SINGAPORE: Maintaining and strengthening relations with Singapore's immediate neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei remain "more critical than ever", to overcome the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Thursday (Aug 27).
In an addendum to President Halimah Yacob's presidential address delivered in Parliament on Monday, Dr Balakrishnan said that "developing strong, sustainable, and multi-faceted partnerships" are vital for Singapore’s long-term security and continued prosperity.
Singapore has adopted a "win-win approach" in areas with common interests when it comes to its relations with Malaysia, noted Dr Balakrishnan, citing the Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System Link project as an example.
"We are also discussing measures to progressively restore cross-border travel between Singapore and Malaysia while ensuring the health and safety of the citizens of both countries," he added.
"We are also keeping up our strong and mutually beneficial cooperation with Indonesia and will explore ways to support each other’s economic recovery."
Describing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a "cornerstone" of Singapore’s foreign policy, Dr Balakrishnan said ASEAN serves as the "necessary bedrock for a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region".
"Singapore will continue to work closely with our fellow ASEAN member states, as well as ASEAN’s external partners, to enhance ASEAN’s global footprint," he added.
Beyond Southeast Asia, Singapore will also continue to strengthen various ties with other nations, said Dr Balakrishnan. This will be critical to help Singapore secure “early and adequate access to COVID-19 vaccines”, he pointed out.
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"We will have to work together with friends in the international community to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for people in all countries," he added.
“WE WILL LEAVE NO SINGAPOREAN BEHIND”
Apart from managing and strengthening relations with other countries, Dr Balakrishnan outlined other key priorities for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA).
These are: looking after Singaporeans overseas, maintaining Singapore's relevance on the global stage as well as engaging international partners in the battle against COVID-19.
"COVID-19 has reinforced how important it is for Singapore to continue to play an active role internationally and deepen our interactions with key stakeholders and at multilateral fora,” said the minister.
"The fight against COVID-19 is a global one and we cannot win it alone."
READ: MFA urges Singaporean students overseas to consider returning home soon amid evolving COVID-19 situation
In the weeks and months following the COVID-19 outbreak, MFA officers, together with other ministries and agencies, were "heavily involved" in repatriation efforts to bring affected Singaporeans home, said Dr Balakrishnan.
Diplomacy was "crucial" in these efforts, he added, and his ministry worked closed with international counterparts.
"Our officers worked around the clock and went beyond the call of duty to help their fellow Singaporeans in their time of need. Singaporeans know that we will leave no Singaporean behind," he said.
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As COVID-19 continues to remain a threat for the "foreseeable future", Singapore must be ready for more uncertainty, Dr Balakrishnan added.
"For those Singaporeans who have chosen to remain abroad, their families here are understandably concerned about their well-being. MFA remains committed to helping overseas Singaporeans and doing our part to bring peace of mind to their families at home," he said.
READ: How Foreign Service officers in China worked around the clock to evacuate Singaporeans from Hubei
On the multilateral level, Singapore will also continue to play a "constructive role", said Dr Balakrishnan.
He explained: "We will continue to advocate for trade and investment liberalisation, a free, open and rules-based multilateral system, the importance of preserving supply chain connectivity, facilitating the flow of essential goods, and promoting vaccine multilateralism. These are critical to Singapore’s growth and prosperity."
"As we navigate the challenging times ahead, we must ensure that first and foremost, we are strong and united as Singaporeans," said Dr Balakrishnan.
"This will strengthen our credibility when we work with external partners to strengthen our bilateral relations, regional standing, and international presence.”