Your Excellency Dr José Ramos-Horta

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome to the 45th Singapore Lecture. In case you have not noticed, this is the first (Singapore) Lecture we have had since COVID-19, and it is the first Singapore Lecture by a Timor-Leste leader. We are deeply honoured to have His Excellency the President deliver the lecture.

The President needs no introduction. It is not often you get a chance to listen to a true independence fighter. He has been the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, (and) President the second time round again, but I think my favourite description is what he told me at lunch – that a certain prominent Minister described him in his earlier days as an “unemployed agitator”. Clearly, those years as an “unemployed agitator” have borne fruit, not just for you, but for your nation. This is a man who has quite literally put his life on the line for his country. We were just discussing earlier that you have taken at least two bullets, literally, for the country. Fortunately, we are very glad that he made a full recovery and continues to contribute to the country. His two key interests, if I may try to summarise, are national reconciliation, both within the country and in the neighbourhood – I am sure you will have more to say about that later – and of course, his efforts at uplifting the plight for people who are less well-off and to overcome the scourge of poverty. Mr President, it is a great delight and a real honour for all of us to have you here with us.

I also need to say a few words about Singapore-Timor-Leste relations. I was very touched when President Ramos-Horta met my President (Halimah Yacob) and Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) earlier today. You reminded us that when a certain big country annexed Timor-Leste and a vote for Resolution 3485 came to the UN General Assembly, Singapore was the only member of ASEAN that abstained on that vote. Subsequently, through his efforts, after the referendum on independence for Timor-Leste, Singapore was among the first countries to contribute to the deployment of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) in 1999. Our servicemen were there all the way from 1999 till 2012. We deployed medical teams, combat peacekeepers, logistics support, equipment. The President would know that over the years, there were many Singaporeans who have become committed friends and supporters of Timor-Leste.

When we say that Singapore remains committed to contribute to Timor-Leste’s future growth and development, and that we now mark the 20th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, these are sincere words. We have been with you since the beginning, and we will continue to walk this journey with you. More than 800 Timorese officials have attended a variety of training programmes under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) over the years, including (in) areas like economic development, finance, public administration, and urban development. Earlier this morning, we also announced the “Singapore-Timor-Leste ASEAN Readiness Support” (STARS) Package, specifically targeted at enhancing Timor-Leste’s capacity as it takes this final lap to membership of ASEAN.

As a relatively young country ourselves, Singapore knows first-hand the value of strong, consistent, reliable friendships and the importance of leveraging each other’s strengths for mutual support and prosperity. I would add, perhaps just as important, a deep reservoir of strategic trust between our two nations. It is on that note of friendship and hope that we look forward to the future achievements of Timor-Leste and to listen to Your Excellency the President, Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste. Thank you all. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the President.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore