Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan and Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock discussed ways to deepen bilateral areas such as the environment, green, digital and cybersecurity cooperation

MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan met German Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin on 4th April 2022. Following the meeting, the two Ministers held a Joint Press Conference.  The Ministers reaffirmed the strong and longstanding ties between Singapore and Germany. They explored ways to deepen bilateral relations in areas such as green, digital, and cybersecurity cooperation.

Minister Balakrishnan highlighted that there are over 2,100 German companies in Singapore, involved in key sectors such as finance, research and development (R&D), and engineering. Singapore has also seen an increase in investments from German Mittelstand champions to expand their local R&D teams. 

Germany and Singapore have a shared and profound belief in multilateralism. We can build on frameworks like the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the recently concluded ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement to bring both countries and regions closer together. 

The leaders reiterated that they have always worked together closely both at regional and international fora. In 2020, under Germany’s Presidency of the EU Council and Singapore’s Country Coordinatorship of the ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations, the relations between the EU and ASEAN were elevated to a Strategic Partnership.  The Ministers also exchanged views on global and regional developments, particularly the situation in Ukraine. They discussed climate change and the opportunities from sustainable development and the energy transformation. 

Following is the transcript of Minister Balakrishnan’s remarks and the Q&A that followed at the Joint Press Conference:

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1        Thank you, Annalena, for this chance to meet you on home ground. I am glad to be back in Germany, as I have on numerous occasions in different incarnations. But I do wish we were meeting in happier circumstances.

  2        The world has changed profoundly. I think it becomes even more crucial that this vital partnership that we have between Germany and Singapore is worth reinforcing and affirming, especially at a time like this. Both Germany and Singapore are staunch supporters of an inclusive, rules-based, and peaceful international order. This has been a shared belief that has been the bedrock of our excellent cooperation in multiple areas, ranging from business, finance, defence, education, culture, (and) sports. Germany is Singapore’s largest goods trading partner in the EU (European Union). Just to give some numbers to this, in 2021, bilateral trade in goods totalled S$23.4 billion. In fact, it is a 17.7% increase from the year before. The point is, all this is occurring with COVID-19 in the backdrop. So it is a positive account. I mentioned earlier there are (over) 2,100 German companies based in Singapore. There is even a German school in my constituency. These companies are engaged in key sectors like finance, research and development (R&D), (and) engineering. I am also glad that Singapore has seen an increase in investments from German Mittelstand champions who have been expanding their local R&D teams in Singapore. At a bloc-to-bloc level, the EU is ASEAN’s (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) third largest trading partner. ASEAN is likewise the EU’s third largest trading partner outside Europe. We discussed and we both agreed that there is much potential to do more, especially in new and exciting areas like cybersecurity (and) green sustainable development. We also believe that we need to further strengthen people-to-people ties between our two nations, and between our countries and regions in the years ahead. 

 3        I am glad to report that we have continued this close collaboration and mutual support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Both of us have weathered the Omicron waves. I believe we are both on the recovery side of that wave, and we have progressively relaxed our border measures. I am glad to report, certainly for the Germans who are thinking of traveling, that with effect from 1st April, all vaccinated travellers from Germany can enter Singapore. All you need is one test in Germany before you leave. After that, it is business-as-usual. You will be welcome in Singapore as much as you were welcome before COVID-19 reared its head. So I look forward to welcoming all of you to Singapore in the very near future. It is also worth emphasising that throughout the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, our supply chains between Germany and Singapore were never interrupted. Flows of essential goods, services, vaccines, drugs, pharmaceuticals, food – all continued unabated. The true test of a relationship is when there are times of stress. We did not let each other down in this time of stress. That has built even more strategic trust for the future. 

 4        Germany and Singapore also share a profound belief in multilateralism. We have always worked together closely both at regional and international fora. In 2020, under Germany’s Presidency of the EU Council and Singapore’s Country Coordinatorship of the ASEAN-EU Dialogue Relations, we elevated the relations between the EU and ASEAN to a Strategic Partnership. Last year, ASEAN and the EU also concluded a historic Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement, which is the world’s first bloc-to-bloc aviation agreement.

  5        We also discussed the very painful situation in Ukraine. I think we have both seen the photographs and videos from Bucha. Words will not be able to define the horror of the pain and suffering that innocent civilians pay in this horrendous war. In the case of Singapore, we are standing to uphold existential principles. We may be far away from this conflict, but the fundamental principles of territorial integrity, respect for the independence and sovereignty of nations, and to be free of the threat of being attacked by other nations – these principles are enshrined in the UN (United Nations) Charter. To us, these are essential pillars for peace and prosperity in the world. That is why although we are a tiny city state far away from Europe, we decided that we needed to take a stand. Not take sides, but to take a stand on principle. Singapore therefore has strongly condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and we have also imposed sanctions and restrictions to constrain Russia’s capacity to conduct war against the Ukrainian people and to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine.  

6        We hope and pray that there will be an immediate ceasefire. The people of Ukraine deserve so much more than has been visited on them in the last six weeks. We hope there will be a peaceful resolution, in accordance with the UN Charter and international law. There must be safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and those most directly affected by the crisis. I am confident that Germany will continue to play an especially crucial role, and especially during the G7 Presidency. 

7        Let me conclude by thanking Minister Baerbock for her strong commitment and support to deepen the relations between not only our two countries, but our two regions. I am happy to continue to work with you to elevate our bilateral cooperation to new heights. I have issued two invitations to you to visit Singapore this year. We have much to do in an unsettled world, in a time when so much is at stake and so much is changing. We look forward to this essential collaboration with Germany as we deal with this new world with all its attendant problems and opportunities.  

8        Thank you very much for your welcome

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (Paul-Anton Krüger):  Foreign Minister, with China more or less openly siding with Russia in that conflict, or in that war, what does the role of China in this war mean for stability in your region and what would you advise to your European colleagues when they are recalibrating their relationships with China in regard of that conflict? Thank you very much. 

Minister: Thank you. As I said just now, we may be very far away from this current conflict, but it has profound implications to the whole world, including the Asia-Pacific. At the first level, I have already explained that as a matter of principle, violating the UN (United Nations) Charter, (and) transgressing territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of nations is a clear and present danger to the system of nation states and globalisation, which in a sense, began in Germany, (in) Westphalia. It was a world in which all countries, big and small, would have a voice, would have access to peaceful resolution of dispute, (and) would behave within accepted norms of international behaviour. All this is now at risk. There is another level at which this conflict is salient, and that is that it complicates the already difficult relationship between the United States and China.

In the last two months, I have been to Beijing, (and) I have been to Washington, D.C., before arriving here. Let me just quote what the Chinese Ambassador to the US (Qin Gang) said on the 20th of March 2022. Let me quote him: “We should be clear that China-Russia cooperation has no limits, but it does have a bottom line. That is the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, the international law and the basic norms governing international relations.” 

I think we should pay attention to what has been said, and understand that China has got multiple interests in this situation. But I would like to believe that all of us want to see an end to the hostility, an end to the suffering of the Ukrainian people who are innocent victims, and a restoration of the norms of international behaviour.  I have been coming to Germany over many years, and every time you come to Berlin, it is a pilgrimage to go to the Berlin Wall. I am old enough to remember watching the scenes as the Wall came down. 1989 in Germany represented the zenith of the post-World War Two Order. 

If you think about what happened in the aftermath of post-World War Two, it was a world order in which America had 40% of global GDP. 

America was prepared to envision and underwrite a world order defined by the United Nations, international law, the Bretton Woods Institutions, World Bank, IMF (International Monetary Fund). It was prepared to help support international economic integration, the growth of multinational corporations, the free flow of capital, goods, and services. Actually, for those of us in Asia, this was a formula for peace and prosperity, and we all gained from it. In fact, the biggest beneficiary, actually was China. Of course, clearly the rest of us in Southeast Asia as well. 

Therefore, we watch what is happening in Europe now with grave concern, because if suddenly all those pillars of globalisation are shaken, then we are into a very uncertain and difficult future ahead. Yet, all these strategic calculations are also occurring at a time when there is a need for a green global reset, an energy transformation and a digital revolution. 

It is our hope that we do not repeat the need to enter into new world wars, but we can fast forward and arrive at new arrangements for a post-World War scenario. One in which all countries can be safe, can focus on the opportunities that the green economy will bring, and the digital opportunities as well, and hopefully create a new age of peace and prosperity. So that really is our hope, and I am just sharing a perspective from Southeast Asia.