Toast Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the State Banquet hosted in honour of Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, President of Iceland
Your Excellency Mr Olafur Grimsson
President of Iceland
First Lady Mdm Dorrit Moussaieff
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am very pleased to welcome President Grimsson, Mdm Moussaieff, and members of your distinguished delegation to Singapore. Mr President, your State Visit to Singapore is the first by an Icelandic President, and a historic milestone in our bilateral relations. Though far apart, our ties have grown strongly. We appointed a Non-Resident Ambassador to Iceland shortly after my last meeting with Your Excellency in Singapore in 2012. We are also grateful for Iceland’s strong support for our successful application to become an Arctic Council observer state in May 2013. I am confident that Your Excellency’s visit will go a long way in further strengthening the relations between our two countries.
Our partnership may not be obvious to observers at a first glance. Superficially, the differences between Singapore and Iceland are quite stark. Sitting in the Northern Atlantic, Iceland is blessed with an abundance of natural resources including its rich fishing grounds and geothermal wonders; whilst Singapore, situated at the crossroads of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, can only rely on our people. And as the Icelandic delegation would have discovered, you will never need a down jacket in Singapore!
However, such differences pale in comparison to the common perspectives and outlook that we share on many issues.
For both of us, the sea is a crucial lifeline. Fishing is in Iceland’s lifeblood, while Singapore flourishes as a maritime trading port. Climate change and oceans governance are issues close to our hearts. At the broader strategic level, the international system is being reshaped by a global political and economic rebalancing. Small countries like Singapore and Iceland will have to stay nimble to navigate the waves and currents of the shifting global geopolitics.
Our economic relations have expanded since the European Free Trade Association-Singapore Free Trade Agreement came into force in 2003. In this regard, I am delighted that Your Excellency has brought along a business delegation. I hope the Icelandic businessmen will witness for themselves the economic dynamism of the Southeast Asian region. Singapore has traditionally been a gateway to the region, and will make an excellent launch-pad for Icelandic companies seeking to grow their businesses in Asia.
Our two countries also enjoy good cooperation in the Arctic region. Climate change developments in the Arctic region have significant impact on rising sea levels and the growing commercial shipping in the Arctic. These represent both opportunities and challenges to our two countries.
Singapore has actively participated in all the Arctic Circle Assemblies in Reykjavik since its inception in 2013, which I note is Your Excellency’s personal initiative. Our delegations have found the Assemblies very useful in understanding a diverse range of Arctic issues and in expanding our network. I am happy to hear that the latest edition of the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik was attended by nearly 2,000 people from over 50 countries, making it the largest international Arctic gathering to date. We are delighted to host the Arctic Circle Forum tomorrow which will bring the Arctic closer to Asia.
This morning, President Grimsson visited PSA and would have personally witnessed the importance of the shipping and maritime sector to Singapore. President Grimsson would also understand our keen interest in ensuring the preservation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the governance of the world’s oceans.
I am also glad that President Grimsson will visit our Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, which plays host to visiting Arctic birds that migrate every winter. Although far removed, Singapore’s flora and fauna scene landscape is closely connected with the Arctic.
Although nascent, the people-to-people ties between Iceland and Singapore are also growing. There is a small but vibrant and highly-skilled Icelandic community in Singapore. Likewise, I hear from Minister of State Sam Tan that some Singaporeans have also made Iceland their home. It is my hope that our officials can continue to traverse the geographical distance and step up mutual engagement, both bilaterally, as well as vis-à-vis the Arctic.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Our bilateral ties are in good shape and we look forward to more collaboration between our countries following your visit.
May I ask you to rise and join me in a toast to:
- the good health and success of President Grimsson and First Lady Dorrit Moussaieff;
- the enduring friendship between Singapore and Iceland; and
- the success of the Arctic Circle Forum Singapore.