President urges more ventures with Australia

Combine strengths to seize opportunities.

SINGAPORE and Australia should combine their strengths to seize and develop opportunities in the world’s fastest growing region, President Ong Teng Cheong said yesterday.

“With growing prosperity in the region, opportunities abound for our mutual cooperation,” he said in a speech at a state banquet held in honour of the Australian Governor-General, Mr Bill Hayden, who is here on a three-day state visit.

As an example, he pointed to the tripartite initiative which involves Singapore partnering the Australian state of Victoria in investing in projects in Jiangsu province in China.

The Victorian Minister of Industry and Employment, Mr Phillip Gude, said last year that the project – which focused on the food-processing industry – would be a prelude to further partnerships in sectors such as manufacturing, infrastructure and information technology.

They would also be a lude to ventures in other markets such as Vietnam and India.

During Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s visit to Australia in September, the two countries also agreed to set up a Singapore-Australia Business Alliance Forum. The purpose of the forum is to promote joint ventures in third markets and to set up a S$2.2-million fund to boost such ventures.

Yesterday, Mr Ong said that Indonesia was also a potential partner for trilateral cooperation because of its vast infrastructural needs, rich cultural heritage and significant natural resources.

He said that Singapore welcomed Australia’s active regional engagement and would assist its integration with Asia.

Describing bilateral relations as “excellent”, he said that ties were being strengthened continually.

The two countries, he said, had agreed to set up a high-level joint committee to strengthen those ties when Australia’s Prime Minister, Mr Paul Keating, visited the Republic in March.

The two countries also participated actively in regional groupings such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the Asean Regional Forum.

In his speech, Mr Hayden noted that the Republic was one of Australia’s biggest investors with new investments amounting to more than A$775 million (S$795 million).

Singapore was also Australia’s largest trading partner in South-east Asia, he said.

The two-way trade amounted to A$2.5 billion last year.

This included A$1 billion of manufactured exports from Australia.

Mr Hayden said that besides educational links, people-to-people contact was being strengthened by tourism.

Nearly 190,000 Singaporeans visited Australia as tourists last year, he noted.

Defence ties were also expanding with the opening of the Republic of Singapore Air Force training school at Pearce Base in Western Australia.

There was also increased cooperation between the armed forces of both countries in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Mr Ong said he was confident that Singapore-Australia relations would be lifted to an even higher plane with time and appreciation of each other’s strengths.

In turn, Mr Hayden, 62, said that the two countries enjoyed “a close but not uncritical relationship”.

“In recent years, we have built an association that is very much grounded on the realities and issues of our time and region,” he said.

The former Labor Party leader, who arrived on Monday, is here at the invitation of Mr Ong. He is accompanied by his wife Dallas and 10 government officials.

Yesterday morning, after a ceremonial welcome at the Istana, he called on Mr Ong.

In the afternoon, Prime Minister Goh and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew called on Mr Hayden separately. Mr Goh hosted a lunch for him.

In response to press queries, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said later that the atmosphere of Mr Hayden’s meetings with Mr Ong and Mr Goh was “warm, relaxed and friendly”.

Mr Ong and the Governor-General exchanged views on developments in Singapore and Australia.

He said Mr Hayden and Mr Goh discussed regional and political developments.

Mr Hayden’s visit here follows state visits, which began last month, to Vietnam, Turkey, Cambodia and Laos.

He leaves for Indonesia today.

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