Reflections on the Royal Visit

The recent visit to Singapore by Their Royal Highnesses (TRH) The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was one of the highlights of what has been a busy 2012 for the High Commission. 

By H.E. Antony Phillipson, British High Commissioner


I was delighted that we were able to include the British Chamber in their programme. Steve and Yoshiko Puckett attended the State Dinner at the Istana, and a number of the Board plus various other business representatives had the chance to meet TRH at the reception that I hosted at Eden Hall the following evening.

The whole programme was, of course, the result of many months of planning and preparation by the High Commission working closely with TRH’s office and the Singaporean government. We were very grateful to President Tony Tan Keng Yam for making this an official visit, and to a considerable number of officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Istana, and in the Singapore Police Force, as well as our event partners at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, Rolls-Royce, the Rainbow Centre and the community leaders in Queenstown, and at Kranji.
As we reflect on the visit there are three things that strike me. 
First, for us at the High Commission and, I hope they would agree, our event partners, this was a fabulous moment of public diplomacy. We aimed to deliver a programme that showed off not only the UK/Singapore partnership but also the best of Britain in Singapore. The thousands of photos that are now circulating of TRH do just that, whether at Rolls-Royce, the British designed and engineered biomes and landscape of Gardens by the Bay, or at Queenstown, named in honour of Her Majesty at the time of Her Coronation in 1953. I think most people would be hard pressed to generate the types of crowds and media coverage here and around the world that we saw over those 48 hours in Singapore.
My second thought is that the visit was just one part of what has been a very successful year for Britain’s soft diplomacy. As well as the visit we also had the celebrations in London of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in June and then the Olympic and Paralympic Games in July, August and September. All attracted international attention. 
There was also praise for Her Majesty and all that she has represented during Her 60 years of extraordinary public service. And praise for the Games, for the physical achievements of putting on the two biggest sporting events in the world and the actual sporting performances of the two Team GBs, and for the image that the UK presented to the world during those glorious few weeks.
That image was one of a nation that came together to welcome the world, and of a nation that was proud of what it had done, and was doing, and wasn’t afraid to say so. My third reflection is what should we be aiming to do with this “soft diplomacy”? How do we turn the positive sentiment towards the UK into tangible benefits, here in Singapore and elsewhere? Because while I don’t think everything we do needs to be about the bottom line, nor can we hide the fact that we still have some real challenges to address in terms of fixing the economy and returning to a path of long-term sustainable growth.
In that context I have, again, three thoughts about what we should be aiming for in the immediate future on the back of the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and Paralympics and TRH’s visit to Singapore:
  • We should be confident that we are a nation that people want to partner with. In a country like Singapore, there is a shared heritage and a sense of common bonds that we need to understand, build on, develop and exploit for mutual benefit. Through the Economic and Business Partnership, signed a year ago and starting to bear fruit, or through the Five Power Defence Arrangements, now 41 years old, we have the structures for that partnership and should be looking to use them;
  • We should be confident that we can actually deliver the types of big projects that we need to revitalise ourinfrastructure at home, and help others to do the same abroad. The Olympic venues were built on time and on budget. We should take that experience, learn from it and replicate it;
  • We should be confident that we can continue to be a nation that can be competitive in the sectors that are going to drive the world economy in the decades to come: high-value manufacturing, R&D, design, the creative industries, education, energy, professional services to name just a few. 
You’ll notice that there’s a common theme, confidence. It’s been a tough few years in the UK as in many other parts of the global economy and there’s still work to do. But I think we’re entitled to be proud of what we’ve accomplished in 2012, and should focus on turning some of this soft diplomacy into active collaboration and partnership between the UK and Singapore across the prosperity and growth agendas. I look forward to working with the Chamber on this set of issues in what’s left of 2012 as well as in 2013 and beyond.