Toast speech delivered by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the official lunch hosted in honour of New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern on 17 May 2019.
The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
May I offer once again a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Ardern and her delegation. I am delighted to welcome you back to Singapore, this time for your first official visit. I would also like to congratulate you on your recent engagement.
Singapore and New Zealand are both small countries, we have been friends for a long time, we have done many things together. Our relations stretch back well before Singapore’s independence. New Zealand soldiers were among those who fought and gave their lives in the defence of Singapore during the war. New Zealand was a strong supporter of Singapore in our early and uncertain years following independence. You were among the first countries to recognise our independence. 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment remained in Singapore until 1989. You generously supported our efforts to build up our defence forces in our early years, including by gifting us two Air Tourer training aircraft, and sending instructors to help us start our Midshipmen’s School. Our countries continue to enjoy close defence ties to this day.
Our longstanding friendship is anchored by our shared strategic perspectives and outlook. We have pushed boundaries together as like-minded proponents of trade liberalisation. Singapore’s first bilateral FTA was signed with New Zealand in 2000. Last year our trade grew by 12%. All the kiwifruit and Manuka honey adds up. We are both part of the original Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (P4). We started that with the conscious goal of using it as a pathfinder for a bigger agreement. Eventually, it led to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). So it is entirely appropriate that we have continued to deepen our economic cooperation, and I am very happy to be able to sign the Enhanced Partnership agreement with you today, which covers the economic and other issues. The wide range of initiatives encompassed will benefit our institutions, businesses and people, and take our relations to an even higher level. I would like to thank you, Prime Minister Ardern, for your strong support for this partnership. I would also like to thank the officials on both sides who have worked hard to make this happen, many of whom are here today.
Beyond our shared perspectives on issues, our people-to-people ties are strong. New Zealand has a special place in the hearts of many Singaporeans. Close to 62,000 Singaporeans visited New Zealand last year. Many of us think that Bilbo Baggins carries a New Zealand passport. A good number have visited “Middle Earth”, inspired by The Lord of the Rings movies. And each time the formidable All Blacks visit us, as they did recently during the Singapore Rugby Sevens, their Singaporean fans give them a roaring welcome.
Prime Minister Ardern, your visit marks a significant milestone in our bilateral relationship. I know you have many things on your mind, including the response to the Christchurch attacks, which Singapore unreservedly condemns, and when they happened our hearts went out to the New Zealand people. I commend you for demonstrating steadfast leadership at a time of great sorrow and anguish for New Zealand. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in the fight against hate speech, extremism, and terrorism. We already cooperate on security and intelligence matters, and the Enhanced Partnership enables us to step up our cooperation in these fields.
In December 1973, nearly half a century ago, then-Prime Minister Norman Kirk made his first visit to Singapore. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who was then our Prime Minister, observed that New Zealand’s contribution to the world was “much larger than the proportion of either her numbers or her GNP, because of the stalwart and robust qualities of the New Zealanders”. This is still very true today. New Zealand is a spectacularly beautiful country, blessed with the wonders of nature, a resolute people, and stability and sensibility many countries can only dream of.
May I now invite you to join me in a toast to Her Majesty the Queen of New Zealand; the good health and success of Prime Minister Ardern and her delegation; and the enduring and close friendship between Singapore and New Zealand.
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