PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered a speech at the Official Dinner hosted in honour of Czech PM Andrej Babiš on Monday, 14 January 2019, at the Istana.
Your Excellency Andrej Babiš Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. May I extend a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Babiš and his delegation.
I am very pleased that the Prime Minister is visiting Singapore on his first trip to Asia as PM. He told me he was last in Singapore in 1980 in a private capacity and many things have changed since then.
I am also very happy that he has brought along a large business delegation with him because Singapore and the Czech Republic enjoy a warm friendship. We celebrated 25 years of diplomatic relations last year.
In May 2017, our previous President, Dr Tony Tan, made a State Visit to Prague, where he was very warmly welcomed. I am very happy that Singapore has this opportunity to reciprocate the hospitality he received welcoming the Prime Minister. Our two countries share similar outlooks. We are both small. Both are export-oriented trading economies. In fact, our trading links go back a long way.
A century ago, “druk” beads, or tiny coloured glass beads from Bohemia, which is in Czech Republic today, found a market in Singapore. They were sewn into slippers by Peranakan Chinese. These were ethnic Chinese who had lived for several generations in Southeast Asia, and had adopted local languages and customs. Just now, when we were having the reception, you might have a chance to look at a few of them. They are from the 1930s, 80-plus years old, and something special for us.
A more contemporary example is the Bata shoe, which many Singaporeans are familiar with. More than 80 years ago, Tomáš Baťa had the foresight to open a shop in Singapore, and subsequently built his factory and his Asia Pacific headquarters here. Many generations of school children in Singapore, and even today, wear white Bata canvas shoes as the first shoes that we wore to school - and I wore them too.
Because both our countries are dependent on trade, we share an interest in an open and rules-based multilateral trading system. That is why I am grateful to Prime Minister Babiš for the Czech Republic’s strong and consistent support for the European Union (EU) - Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The EU-Singapore FTA was signed last October, and I hope that the Agreement will be ratified early so both sides can benefit. I would like to say ratified soon, but as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Babiš has a busy programme in Singapore. Tomorrow, he will be attending the Singapore-Czech Republic Business Forum, which should generate more business opportunities between our two countries.
He is also visiting the Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles. I am delighted that NTU will be signing an MOU tomorrow with the University of Chemistry and Technology of Prague, on a partnership for research in energy storage and future mobility solutions, that means automotive and autonomous vehicles.
Our other universities have also had productive exchanges on R&D and technology with Czech institutions. There is potential for them to collaborate further, particularly in nanotech and biotech, where the Czech Republic has state-of-the-art research facilities.
Apart from economic and research ties, our cultural ties are strong too. The Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, has performed in Singapore. In Singapore, we formed our own the Singapore Symphony Orchestra which is celebrating its 40-year birthday this year. Its first concertmaster was a Czech violinist, Pavel Prantl. He was concertmaster for more than a decade, helped the orchestra establish itself, and brought the joy of music to many Singaporeans. Today, the SSO has performed in major venues in Europe including of course the Prague Spring Festival in 2016 to warm welcomes.
As more Singaporeans visit the Czech Republic and vice versa, there will be more opportunities for us to build up our people-to-people relations.
Today, we have two Hospodas, or Czech microbreweries, in Singapore, but I think we can have many more because there are many more types of Czech pilsners which we have not yet sampled.
Prime Minister, once again, I welcome you to Singapore and wish you a fruitful visit.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I now invite you to join me in a toast to the good health and success of Prime Minister Babiš and his delegation; and the friendship between Singapore and the Czech Republic.
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