Welcome Remarks by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the reception for overseas Singaporeans at The Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel in Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Minister Gan Kim Yong
Minister of State Teo Ser Luck
Ambassador Dominic Goh
Members of Parliament Lee Bee Wah and Darryl David
Fellow Singaporeans and friends
Ladies and gentlemen
First of all, a very good afternoon and Happy 2017! My wife and I are glad to meet all of you today. It is heart-warming to be reminded of home during my State Visits, even though Singapore is not too far from Laos.
Singapore and Laos established diplomatic relations some forty years ago. Since then, relations between our two countries have grown in breadth and depth. A recent example of the growing ties is the improved connectivity between Singapore and Laos. Many of you would be aware that in October last year, SilkAir launched direct flights between Singapore and Laos. Now that there are almost daily flights connecting Singapore and Vientiane, I hope that many of you have the chance to return home for festive seasons, including the upcoming Lunar New Year. With greater air connectivity, I am confident that there will be more trade and investment flows, as well as people-to-people exchanges.
Another example of the growing ties between Singapore and Laos is the bilateral Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation (DTA), which came into effect this month. The agreement will reduce tax barriers to the cross-border flows of trade and investment, and strengthen Singapore’s position as a business hub. The bilateral relations between Singapore and Laos have come a long way, and there are still more areas of collaboration for our public and private sectors to explore.
Over the past decades, Laos has steadily opened up to the world. Singaporeans and Singapore companies have also become more mobile. I am happy to note that Singaporeans and Singapore companies in Laos have a strong presence in a range of sectors, including the hotels, education and retail business. Iconic Singapore brands, such as Somerset serviced apartments, Banyan Tree resorts, Olam, SilkAir and Tiger Beer, are present in Laos. Singaporeans like yourselves who are based overseas will continue to play an important part in bringing our “little Red Dot” to the world.
I am also heartened that Singaporeans are willing to volunteer their time and resources to improve the lives of Lao communities. Such goodwill generated contributes greatly to the strengthening of the people-to-people ties between Singapore and Laos.
Over the years, Singaporeans have supported various charity projects, including the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre, the SOS Children Villages of Laos, and the Mother and Child Hospital. Every year, many volunteer groups from Singapore visit Laos. For example, in June 2016, a team of Singapore Polytechnic optometry students and staff, supported by Lions Club of Singapore, were in Vientiane to help conduct vision screening for five thousand Lao school students over four days. In October, another privately-funded team of doctors, dentists, optometrists, TCM practitioners and volunteers conducted a free medical mission at Hin Heub District Hospital. Around 1000 students from Singapore tertiary institutions visit Laos every year to help build schools, community halls and installations that provide fresh water and electricity to remote villages. Some of these students are with us today. My wife and I look forward to hearing about your experiences when we interact later.
As you continue to establish new friendships here, I encourage you to continue to keep in touch with your family and friends back home, and share your experiences with them. I also hope that this reception today can be the start of a regular get-together of the Singapore community here in Laos.
Let me close by wishing all of you continued success in all your endeavours. With the Lunar New Year just about two weeks away, my wife and I would also like to wish everyone a blessed and prosperous Year of the Rooster. Thank you very much.