Toast speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch with New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern (April 2022)

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 19 April 2022

Transcript of toast speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch with Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern on 19 April 2022.

The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Kia ora and a very warm welcome to Prime Minister Ardern and our friends from New Zealand. I am delighted to host you in Singapore again. I am very happy that you have made Singapore your first overseas visit since the pandemic. Your last visit was in 2019, pre-COVID-19 and much has changed in the world since our last meeting. Many countries were forced to close their borders for much of the pandemic. Singapore and New Zealand were no exception. Both our countries have had our fair share of challenges dealing with the virus and its many surprises.

But the pandemic has also brought our countries closer. We strongly supported each other throughout its course. Our Ministers and officials regularly exchange information on the virus. The Prime Minister and I have called each other regularly to exchange notes on our experiences. In the early days when many flights were cancelled, we helped bring each other’s citizens home. When borders were shut and supply chains had been disrupted, we formed an air freight connectivity partnership to keep food and medical supplies flowing between our two countries. In fact, the first such Singapore to New Zealand flight in April 2020 also carried nine New Zealanders, back home, including a baby. And in May that year we jointly launched another repatriation flight to bring our citizens home from Myanmar. I am also glad that when COVID-19 vaccines became available, Singapore Airlines played a modest role in delivering New Zealand’s first batch of vaccines, on a flight that transited through Singapore.

Our strong bilateral cooperation is anchored on our long-standing friendship and trust built up over decades. With similar outlooks on trade liberalisation and economic integration, we joined hands on many path-finding economic initiatives. Singapore’s first bilateral Free Trade Agreement was with New Zealand; and we were New Zealand’s second bilateral FTA partner after Australia. Singapore and New Zealand started the P4 together with Chile and Brunei, which grew into the CPTPP. Most recently we launched the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with Chile, which several economies are now interested to join. When Singapore gained independence in 1965, New Zealand was one of the first to recognise our statehood. But our close ties go back even further. This year is the 80th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore during the (Second World) War, and next week we commemorate ANZAC Day. We remember and honour the New Zealand soldiers who fought bravely to defend Singapore during the War, especially those who, in the words of Lawrence Binyon’s poem, shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Our people-to-people ties are deep and strong. Before the pandemic, some 60,000 Singaporeans visited New Zealand every year, to explore the beautiful scenery and national parks, to experience the rich Māori culture, or step into “Middle Earth” and peep into Bilbo Baggins’ house on his 111th birthday.

We are therefore happy that we are reopening borders to each other. Many rugby fans were thrilled to see the All Blacks at the Singapore Rugby Sevens last week, their first appearance after two years away from the global sevens circuit. I am also happy to hear that Prime Minister Ardern will be visiting Gardens by the Bay later this evening to unveil a Kūwaha Māori carving at the Cloud Forest Dome. I understand that the Kūwaha represents a symbolic doorway celebrating cultures, beliefs, and identities. Thank you for this wonderful addition to the Gardens, which vividly symbolises the special connection between Singapore and New Zealand.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I now invite you to join me in a toast to Her Majesty the Queen of New Zealand, the good health and happiness of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her delegation, the continued peace and prosperity of New Zealand; and the enduring friendship between Singapore and New Zealand.

Thank you.