SM Teo Chee Hean at Universiti Teknologi Brunei

SM Teo Chee Hean | 3 October 2019

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at Universiti Teknologi Brunei on 3 October 2019.


“A Special Partnership for a Brighter Future”

Acting Minister of Education Datin Seri Paduka Dr Hajah Romaizah 
Acting Vice-Chancellor of UTB Haji Ady Syarmin 
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am pleased to be back in Brunei at the invitation of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah for the Young Leaders Programme. This is the seventh year of the Programme, which was initiated by his Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore.

I am delighted to speak to all of you today at Universiti Teknologi Brunei (or UTB), one of the top 10 universities in Southeast Asia for engineering and technology. Speaking to students is always an enjoyable experience. Listening to students is an even more enjoyable experience, and I look forward to hearing your views and having a good Question-and-Answer session later on. You are the next generation who will bring new energy and fresh ideas to address the challenges that we face, explore new frontiers, and take us into the future.

Technology and Society

As students of UTB, you are familiar with both the potential as well as disruptive power of technology. Technology has unlocked social progress and human potential, uplifted our standard of living, transformed industries, and brought the world closer together. Harnessing technology has allowed us to do more with less, and to achieve breakthroughs beyond our predecessors’ dreams.

We can see examples of this all around us. In manufacturing, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is now upon us, with new and far-reaching technological breakthroughs like robotics, new materials, 3-D printing and Artificial Intelligence that are fundamentally transforming the global economy. Businesses have been forced to change the way they operate, workers are using technology to become more productive, and global markets are becoming increasingly integrated. Both Singapore and Brunei will need to position ourselves to ride this fourth wave to bring about tangible benefits to our economies and our peoples.

Technology has also played a critical role in the oil and gas industry, something which Brunei is well known for. We can now discover previously unknown sources, and extract oil and gas located deep under the sea. Through new and advanced seismic processing technology, Brunei was able to discover new fields in April 2017, the most important oil discovery in nearly 40 years.

Green technology has enabled us to seek cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy, to reduce our carbon footprint and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, a subject so important that it was one of the key areas of focus in this year’s UN General Assembly meetings. In Singapore, we are rethinking our energy needs and pursuing green growth opportunities in clean and efficient energy, including solar deployment, smart grids and electrification of transportation, as well as longer term solutions like hydrogen, which I understand that Brunei is also pursuing. Singapore’s small size and lack of resources provide us the impetus to find innovative solutions to overcome the challenges that we face.

At the same time, technology poses new challenges and dilemmas. Digital technology has connected communities around the world and created new economic opportunities, but we are also faced with cyber threats and the spread of online falsehoods. Breakthroughs in medical technology allow us to generate artificial organs and customise treatments through cell and gene therapy, but they have also further blurred the lines of healthcare ethics. In defence, autonomous systems, robotics and Artificial Intelligence have transformed battlefields, but they have also opened up new vulnerabilities through asymmetrical, difficult-to-attribute, low-intensity “grey zone” warfare.

Role of Universities

How do we prepare ourselves to harness the potential of technology and deal with its challenges? How do we ensure that we maximise human potential and progress and leave the world in better stead for future generations? Our universities have a very important role to play in this, in all our societies.

Through their research, our universities discover and help harness new knowledge. They also help to provide a framework for us to analyse and understand the potential social implications of the new world that we will live in.

An enduring and key function of universities is to equip our young people with relevant and deep skills. We will need new scientific and engineering solutions to help combat climate change, cure diseases, strengthen our cyber defences and tackle national security issues. In addition, universities need to provide our graduates with important attributes to make them “world-ready”, so that they are able to contribute and create new value in whatever career they may pursue. These attributes include creativity and innovation; communication and language skills; and understanding and empathy with their communities and the wider world which we all share. Institutions like UTB make important contributions by helping to develop a pool of well-rounded young professionals with deep engineering and technological skills to help bring solutions that make a real difference to our lives.

Universities also need to move beyond conferring academic degrees to promoting life-long learning. It is no longer sufficient for young graduates to use the same knowledge and skills for the rest of their lives. Instead, universities must evolve to become your students’ partner in learning for life, to help them to continuously learn and relearn, and to upgrade and pick up new skills to adapt to changing demands and tackle new challenges. In Singapore, we have launched a national movement called SkillsFuture, which works closely with our universities and tertiary institutions to help all Singaporeans continuously update their knowledge and skills throughout the different stages of their lives and their careers. This is the new paradigm of education which every country needs to strive for, for the future. It will help all our citizens embrace and share the benefits of advances in technology throughout their lives, rather than fearing the disruptions that technology might bring. We look forward to strengthening collaboration with UTB and other universities in Brunei in this area.

New Opportunities for Cooperation

Apart from education, there are also other opportunities for Singapore and Brunei to play our part in finding solutions to global challenges, and contextualising global ideas to our national contexts. I can see this taking place at three different levels – bilaterally, regionally and globally.

