SINGAPORE: Singapore and New Zealand are “natural partners”, the countries' prime ministers said on Friday (May 17), after establishing an Enhanced Partnership, a milestone in the countries' 54-year relationship.
They were speaking at a press conference after inking the partnership, which set the stage for the two island nations to deepen cooperation in the areas of trade and economics, defence and security, science, technology and innovation, and people-to-people links.
The two countries share similar strategic perspectives on the region, believe in trade liberalisation and support an open, rules-based international trading system, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.
He added that Singapore is one of New Zealand’s top trading partners and investors. The countries enjoy strong defence and tourism ties, as well as robust research links, he added.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was here on her first official visit, similarly said that the Republic is an “incredibly important strategic partner”. This is demonstrated by New Zealand being Singapore’s first bilateral free trade partner, and Singapore being New Zealand’s second, she said.
“We also share a much wider ambition to make sure that we collectively continue to promote an open and inclusive, and rules-based region,” she said.
She added that the enhanced partnership is a “significant step up” in the countries’ relationship.
IMPACT OF PARTNERSHIP
The leaders took a question on how much the partnership will help mitigate slowing economies as a result of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China.
Mr Lee said that the partnership shows that the two countries are promoting economic integration and trade at a time when these basic concepts are under threat.
Ms Ardern echoed similar sentiments.
In a world where the two countries are both observers and countries impacted by global trade tensions, it is now more important than ever that they continue to demonstrate the benefits of free trade and a rules-based order, she said.
While Mr Lee said he expects that bilateral trade between the two countries will grow, given that both countries are small, the relative portion of their bilateral trade and overall international trade is “quite small”.
“It will be a very useful contribution, but quantitatively, it will be a modest one,” he said.
He added that he hopes their deepening of trade ties through the enhanced partnership will encourage other countries to “go forth and do similar things”.
Ms Ardern added: “I hope that by continuing to modernise free trade agreements as we have done here, we can demonstrate that we can keep pace, that we can make sure that our businesses benefit.”
CHRISTCHURCH CALL TO ACTION
The leaders also took a question on the Christchurch Call to Action, a New Zealand-led effort to tackle extremism online in response to the live-streamed shootings at two Christchurch mosques on Mar 15.
Silicon Valley giants like Facebook have signed on to the Call, which outlines a nine-point plan to address the abuse of online platforms to spread terrorist content.
Ms Ardern was asked if she foresees the Call to Action also tackling the issue of fake news and disinformation, similar to Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.
To that, she said that the Call to Action is narrowly defined for good reason. The attack in New Zealand was one that was designed to spread online, and it was successful in that regard.
She referred to numbers that the live stream of the shooting was shared on Facebook 1.5 million times, and was uploaded on YouTube once every second for the first 24 hours.
“Our starting point has been to target violent extremism and terrorism online and so the call is very focused on that. It talks about eliminating that content and also preventing that kind of content from proliferating,” she said.
Mr Lee earlier said that the Christchurch Call to Action reaffirms the importance of addressing threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism online and that it commits countries and online service providers to work together to tackle it.
He thanked Ms Ardern for her leadership in rallying an effective international response to the serious issue.
“Singapore takes this problem very seriously. We will work with New Zealand, with other countries, and with online service providers to tackle terrorism and violent extremism,” Mr Lee said.