PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Joint Press Conference with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (May 2023)

Remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the joint press conference on 16 May 2023 at Tuynhuys, Cape Town. PM Lee was on a working visit to South Africa. 


Please scroll down for the transcript of the remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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President Ramaphosa
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good afternoon everybody.

I thank the President for inviting me to visit South Africa, and for his very warm hospitality. President Ramaphosa is a good friend to Singapore. He visited in 2016 as Deputy President, and we last met in Bali in November on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. And I am very happy finally to have a chance to visit this beautiful country, and reconnect with the President.

When he visited Singapore in 2016, the President said that a brighter day was rising upon Africa, and he invited the people of Singapore to bask in its warmth with South Africa. And indeed, Singapore is happy to be partners in South Africa’s growth. South Africa is one of the largest economies on the continent, and a G20 member.

So we had a good discussion of our bilateral cooperation, and within the context of the global situation and the regional opportunities in Asia and in Africa. I thank the President for his briefing on his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine and his plans for a peace mission, together with other African leaders to Moscow and to Kiev in order to pursue or to encourage the parties to engage in ways to deescalate and work towards a peaceful outcome of the dispute.

I explained to the President, Singapore’s perspective on the war in Ukraine, and how we saw it as a matter of fundamental principle. That the UN Charter must be upheld, borders have to be sacrosanct, that one country cannot invade another with impunity. And it cannot be something, when it happens, it cannot be something which is acquiesced in or approved of, but a clear disapproval has to be given, which is why Singapore has taken such a stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine to oppose and to condemn it, at the United Nations as well as internationally, and taken targeted sanctions against Russia in this objective. It is a stand which is based on principle. It is a stand which we have taken regardless of who the aggressor is, and without meaning that we are hostile to the countries which are participants.

We remain friends with Russia. But we cannot approve of what has been done. In the same way as we are friends with America and have been for a very long time. But when America invaded Grenada in 1983, Singapore came out and voted against that at the United Nations and voted to condemn the invasion of Grenada. So it is a principled stand, and one intended to maintain a consistent foreign policy based on principles and to maintain agency and an independent line by Singapore in international affairs.

So I think we have a good understanding of one another and that is the overall framework within which we are able to pursue our bilateral cooperation.

In fact, bilaterally, South Africa is Singapore’s most broad-based partner in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Our partnership is underpinned by strong economic ties. Our bilateral trade has grown by over 60 percent since 2018. We have accumulated around 13.5 billion South African rand of investments in South Africa, which is nearly a billion Singapore dollars. And there are many Singapore companies here across a wide range of industries including agribusiness, urban solutions, hospitality, manufacturing, ports and logistics, and innovation and technology. I brought with me a business delegation comprising 17 Singapore companies to visit South Africa. They are keen to pursue opportunities and long-term partnerships with their counterparts here. And I look forward to the Business Roundtable which the President and I will be holding this afternoon with South African and Singapore companies.

Our people-to-people ties are also very important. We have direct flight services between the two countries. We support each other to develop our human capital. Over 1,000 South African officials have participated in capacity-building programmes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). And last year, we also launched the Singapore-Africa Partnership, which includes priority placement, customised courses, and postgraduate scholarships in Singapore. We hope our friends in Africa – including in South Africa – will find it relevant and we benefit from it.

We can still do much more to strengthen connectivity between our two countries. More flight services, more trade and investment, more digital links, more people-to-people ties.

We just signed, as you saw, two bilateral cooperation MOUs. The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) MOU will enhance cooperation between our digital agencies; the Skills Development MOU will deepen our tradition of sharing experiences and best practices in education and in training.

This friendship has come a long way. In 1992, Mr Lee Kuan Yew visited South Africa. The following year, our two countries established diplomatic relations. Later that decade, in 1997, President Mandela visited Singapore. To commemorate that visit, we dedicated a Giant Cola tree to the President. The tree still stands tall and strong today, just like our friendship and cooperation continues to grow and strengthen. So I look forward to working with the President and his government to continue advancing our bilateral relationship. And the President has accepted my invitation to visit Singapore again, and I look forward to welcoming him to Singapore before too long.

Thank you very much.

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Remarks by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong,
Honourable Ministers,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Prime Minister Lee and I have just concluded productive discussions during his first Official Visit to South Africa.

This is a significant year, as we are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Singapore.

It was a pleasure to discuss areas of mutual interest and explore ways to strengthen our bilateral relations, cooperation and partnership.

We believe that there is significant potential to further develop our economic partnership.

This is evident in the business delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Lee, comprising representatives of a number of sectors, including ports, logistics, healthcare and biomedical, food manufacturing and engineering.

Prime Minister Lee and I will have an opportunity later today to participate in a business roundtable with some of these business people.

Our two countries share a common interest in promoting economic growth, social development and prosperity for our citizens. It is in this spirit that we have worked together to strengthen our ties.

This visit provided South Africa and Singapore an opportunity to discuss areas of cooperation that are firmly focused on the future.

This includes cooperation in the fields of digitalisation, communications and technology, water and sanitation, and skills development, among others.

We have also agreed to deepen our cooperation on science and innovation.

This was also an opportunity to express our appreciation to the Government of Singapore for their support over the years in training South African civil servants.

We discussed South Africa’s application to become a Sectoral Dialogue Partner with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

The global role of the ASEAN region has been growing over the last five decades creating the sixth largest market in the world.

Further deepening the cooperation between South Africa and ASEAN would open up opportunities in various fields, such trade, infrastructure development, technology transfer, education, science, innovation and tourism.

While we discussed several areas of bilateral cooperation, this visit has also provided an opportunity to discuss regional and international issues of common interest and concern.

These include developments on the African continent, in particular the operationalisation of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the potential it offers for both domestic and international investors.

We discussed the current instability in international relations and the global economy. We agreed on the need for all countries to work together to develop inclusive, just and sustainable solutions to conflict, climate change, pandemics and other challenges.

I had an opportunity to brief Prime Minister Lee on South Africa’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Over the weekend I presented an African leaders peace mission to President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during separate telephone calls.

Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine, its cost in human lives and impact on the African continent.

In this regard, I presented the initiative on behalf of African Heads of State, from Zambia, Senegal, Congo, Uganda, Egypt and South Africa.

The two leaders agreed to receive the mission and the African Heads of State, in both Moscow and Kyiv.

I agreed with both President Putin and President Zelenskyy to commence with preparations for engagements with the African Heads of State. The Secretary General of the United Nations was briefed and welcomed the initiative.

Prime Minister Lee, I am grateful that we had an opportunity to discuss these and other issues of importance to our countries and to the broader global community.

I would like to thank Prime Minister Lee for very productive deliberations and for his commitment to building stronger ties between our countries.

I thank you.