Singapore, South Korea can forge ties in new areas: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Mention Korea, and most Singaporeans will think of kimchi, K-pop and Korean dramas.

But even as Singapore and South Korea strengthen ties in traditional areas like culture and tourism, they can forge new ones in such areas as cyber security, smart cities and advanced manufacturing, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday.

They met at the presidential Blue House in Seoul ahead of the Asean-Republic of Korea (ROK) Commemorative Summit in Busan this week, where PM Lee and other Asean leaders will join Mr Moon in commemorating the 30th anniversary of Asean-ROK dialogue relations.

In his opening remarks, PM Lee observed that both countries enjoy warm bilateral relations, frequent high-level exchanges and close economic links.

He welcomed the expansion of the bilateral air services agreement which comes into effect on Tuesday. Under the expanded pact, Singapore and South Korean carriers can operate any number of passenger and cargo flights between any destinations in both countries.

“This will encourage more tourists and businesses to travel between the two countries, increase our economic relations and enhance the hub positions of Changi Airport and Incheon Airport,” he said.

In a statement yesterday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said both leaders discussed ways to strengthen economic ties, including by bringing up to date the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, inked in 2005.

Mr Moon conveyed South Korea’s recognition of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore as the relevant search and examining authorities for international patent applications.

The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to achieve swift entry-into-force of the updated agreement for the avoidance of double taxation, which was signed in May.

Also in the works is the establishment of a Korea Start-up Centre in Singapore next year, which will enable small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in both countries to connect with each other’s start-up and innovation ecosystems. Both leaders welcomed the growing collaboration in areas such as smart cities, medical and biotechnology, smart grids, intellectual property and cyber security, the MFA said.

In a wide-ranging discussion on regional and international issues, PM Lee welcomed Mr Moon’s efforts to implement his New Southern Policy, which aims to deepen South Korea’s strategic ties with South-east Asia. “The New Southern Policy fits in very closely with Asean’s desire to deepen and enhance its strategic partnership with the ROK,” said PM Lee.

He reaffirmed Singapore’s commitment to work closely with South Korea and the rest of the international community to achieve a peaceful, stable and denuclearised Korean peninsula.

He also expressed appreciation for initiatives by the South Korean government, including Mr Moon’s personal efforts to promote dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, MFA said.

Following their meeting, both leaders witnessed the signing and exchange of cooperation pacts in standards and conformance, manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, smart cities and cyber security.

The meeting and exchanges were capped by a lunch hosted by Mr Moon.

At the lunch, PM Lee observed that bilateral tourism numbers had more than doubled in the last 10 years to 860,000 last year. But it is timely for both countries to broaden their cooperation in new areas like cyber security, fintech and advanced manufacturing.

Agreeing, Mr Moon, who dubbed the economic successes of Singapore and South Korea the “miracle on the Equator” and “miracle on the Han River” respectively, said: “In spite of our conspicuous lack of natural resources, we found hope in our people and duly nurtured talents.”

Asean too, can deepen its cooperation with South Korea by bolstering multilateralism and strengthening connectivity, said PM Lee.

In an interview with South Korea’s Yonhap news agency published yesterday, he noted that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has made good progress and is on track to be signed next year. The Asean-ROK Free Trade Area should also be strengthened, he said.

PM Lee leaves Seoul for Busan today for the two-day Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit, which begins tomorrow.