Bilaterally, Singapore and Brunei have always shared a very special relationship, anchored by strong political and people-to-people ties; wide-ranging and substantive cooperation in many fields; and deep mutual trust developed over many decades. We should build on these strong foundations to take our cooperation further.

Given the volatile geopolitical environment, Singapore and Brunei have to continue working together to strengthen defence cooperation to contribute to regional stability and safeguard each other’s security. This year, the Republic of Singapore Air Force and the Royal Brunei Air Force are commemorating the 40th anniversary of our air force helicopter detachment here in Brunei, and the 25th anniversary of Exercise Air Guard, our bilateral exercise. Our two navies are also commemorating the 40th anniversary of Exercise Pelican. I can say with great pleasure that I had participated in a couple of these exercises myself. I would like to express our deepest appreciation to His Majesty, the Government and people of Brunei for generously allowing the SAF to train in Brunei over the years, and look forward to our two militaries doing even more together.

Another hallmark of our bilateral cooperation is the Currency Interchangeability Agreement, which has been in place for 52 years. It is a remarkable agreement. This unique link has eliminated foreign exchange risks, facilitated trade and investment, and benefitted both our countries. Given uncertainties in the global economy, we should build on this to further strengthen our economic and financial cooperation. Last year, Singapore President Halimah Yacob visited Brunei on a state visit in May 2018. Our two countries signed an agreement to explore cooperation and share best practices on financial technology; and a Memorandum of Understanding to exchange information to combat transnational challenges like money laundering, terrorist financing and related criminal activity. There are also opportunities for us to collaborate in emerging areas such as the digital economy and electronic payments – in a sense, the “Currency Interchangeability Agreement 2.0” in new areas. This is in line with His Majesty’s wish for Brunei to tap on the potential of the digital economy, as outlined in his titah on 15 July in conjunction with His Majesty’s 73rd birthday celebrations.

Singapore and Brunei are also working together on many new areas such as judicial cooperation and food security. These two are so different from each other but it shows the breadth and depth of the relationship that we have. Food security, in particular, is in line with His Majesty’s priority of achieving sustainable agricultural growth for Brunei. I am happy that we will be establishing a Joint Working Group between Brunei’s Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism and Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry to drive agri-food and aquaculture cooperation, which will help to diversify our economies and bolster food security. These few days that I am here, I have been visiting several of these farms and been really excited by what is being done here.

Regionally, as small countries, Singapore and Brunei share many similar interests and concerns. ASEAN is the cornerstone of our two countries’ foreign policies. Working through ASEAN gives Brunei and Singapore a bigger voice together to tackle issues at a regional level and on the world stage. We have always collaborated closely in ASEAN and worked together to uphold ASEAN unity and centrality. Singapore looks forward to supporting Brunei when Brunei takes over the Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2021, so that we can maximise the opportunity to address issues of common concern and bring ASEAN forward.

One immediate area for cooperation is upholding free trade and economic integration, given the global trade issues that have emerged. With ASEAN taking the lead, we are now working on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (or RCEP), which brings together the ten ASEAN Member States and six regional partners who have existing FTAs with ASEAN, namely Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. When concluded, this will be the world’s largest free trade agreement. I urge all RCEP members to work towards an expeditious conclusion of the agreement, as it provides an important opportunity to boost the existing multilateral trading framework that has benefited all our countries.

Globally, our shared strategic outlook has always made our two countries natural partners at many international platforms, such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the United Nations (UN). We worked together to establish the Forum of Small States and the Global Governance Group to give smaller countries a voice, under the auspices of the UN. We were also partners in the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (or P4), before it evolved and became the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) and has now been signed and concluded as a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TPP (or CPTPP).

We now have the opportunity to shape rules and standards in the growing e-commerce industry through the Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce, which was signed at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2017. Earlier this year, Australia, Japan and Singapore hosted a meeting of WTO members on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos to move it from exploratory discussions to negotiations. It is encouraging that 80 WTO members, accounting for more than 90% of global trade and ranging from developed to the least developed countries, are currently participating in the ongoing negotiations. We hope Brunei can also partner Singapore in this promising initiative to update WTO rules to reflect current economic realities, and set clear and consistent international rules for an open, transparent and predictable digital trade environment. This is the new world which we are all entering.


In an uncertain and rapidly changing world, the depth and breadth of our close partnership will continue to be a pillar of strength for both our countries. Apart from working together at the global, regional and bilateral levels, we can also strengthen our cooperation at a more personal and institutional level. I encourage UTB to reach out to your university counterparts in Singapore, such as Singapore’s six Autonomous Universities, and for students from UTB to do the same through exchanges and programmes. In fact, we have exchanges and programmes on all levels. One of the members of my delegation, Minister Grace Fu, is visiting a primary school right now as we have some primary school students from Singapore on exchange with a primary school here. I think it is good to start young and continue throughout life. This is also lifelong learning in some ways.

Let us continue to strengthen our partnership and support each other, so that we can face the challenges of tomorrow with confidence, and create a brighter future for our two countries and peoples.

Thank you very much. 

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