Prime Minister

My fellow colleagues, Foreign Ministers


Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me first bid all of you a very warm welcome to Singapore. In case you haven't noticed yet, we are one degree 15 minutes north of the Equator. So we don't have seasons, it's just hot and wet. So when I bid you a warm welcome, I mean it quite literally.

I am aware that most of you have made a very long journey to reach us. I think for some of you, it's probably about 40 hours. So you have sacrificed for this trip. I am deeply grateful and we are honoured on behalf of all Singaporeans to welcome you here.

I believe that your presence underscores the importance of our friendship, and equally, the good prospects for our relations in recent years. Singapore, the Pacific Island States, and Timor-Leste are actually quite natural partners. We are all small states in an uncertain world. History has usually not been very kind to small states, meaning our existence, our continued prosperity and our viability are not a benign fact of geography but really a continuous exercise of political will. And therefore I am sure that you will agree with me that we all share common interests and common priorities.

It is crucial for us to remain open and plugged into the global networks if we are to survive and thrive. In fact, at this time in the world, we should hold conversations on remaining open, on building bridges instead of walls, and on recognising and celebrating diversity, rather than insisting on narrow and sometimes cynical definitions. I think it is even more crucial at this time for small states like us to reaffirm that we need to remain open; we need to build bridges; we need to build ports; we need to remain connected; and we do not have the option of turning inwards. We do not have the option of opting out of globalisation.

Yet, our very openness by definition also means we will face common vulnerabilities and challenges. Therefore, there is much for us to learn from each other as we tackle these challenges collectively. Singapore is very happy to have hosted the inaugural High-Level Study Visit for the Pacific Island States in 2012. Amazingly that means 5 years have passed in the blink of an eye. Since then, our relations have strengthened. I am glad to see that this year we have even more participants, and this reflects our recognition of the value of staying in close touch with one another and forging closer cooperation.

Our political exchanges are also becoming more frequent. Our leaders have made use of opportunities to meet on the side-lines of international fora. I had the pleasure of hosting lunch for the foreign ministers of the Pacific Island States and Timor-Leste during the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in September last year, and some of us met on that occasion. I always say that the UNGA is a kind of speed dating for diplomats and Foreign Ministers.

I am very grateful for your longstanding support for the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP). The SCP is our way of giving back to the global community by sharing our experiences and best practices with our friends, and hoping to gain new ideas from you in return. Since its inception in 1992, Singapore has hosted close to 5,000 officials from the Pacific Island States and Timor-Leste in a very wide range of programmes. We have also hosted young diplomats from your countries as part of my Ministry's annual programme for foreign diplomats. These exchanges are valuable platforms to advance our people-to-people ties and our institutional links. I hope that they will also give useful insights to your officials in the same way that they give us.

Our countries have also cooperated very well at the multilateral level. We have an excellent record of supporting each other's international candidatures. We have worked well in groups such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Forum of Small States (FOSS). These groups have given us a stronger collective voice, and this is not something we can take for granted. I want to congratulate Fiji on its 2017 Presidency of COP-23 and Nauru's chairmanship of AOSIS from 2011 to 2014, during which AOSIS played an important role in facilitating the conclusion of the climate change negotiations. And climate change, I probably don't need to emphasise, is a clear and present threat to all of us. I am happy to see that two of our own have occupied these important positions at the multilateral level.

We must not take our good relations for granted and there will always be more we can do. Singapore is keen to forge stronger connections with each and every one of the nations that you represent. In this regard I am pleased to announce that we will renew the Special Technical Assistance Programme for the Small Island Developing States which we first offered at the Third SIDS Conference in Samoa in 2014. I welcome your officials to participate in our series of carefully curated courses under the SCP which we believe will cover many important issues that island states like us have to grapple with.

Over the next few days, I'm afraid that you're going to be very busy. There are a whole series of briefings and visits to our agencies, our port, our water, and our vocational educational facilities. You will also be receiving briefings from the UN Development Programme's Global Centre for Public Service Excellence, and you will cover a wide range of topics pertinent to small island states including the role of effective public service in advancing our Sustainable Development Goals articulated in the 2030 Agenda.

So I hope that this visit will be an effective platform; that you will be able to relax, exchange ideas frankly and robustly; and that we'll also remember to strengthen the sense of camaraderie and friendship amongst us. It mustn't be all work, no play. Play also has to be taken seriously. All in all, I look forward to meeting you; interacting with you; listening to you. And for us ultimately, when you make trips like this, all you need is two or three big ideas but I hope you will make far more than two or three new friends. So again, let me welcome you and wish you a most fruitful time together with us in the next few days.

Thank you very much.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore