SPEECH BY PRESIDENT TONY TAN KENG YAM AT THE STATE BANQUET HOSTED IN HONOUR OF THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF NEW ZEALAND SIR JERRY MATEPARAE AND LADY JANINE MATEPARAE ON 7 JULY 2015 AT THE ISTANA
Your Excellency Lieutenant General
The Right Honourable Sir Jerry Mateparae
Lady Janine Mateparae
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to welcome the Governor-General of New Zealand, Sir Jerry Mateparae, Lady Janine and the New Zealand delegation to Singapore.
Sir Jerry has a special connection to Singapore, having served two stints here in the 1970s and 1980s as part of the New Zealand Defence Force deployment in Singapore. On a personal level, Sir Jerry’s second daughter, Renee, was in fact born in Singapore. Sir Jerry of course went on to have a distinguished military career, during which he became Chief of Army and later Chief of Defence Force. He continued to maintain strong ties with Singapore, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (Military) by the Singapore Government in 2011 for his significant contributions to advancing Singapore’s defence relations with New Zealand.
We are therefore delighted that Sir Jerry is back in Singapore for this State Visit. Sir Jerry and Lady Janine have many friends in Singapore, and family too – I understand that their daughter Krisha and her fiancé are based in Singapore. We are happy to have them here with us this evening.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Jerry for attending the State Funeral of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, earlier this year in March. The New Zealand Parliament adopted a motion on Mr Lee’s passing and New Zealand flew its flags on government buildings at half-mast on the day of Mr Lee’s funeral. We deeply appreciate this gesture of support and friendship.
Your visit to Singapore comes at a significant moment. 2015 marks not only the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence but also the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and New Zealand. New Zealand was one of the first countries to recognise an independent Singapore. Indeed, New Zealand has been a close and trusted friend of Singapore for a long time, even before Singapore became independent. New Zealand soldiers were among the forces that defended Singapore during World War Two. Yesterday, Sir Jerry paid tribute at the Kranji War Memorial to the fallen New Zealand soldiers who gave their lives in the defence of Singapore.
New Zealand’s sacrifice is an indelible part of our shared history. It is also a testament to our close friendship that New Zealand’s troops remained in Singapore until 1989, well after the British troops had withdrawn in 1971. Many Singaporeans recall the prevailing sense of uncertainty during that difficult time, and we deeply appreciated New Zealand’s unwavering support.
In the past 50 years, relations between Singapore and New Zealand have expanded across the economic, defence, political and people-to-people sectors. Singapore and New Zealand share similar world views and interests as small island countries, though of course your islands are somewhat larger than ours! We have always been supportive of each other. For example, Singapore is pleased to have supported New Zealand’s successful candidature to the United Nations Security Council, where you are currently serving as President.
In addition, both countries recognise that our prosperity is tied to an open and global economy. We are both outward-looking and key proponents of trade liberalisation and it is not surprising that Singapore’s first bilateral Free Trade Agreement was signed with New Zealand in 2000. Singapore and New Zealand were in fact part of the original P4, the first plurilateral FTA that linked economies from across the Pacific. The P4 later evolved to become the Trans-Pacific Partnership, on which we have been working closely together. To foster further trade liberalisation in the region, Singapore and New Zealand are also working to advance the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Singapore shares New Zealand’s desire to promote a peaceful, stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific. Singapore welcomes and encourages New Zealand’s efforts to step up its engagement of the region through both the East Asia Summit, and ASEAN with whom you are celebrating 40 years of relations this year.
Our people-to-people ties remain strong. Some 1,000 Singaporeans are living in New Zealand and around 5,400 residents in New Zealand were born in Singapore. There are almost 4,000 New Zealanders living in Singapore and contributing to the vibrancy of our society, some of whom are with us this evening. New Zealanders in Singapore have made a mark here in many areas - business, education, the arts and sport.
At the Southeast Asian Games which Singapore hosted in June, Team Singapore clinched a gold medal in netball for the first time ever in the games. My wife and I were at the Singapore Sports Hub to cheer our netballers on and celebrated with fellow Singaporeans when the final whistle blew. This outstanding achievement is due in no small part to the commitment and effort of our netballers, but also to the guidance of the netball team’s head coach, Ruth Aitken, who is a New Zealander.
There is a strong representation here this evening by New Zealand businesses and entities. This testifies to the strength and complementary nature of our robust economic partnership. Bilateral trade increased 16% year-on-year in 2014. Singapore is among the 10 top investors in New Zealand. Our tourism numbers remain healthy and I am confident that the recent alliance between Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines will further boost our exchanges.
Our defence ties are excellent and long-standing. Besides being part of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, Singapore and New Zealand have cooperated in international security operations such as in East Timor, and in Afghanistan where the Singapore detachment was housed in New Zealand’s “Kiwi Base”. Singapore deeply appreciates New Zealand’s generosity in hosting the Singapore Armed Forces’ training exercises in Waiouru, codenamed “Thunder Warrior”, which I had the privilege of witnessing when I was Minister for Defence.
Cooperation between our two countries has in recent years extended to research. I understand that Sir Jerry made a visit to the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital today, and was briefed on the collaboration between Singapore and New Zealand on infant health and nutrition. We should continue to encourage more of such collaborations that serve to further broaden and deepen the exchanges between Singapore and New Zealand.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Singapore and New Zealand have enjoyed an excellent partnership for the past 50 years. I am confident that our relations will continue to endure and flourish for many more years to come. I look forward to further cooperation between Singapore and New Zealand to enhance and strengthen the existing strong ties of friendship, mutual trust and cooperation that will underpin the next 50 years of our relations.
It now gives me great pleasure to invite you to rise and join me in a toast to:
- Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of New Zealand;
- the good health and success of Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Lady Janine Mateparae ; and
- the enduring friendship and goodwill between our two countries and people.