and this ranges from a love of food to art. Last year saw a year-long series of events in both Singapore and Thailand, commemorating the 50th year of our diplomatic relations. This included a photo exhibition showcasing photographs of Singapore taken by Thai photographers. In fact, Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn herself graced the opening of the exhibition, which featured some of her own photographs. There was also a film festival in Bangkok showcasing Singapore films; and we had a jazz concert in Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, featuring renowned Thai musicians, including a saxophonist "Koh Mr Saxman". Our cultural collaborations have also continued and flourished. The newly established National Gallery in Singapore signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Fine Arts Department of the Thai Ministry of Culture last year, and this will formalise future cooperation and exchanges.

The CSEP, which has been established since at least 1997, has been a useful institutional platform for the two civil services to exchange ideas, to share experiences, and just as important, to build long-lasting friendships. The theme for this year's CSEP is "Promoting Cooperation among Civil Service Agencies to Support ASEAN Connectivity". This is very timely as we have now formally established the ASEAN Community on the 31st of December 2015. This is a significant moment in ASEAN's history. It will contribute significantly to the region's growth. It will create development opportunities for everyone. So we need to press on with regional integration. And as we succeed and ASEAN becomes more stable, more integrated and more cohesive, we will also become a more effective player on the regional and international stage. This theme is also in line with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. The CSEP is an excellent example of how strengthened institutional ties can promote greater connectivity between countries. The CSEP is an avenue in which our agencies can exchange information, build relationships, share good ideas and let me add also exchange ideas which haven't worked so we can also learn from each other's mistakes. Our successful collaboration has led to new areas of cooperation. I am very pleased to see the close partnership in the sharing of experiences in water use and recycling. And this year, the programme will focus on capacity building in water pollution control and treatment technology. I say this not just because I used to be the Minister for Environment and Water Resources.

On the technical front, we will be cooperating, we will be working with the Thailand International Cooperation Agency to jointly organise programmes on "Food Security and Agriculture" in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In line with promoting greater connectivity, the education agencies on both sides have agreed to increase the twinning of schools with the objective of promoting exchanges and building friendship at the student and young people level. In the legal and judicial cluster, an MOU has been signed, formalising a partnership dedicated to continuing judicial education between the Office of the Judiciary and the Singapore Judicial College. Such institutional links lay the foundation for both sides to learn from each other as we navigate today's and tomorrow's uncertain and complex operating environment.

The world has changed tremendously over the past few decades, and certainly over the past five decades of diplomatic relations and the past two decades of CSEP. There will be many new challenges. The international economic landscape is undergoing a revolution and all of us have to recalibrate our strategies for growth. And to compound things further, there is still an ongoing slowing in the global economy. So we are not short of challenges both in the short-term and the long-term. We are going through a 4th Industrial Revolution, including the rise of new platform technologies involving big data analysis, additive manufacturing or 3D printing, robotics, and all these are going to fundamentally transform the way we live, work, and play. It's going to revolutionise the jobs of the future, and as has occurred in all past industrial revolutions, it also has tremendous impact on equality, inequality, the accumulation of wealth, and ultimately even on the political scene itself. The rise of non-traditional security threats such as religious radicalisation and extremism will further exacerbate our security uncertainties. We recall the bombing near the Erawan shrine here in Bangkok; in fact just as I came here, I read about the bombing in Lahore. We live in an uncertain, dangerous and painful world. So amidst all these challenges, developing linkages, sharing ideas, building relationships are really crucial. And today's meeting is an excellent opportunity for delegates from both Singapore and Thailand to share those experiences, exchange ideas, and equally important, strengthen the bonds of friendship that bind our two nations together. So I wish you all a most fruitful and most productive session. And thank you all for your presence and your support. Thank you very much.

Source: MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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