Old Ties, New Links, More Opportunities

The British High Commission in Singapore files this report on President Tony Tan Keng Yam's recent State Visit to the UK, which marks the next chapter in the story of the deep ties between these two countries. 


Photo: Today Onlne

By Grace Fu & Hugo Swire MP


On the eve of President Tony Tan Keng Yam’s State Visit to the UK, The Straits Times noted in an article on 20 Oct 2014, titled When the Merlion Sups with the British Lion, that it would be “an opportunity for both sides to reflect on their long relationship” and to “celebrate the ever-evolving dynamics of an old relationship that started with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.”


The programme, put together by our officials and their colleagues in the Royal Household and the Istana, focused on the shared heritage of our two countries, developed over almost two centuries since Raffles landed in Singapore. The fact that President Tan stopped by Sir Stamford Raffles’ statue in Westminster Abbey was a nod to that history, as was his lunch at Lloyd’s of London, built on the site of the old East India Company, Raffles’ employer.


Both President Tan and Her Majesty the Queen also paid tribute to the depth of our friendship and the importance of our ties in their speeches at the State Banquet, which we both attended. More importantly, both of them addressed the key question of what our countries can achieve together in the future.


Photo: Getty Images


And that is what the State Visit was all about. While it certainly helped to highlight the deep reservoir of affection and goodwill that President Tan mentioned on more than one occasion, it also underlined the broad themes of our future collaborations.


We announced a new Innovation and Research Partnership (IRP), signed by the two Prime Ministers. The IRP builds upon the UK-Singapore Partners in Science programme, through which over 50 joint workshops have been organised. Other important collaborations include the Cambridge Centre for Carbon Reduction in Chemical Technology, a partnership between the University of Cambridge, National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), as well as the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, a partnership between Imperial College and NTU. The new IRP takes our cooperation to a new level, thus allowing research and technology to translate into jobs and prosperity in both countries. Also announced were the new Commonwealth Scholarships in Innovation for Singaporeans to study in the UK, to be managed through a revived Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore.


Many of our companies and academics also took part in the ‘Innovating Together in the 21st Century’ seminar during the State Visit. They shared best practices and explored opportunities to do more in areas such as healthcare and cityplanning alongside President Tan, his accompanying Ministers and British Trade Minister Lord Livingston. Two separate workshops, on ‘Science of Learning’ and ‘Future Cities,’ were also held during the State Visit. Our colleagues attended the latter workshop, along with the Minister of State for National Development and Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman and Minister for Cities Greg Clark.


Many other collaboration opportunities were discussed as well. For example, both countries will be stepping up the efforts to work on cyber security, making sure that our businesses and vital services are protected from new threats. Also, looking ahead to several crucial meetings in 2015, we will also be working together on climate change.


Prime Minister David Cameron and President Tan also discussed how we can do more to tackle the threat posed by Islamic State (IS), including exchanging experiences in de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes. Health issues were also on the table, as President Tan shared Singapore’s experience in tackling SARS and how it can be translated to deal with Ebola and other pandemic health risks. Lastly, they explored how best to maximise the opportunities offered to our companies by the expeditious ratification of the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.


The visit illustrated the extensive peopleto- people ties between Singapore and the UK, an important element to our future relationship. President Tan met around 200 students out of the more than 6,000 who currently study at Bristol University and Imperial College. At Aardman Animations in Bristol, President Tan heard about how two friends, freshly graduated from school, created a hugely successful creative business and how they are currently entering a partnership with the British Council to deliver English language training through a pilot site in Singapore starting next January. Later at Kew Gardens, he commemorated their ties with Singapore, which dates back to the mid-19th century, and heard about their plans to enhance the ties between Kew and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG), including supporting SBG’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status.


A number of other areas remain of great importance, including our roles as members of the Commonwealth, and our defence cooperation, both at the bilateral level and through the Five Power Defence Arrangements, whose most recent exercise concluded in Singapore during the State Visit. The exercise not only involved Typhoon fighter jets from the Royal Air Force, which were deployed alongside air and naval forces from Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand, land forces from all five member-nations also worked together for the first time.



Although the State Visit is now over, we are sure that it will live in the memory for all who took part and witnessed the evident warmth between the countries. The visit came on the eve of Singapore’s 50th anniversary of independence in 2015. President Tan invited Her Majesty the Queen or her representative to attend those celebrations, and there will surely be many opportunities for the UK to celebrate this important milestone for Singapore. That, together with the State Visit, marks the beginning of the next important chapter in the story of the deep and enduring partnership between our countries.




This article was published in The Straits Times on 31 October 2014.