PM Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian PM Najib Tun Razak at the official dinner at the Istana (May 2009)

SM Lee Hsien Loong | 22 May 2009

Speeches by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak at the official dinner in honour of PM Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak at the Istana on 22 May 2009.


It is my pleasure to warmly welcome Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and your delegation. Prime Minister Najib is no stranger to Singapore. My colleagues and I have worked closely with you on many issues over the years, and you have regularly visited Singapore.

Today’s visit, however, has special significance. We are happy to host your first official visit to Singapore as the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib and Datin Sri Rosmah, we welcome this opportunity to renew our friendship and deepen relations between our two countries.

Singapore and Malaysia – A Long-Standing Friendship

Singapore and Malaysia enjoy a long-standing, friendly and multi-faceted relationship. We are bound by common history as well as deep and abiding ties. Since we became two countries, both sides have over the years accepted the differences in our two societies, and built a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship. Our bilateral ties are close, and relations between leaders and officials are good. Equally important is the warmth and friendship that exists between our two peoples.

Economically, our countries are each other’s top trading partner. Our bilateral trade was more than S$110 billion in 2008, accounting for over a fifth of total trade within ASEAN. We are also key sources of investment and tourism for each other. Singapore residents made over 11 million visits to Malaysia last year. This works out to an average of more than two visits for each Singapore resident! 

Singaporeans feel comfortable visiting Malaysia. We appreciate Malaysia’s leisure facilities, shopping and numerous natural attractions. I believe Malaysians similarly feel welcome and at home in Singapore. Many Malaysians and Singaporeans also share bonds of kinship and personal friendships, some formed over generations. I hope these linkages will endure, so that our peoples will continue to understand each other well, appreciate our inter-dependence and take an interest in each other’s progress and prosperity. This will strengthen our instinct to tackle common challenges together and work for mutual benefit.

Tackling Common Challenges and Concerns

Cooperation between our two countries is especially important today when the global economy is in crisis. Singapore and Malaysia are both export-oriented economies, vulnerable to the global downturn. We rely on an open and stable international environment for our continued growth and development. Therefore, we share an interest in global and regional stability, as well as a free flow of trade and investments.

We have actively cooperated to address common concerns. With the other ASEAN countries and our dialogue partners, we are introducing schemes like the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation, to help countries which encounter liquidity and confidence problems during periods of economic instability. In ASEAN, we have taken a strong collective stand against protectionism. Bilaterally, we update each other on policy moves, so that we can avoid surprises and unintended side-effects. One example was the move by our governments to guarantee bank deposits in October last year, when MAS touched base with Bank Negara and coordinated our announcements. The global situation will remain uncertain for some time. Far better for us to stand together than to stay apart, as we brace ourselves through the difficult period.

There is also much scope to enhance our bilateral economic cooperation. Prime Minster Najib and I had good discussions today on Iskandar Malaysia, which can benefit both our countries. We discussed preliminary ideas for an iconic project within this special economic corridor, and directed our officials to pursue them. This project can become an important symbol of our solid bilateral relations. A joint project that is successful, prospering and growing within a vibrant Iskandar Malaysia will be an enduring symbol of our lasting friendship and strong cooperation.

On security matters, and especially on terrorism issues, our security agencies have a long tradition of close collaboration. The re-capture of Mas Selamat Kastari in Johor was only the latest, but a very significant example of this long-standing cooperation. Singapore is grateful to the Malaysian authorities, particularly the Malaysian Special Branch, for their cooperation and help, which has resulted in the recapture of a dangerous and determined terrorist. I would like to again congratulate Prime Minister Najib and the Malaysian Special Branch on their successful operation, and to thank them for all that Malaysia has done on this matter.

Enhancing Bilateral Relations

Prime Minister Najib’s visit today will further strengthen our bilateral ties. We should continue to nurture our relationship by exchanging regular visits at all levels, expanding economic links and promoting more interactions between our peoples. I thank Prime Minister Najib for agreeing to Singapore’s request to open a Consulate-General in Johor Bahru. This is a practical measure that will enable the Singapore Government to look after the needs of Singaporeans in Johor. This will encourage more Singaporeans to visit or do business in Iskandar Malaysia, and so enhance our relationship. It is important that the next generation of Malaysians and Singaporeans carry on and strengthen the spirit of kinship, cooperation and goodwill that we have achieved.

