- This article appears in Mandarin on Lianhe Zaobao on 31 August 2013 on page 25.
On 9th August 2015 Singapore will celebrate 50 years as an independent nation, and many are already starting to plan how best to celebrate that milestone. But a key moment in the journey to the events of 1965 came on 31st August 1963, 50 years ago today, when Singapore declared its independence from the United Kingdom.
That may have concluded one chapter of the relationship between the UK and Singapore that began with the arrival of Stamford Raffles in 1819, but it certainly didn’t close the book on a partnership that has continued to evolve over the last 50 years.
In Singapore last year UK Foreign Secretary William Hague set out his vision for Britain in Asia. He said that we are “looking East as never before…setting our country firmly on the path to far closer ties with countries across Asia over the next twenty years”. He made clear that the UK/Singapore relationship sits at the heart of this agenda, noting that “openness to ideas, enterprise, and innovation; cultural soft power and an ability to work cooperatively with other states are among the greatest attributes for success in today’s world, and Singapore has these in abundance”.
In the 50 years since 1963, Singapore has become one of Southeast Asia’s – and indeed the world’s – success stories. It may only be a Little Red Dot but it is a global shipping and transportation hub as well as a 21st century financial centre. It possesses great energy, ambition, culture, arts, scientific excellence - attributes that have made Singapore one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the world.
In my nearly two and half years here as British High Commissioner many people have shared warm memories of our shared history. One of the highlights of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to Singapore last year was the afternoon they spent in Queenstown, named for Her Majesty The Queen in Her coronation year of 1953. Last November I was delighted to deliver a 60th anniversary message from Her Majesty to Princess Elizabeth Primary School.
Singapore today feels very familiar to the visitor from Britain. Our language is here, so are our companies and universities; our art, culture and musical offerings are here, whether it’s British bands at the Esplanade, exhibitions from the Royal Academy and the British Museum or Shakespeare being performed in Fort Canning Park. Our football excites as much passion and interest as anywhere in the world.
Perhaps most important are the links between our people and our livelihoods. Singapore is home to over 30,000 British nationals, over 700 British companies and billions of pounds of UK investment from companies like Rolls-Royce and GSK. UK companies are helping to build Singapore’s rail infrastructure and iconic venues like Gardens by the Bay. There are almost 5,000 Singaporeans studying in the UK and we have consistently attracted around two thirds of Singapore’s investment in the EU.
It’s not only on the commercial front that we are so closely linked. As UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond emphasised at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June we place great importance on our membership of the Five Power Defence Arrangements, and we look forward to welcoming HMS Daring, the Royal Navy’s newest frigate, to Singapore later this year.
Also later this year both the UK and Singapore will be present at the G20 Summit in St Petersburg and then at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. In a networked world where the challenges we face are complex and require agile, innovative solutions, it is vital that we can turn our shared heritage and interests into common purpose and, more importantly, common action in key multilateral groups as well as bilaterally.
50 years on from Singapore’s declaration of independence from the UK the relationship between us is both strong and deep. The ties that bind us now are those of friendship, partnership and respect; and they provide a platform on which we can work together for mutual benefit, for the good of all our people, in the years to come.
HE Antony Phillipson
British High Commissioner