Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Lunch hosted in honour of Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Thursday, 30 August 2018.
Your Excellency Sebastian Kurz, Federal Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. May I bid a very warm welcome to Chancellor Kurz and his delegation.
I last met the Chancellor four months ago when we both attended the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, China. I am happy to meet him again so soon after, and this time, for his first official visit to Singapore as Chancellor. The Chancellor last visited us five years ago as the State Secretary for Integration. I am happy to welcome him back. I am also pleased that he has brought with him his key Cabinet Ministers, as well as a distinguished delegation of business people and science representatives.
Singapore and Austria enjoy several interesting similarities. We both have a history of being trading nations. Austria has been the gateway to Europe since the 18th century. The Vienna basin is at the intersection of many trade routes. Today, Vienna continues to play an important role in regional commerce in Europe. Likewise, Singapore has a long history of being a global trading and financial hub and gateway between Europe and Asia.
Hence, it is appropriate that the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) will be signed this year during Austria’s term as President of the EU Council. I wish to thank the Chancellor for reaffirming Austria’s strong support for the ratification of the EU-Singapore FTA, which will boost bilateral trade and investment between our two countries and indeed our two regions.
Austrian companies are growing their presence in Singapore, with more than 220 Austrian companies here. I am happy that they have come to Singapore, because Austrian companies are among the world’s best in areas like industrial and automotive components, radio communications, building solutions and sustainable architecture. In fact, one can see many Austrian civil engineering technologies applied in Singapore.
For example, the innovative ceiling structures at Changi Airport Terminal 3, which adjust automatically to the sun’s position and bring in soft natural lighting. They were designed by Bartenbach, an Austrian lighting design expert. The Wave Sports Hall at Nanyang Technological University which was built using mass engineered timber sourced from Austrian forests, prefabricated, and shipped to Singapore for assembly.
Austria and Singapore can do more together to generate new areas of cooperation bilaterally as well as between our regions. I am happy to note that several memorandum of understanding (MOUs) will be signed this afternoon at the JTC Launchpad between Austria’s Global Incubator Network and Singapore’s start-ups. Chancellor Kurz will also be visiting Singapore Polytechnic to observe how they use technology to aid teaching and learning.
Both our countries have a shared interest in IT and digitalisation – more than an interest, perhaps an obsession. This year, Chancellor Kurz established a new Federal Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs, under the charge of Minister Margarete Schramboeck, who is with us today. The Ministry coordinates Austria’s efforts for digital transformation, including implementing e-government services and developing a digitalisation-friendly legal framework. This was a step forward in Austria’s Digital Roadmap launched two years ago.
Similarly, in Singapore, we have set up a Smart Nation and Digital Government Group under the Prime Minister’s Office to drive our digitalisation efforts. We talked a bit about this just now in the Call. Two months ago, we launched our Digital Readiness Blueprint, which sets out our Government’s plans to prepare Singaporeans and Singapore companies with the knowledge and capabilities for a digital world. We are like-minded, and I hope we can build on Chancellor Kurz’s visit to generate more ideas and work together more closely in this area. We are discussing an MOU between our two countries and I am sure we will be able to work one out which is substantial and valuable to both sides.
Finally, at the people to people level and in cultural activities, the Embassy has been very active in bringing a slice of Austrian culture to Singapore. I am happy that we are able to celebrate the centenary of the Republic of Austria this year with a concert featuring both Austrian and Singaporean contemporary composers. Singapore has also been privileged to host the world renowned Vienna Boys’ Choir almost every year. Austria is a popular holiday destination for Singaporeans who are attracted by the rich cultural and arts scene of Salzburg, and of course Vienna, the most liveable city in the world.
Last night, I met one of our senior diplomats and I told her that I am meeting you today. She said, “Austria, my ambition is to be there on New Year’s Day for the New Year’s Concert.” I said, “I know what you are talking about, I used to watch it in Cambridge as a student on New Year’s Day – Willi Boskovsky.” It dates us because I looked it up and Willi Boskovsky passed away many years ago but you do not forget the Pizzicato Polka.
There are many hard and soft areas we can work together. Our two countries may be miles apart, but we are connected in many ways. We established diplomatic relations in 1966, shortly after Singapore became independent, making our friendship as old as Singapore. I believe that we can continue to tap on our complementary strengths and common interests to pursue greater cooperation. May I therefore wish you and your delegation a fruitful visit.
I would like to invite Chancellor, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen to join me in a toast to the good health and success of Chancellor Kurz and his delegation; and the close and enduring partnership between Singapore and Austria.
Thank you very much.
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