My colleagues and I look forward to working closely with Prime Minister Najib and your team to keep Singapore-Malaysia relations on an even keel, and steadily bring them to a higher level. I agree whole-heartedly with Prime Minister Najib’s comments to the media, that “it is incumbent upon our two governments to not allow the difficult or thorny bilateral issues to hamper whatever progress we can achieve in the areas that are more doable and more achievable.” This is a pragmatic and constructive approach to our bilateral relationship. It bodes well for our efforts to keep our relations warm and productive, and to grow our cooperation year by year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would now like to propose a toast to the good health and success of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Datin Sri Rosmah, to the peace, stability and prosperity of Malaysia, and to the enduring friendship and cooperation between our two countries.


Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I started my official visit to Singapore on a slightly more relaxed note, in that I was invited to visit the Botanical Garden.

I was impressed by the garden, but more so, I was given the honour, together with my wife, to officiate the naming of a new hybrid orchid, given the name of Dendrobium Najib Rosmah.

I thought to myself, this is a beautiful orchid. But more than the beauty of the orchid, it symbolizes something more than that. It symbolizes that a relationship, if it is cultivated, if it is nurtured, can blossom into something beautiful, like that orchid.

And I thought, what an appropriate start to my official visit as the new kid around the block, that we should start on a positive note. That the Malaysia-Singapore relationship is an important one - a relationship that should not be subjected to a kind of a roller-coaster ride, which you are going to have at your two integrated resorts.

We have gone through that phase. I don't think we want to travel down that path again. We want to look forward, we want to look ahead, we want to see what we can do if we put our minds together.

If we take the attitude that as members of a new generation, that both Prime Minister Hsien Loong and I are young - or at least relatively young – I would like to think we are young but actually we are not that young.

We are relatively young, we are not part of that generation, we should not be encumbered with the baggage of history.

We should be bold enough, imaginative enough, courageous enough to represent a new generation of Malaysians and Singaporeans who want this relationship to be a strong, productive and enduring one.

And I approach, on that basis, the discussions that we had today. We covered many grounds, very important issues. We want to use Iskandar as the showcase of our growing relationship. I'm certainly very confident that we can make it happen.

I mean the Wellness Centre is something that you and I, or Malaysians and Singaporeans, need - that kind of treatment - now and then. Certainly our ladies do. And men equally, because I think that men are getting to be more and more vain, sometimes more vain than women are.

I think we can sell it. We can develop that, as Prime Minister Hsien Loong puts it, let's find the iconic projects between our two sides. We can certainly take up your suggestion, to have a kind of a mixed development in Iskandar.

But the important thing is to send the signal. You're sending the signal, I'm sending the signal, that Singaporeans are welcome to Malaysia, welcome to participate in Iskandar's development.

On the average, each Singaporean makes two visits to Malaysia. We can make it four visits to Malaysia - and beyond. There are many things that we can offer you and similarly, I wish to encourage Malaysians to visit Singapore as well. Our two economies need help. My wife has been doing her share this morning. I'm not sure what kind of damage she has done.

But rest assured, for things to happen, there must be a sense of confidence, trust and comfort.

And these things, we can work at it. Prime Minister Hsien Loong's idea of us meeting on a regular basis, ministers meet their counterparts, visit each other, not necessarily in an official capacity. A game of golf - make sure it is we win some and you win some. I know Jaya likes to win most of the time.

We can sit down over a plate of nasi kandar, like Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop's favourite nasi kandar. We can always end up with durian.

I know Singaporeans do like durian. I was surprised yesterday you managed to serve us durians at the golf club. It takes some doing.

This is the example of the growing, I would say a more relaxed attitude between us.

And that, Prime Minister, is a good beginning of a new era in terms of Malaysia-Singapore bilateral relations.

And I hope we can build on it, just like the orchid plant. That orchid should be a symbol of the growing trust and confidence between our two countries.

Thank you very much for hosting me. The arrangements have been wonderful, outstanding. There was no traffic jam at all today. I wonder why.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me invite you to propose a toast to the good health and success of Prime Minister Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee and also to the future of Malaysia and Singapore relations. Cheers.


Foreign affairs