Toast Speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch in honour of Malaysian PM Dato' Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob on 29 November 2021.
Your Excellency Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Prime Minister of Malaysia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
May I extend a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and the Malaysian delegation. This is his first official visit to Singapore since taking office as Prime Minister of Malaysia. But of course, it is not his first visit to Singapore because he is an old friend of ours. I recall hosting him in 2014 as part of a visiting delegation, to a tour of the then-newly completed Sports Hub in Kallang. We had nasi briyani for dinner together with Cabinet colleagues from both sides – and in true Singapore and Malaysian fashion, we had some durians before the meal. We do not have durians today for lunch, but we do have on the menu items which are favourite dishes of both Singaporeans and Malaysians, like chilli crab, rojak, and ondeh ondeh. It reflects how similar the peoples, cultures and foods are in our two countries, how closely we are intertwined with one another.
While COVID-19 has limited the opportunities for us to have similar get-togethers, the pandemic has also brought us closer together in other ways. Our two countries worked closely throughout the pandemic. Early on, many Singaporeans tumpang on Malaysian evacuation flights; and vice versa as well, Malaysians on Singaporean evacuation flights. But that is what close neighbours are for! We also established the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on COVID-19, which was co-chaired by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean. Together with Datuk Hasni Mohammad from Johor, they coordinated efforts to minimise the disruption of COVID-19 and border closures to workers, companies, and businesses on both sides.
So today, I am happy and honoured to host the Prime Minister and his team here at the Istana. I welcome this opportunity to reaffirm the close friendship and cooperation between our two countries. We had a good meeting just before lunch between the Prime Minister and me. We discussed how our countries could do more together to emerge stronger from the pandemic.
Fundamentally, these specific areas of cooperation are founded on our deep people-to-people ties. They make the relationship between our two countries an exceptional one, that we continue to nurture and develop. In that spirit, we named an orchid after Prime Minister Ismail Sabri earlier today.
This is also why today’s commencement of the VTLs is so significant. It will allow us to renew our strong bonds of kinship and friendship, re-connect our peoples, and also reunite families who have spouses, children or parents working across the Causeway on the other side, and who have not been home all this time with their loved ones. At the same time, I am sure Singaporeans and Malaysians are also looking forward to resuming travel across the Causeway for leisure, for shopping, and for makan!
Beyond Johor, Malaysia is the top destination country for many Singaporean travellers and holiday makers. Foreign Minister Vivian told me that Bera, the Prime Minister’s constituency in Pahang, is a most scenic place to visit. I have not been there, but I Googled it and found beautiful pictures of Tasik Bera. I hope to go there one day and hope more Singaporeans will head there too.
The COVID-19 pandemic may yet hold more surprises for us. As I said at the press conference, our plans are unavoidably subject to future pandemic developments, such as the new omicron variant. But let us hope that the COVID-19 situation remains stable and we remain on top of developments, so that we can expand the VTLs, and progressively allow more of our people to safely travel between our two countries.
The Prime Minister’s visit today is a brief one but I hope it has been a good one, and I look forward to welcoming him back to Singapore early next year for the Leaders’ Retreat.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, may I now invite you to join me in a toast to Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob – I wish you good health and every success; to the peace and prosperity of Malaysia; and to the enduring friendship and cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia. Cheers!
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