CANBERRA, Australia: The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) agreement finalised in May this year will take the relationship between Singapore and Australia one step forward and will "cement our partnership for many years to come", Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the Australian parliament on Wednesday (Oct 12).
Mr Lee is the seventh world leader to address the Australian parliament since 2010, joining the likes of US President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in having that honour.
Said Mr Lee: “I am happy that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and I have concluded the CSP, an ambitious package that enhances core aspects of our cooperation."
Under the pact, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will have more training space in Australia and jointly develop state-of-the-art facilities with the Australia over 25 years. “This will improve the quality of our training, and help to overcome Singapore’s size constraints. Our two armed forces will have more opportunities to train together and enhance interoperability,” noted Mr Lee.
Apart from defence, three other major pillars of the CSP agreement include trade and economics, innovation and science, and improving people-to-people ties.
In trade liberalisation, Mr Lee said an upgraded version of the 2003 Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) will make it easier for professionals and entrepreneurs to work in each other’s countries.
He also said Singapore and Australia have much scope to cooperate more in R&D, noting that Australia has a "very well-developed institute for scientific research" in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and that Singapore has identified key challenges to tackle, including basic urban problems such as water supply and energy conservation.
MILITARY DEPLOYMENTS BUILD CAMARADERIE AMONG TROOPS
Mr Lee highlighted the close cooperation between both counties in the fields of security and humanitarian missions. "Our security agencies work closely and quietly together to fight terrorism – sharing intelligence and information, carrying out counter-terrorism operations, and exchanging notes on religious rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programmes," Mr Lee said.
For instance, the SAF and Australian Defence Force train and operate together, with Singapore troops hosted at Oakey and Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and the RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia, Mr Lee stated. They are also fighting Islamic State extremists together as part of the counter-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria.
Mr Lee said these deployments reflect the shared strategic priorities, and have built camaraderie and a sense of common purpose among the troops.
“I know these not just as abstract principles, but through personal experience,” said Mr Lee as he recounted a 1983 cable car accident in Singapore. Thirteen people were trapped in the cable cars to Sentosa, after an oil rig snagged the cable.
“I was then serving in the SAF and directed the rescue operations. We despatched two helicopters with winchmen to rescue the trapped passengers. One of the pilots was a young Royal Australian Navy officer, Lieutenant Geoff Ledger.
“He was on exchange with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, helping to build up its search and rescue capability. He did not have to participate but he did, piloting one of the helicopters. It was a risky operation, at night under windy conditions, but fortunately the rescue succeeded,” said Mr Lee, acknowledging Mr Ledger as a special guest in the audience.
TWO VERY DIFFERENT COUNTRIES BUT GOOD FRIENDS
In his speech, Mr Lee also said the deep and longstanding friendship was forged between Singapore and Australia due to the “similar strategic interests and perspectives” that both countries possess.
“Our societies are open, inclusive and multicultural. We value our ethnic and religious diversity, and appreciate the different races and cultures in our midst. We accept change as the way forward, and look outwards to the world for inspiration, ideas and opportunities," he said.
Mr Lee also stressed the deep people-to-people links between the two nations. Last year, about 400,000 Singaporeans visited Australia and 1,000,000 Australians visited Singapore, he said.
“Indeed many of us have families living in both countries, including PM Turnbull. I was very glad to learn last year that the Prime Minister had a new granddaughter, Isla, born in Singapore during our Golden Jubilee, our SG50 year,” Mr Lee shared. “In Singapore, we would call her an SG50 baby. But because it was also the 50th anniversary of Singapore-Australia diplomatic relations, she is also an SA50 baby!”
“Our partnership is greater than the sum of its parts,” PM Lee said. “I look forward to Singapore and Australia working together to deepen and strengthen it, and enabling our peoples to prosper in peace and friendship for many years to come.”