NEW DELHI — Singapore and the United Kingdom on Saturday (Sept 9) upgraded bilateral relations to a new “strategic partnership”, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit in India.
The partnership covers a wide gamut of areas including economic cooperation, defence, security, intelligence, foreign policy, green economy, research and public sector cooperation, according to a joint declaration issued by the two nations’ leaders during a bilateral meeting.
Both met after the first session of the G20 Summit on Saturday afternoon. This was the first time they met after Mr Sunak became the UK prime minister last October.
Describing both nation’s relationship as “dynamic” and “comprehensive” at all levels including trade and investment, defence and security, and science and technology, both leaders said in the joint declaration that mutual cooperation between the two countries reflected the “like-minded” and “forward-looking” nature of Singapore and the UK.
This includes an unwavering commitment to free trade, international law and the rules-based multilateral system, as well as a shared commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific, said the declaration.
“This Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership heralds a new era in Singapore-United Kingdom relations, catalysing opportunities for our people to cooperate and strengthen linkages, for the common peace, stability and prosperity of our countries,” both leaders said.
WHY IT MATTERS
The latest “strategic partnership” upgrades the already strong bilateral relations between Singapore and the UK in more areas and comes after UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in July.
Singapore is one of the members of the CPTPP, a free trade agreement among 11 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation that was concluded in 2018.
Previously, both countries had announced a “Partnership for the Future” in 2019 that covered four broad areas of cooperation, namely the digital economy, sustainable business and innovation, security and defence, as well as in education, culture and youth exchanges.
Since then, the UK-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (UKSFTA) came into force in 2021, as well as the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement (UKSDEA) in 2022, further enhancing economic cooperation between both nations.
In terms of military cooperation, both nations are part of the Five Power Defence Agreement (FPDA) dating back to 1971, and which includes Australia, Malaysia and New Zealand. Singapore and the UK also signed a Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding in 2018 at the sidelines of the annual Shangri-La Dialogue — the first MOU on defence between the two countries.
WHAT DOES THE NEW STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP INCLUDE?
Both Mr Lee and Mr Sunak recognised that the security of both countries is built upon prosperity, and as such, “will commit to deepening our economic relationship to strengthen the dynamism and resilience of our economies”, the joint declaration said.
To this end, both countries will seek to “maximise the benefits and opportunities” from the UKSFTA, UKSDEA as well as the UK’s accession to the CPTPP. In general, all three trade and digital economy treaties promote tariff-free trade, lowers barriers to entry and facilitate market access between businesses of both countries.Among other things, the declaration also states that Singapore and UK will commit to explore mechanisms to facilitate cross-border data flows, promote the adoption of “interoperable digital systems through multilateral fora”.The primary platform to monitor progress of such cooperation will be through an annual UK-Singapore Financial Dialogue, the joint declaration stated.Singapore and Britain will also work together to scale green and transition finance, which will include “bilateral pilot projects that support innovation and resilience” in the financial systems of both economies, said both leaders.
DEFENCE, FOREIGN POLICY
Both leaders pledged to contribute towards a free, stable and peaceful international rules-based order.
Singapore and the UK will expand their and reaffirm existing defence cooperations, such as the FPDA and the 2018 MOU on Defence Cooperation, the joint declaration stated.Both countries will also deepen partnerships between their defence ministries, including in managing of threats in the digital and cyber domains.Other areas in which Singapore and the UK will strengthen cooperation include dealing with maritime security issues and “tackling of shared threats from illicit finance, economic and organised crimes”.
Mr Lee and Mr Sunak said the partnership between both countries will help to develop a green economy that achieves the goals of the Paris Agreement and Glasgow Climate Pact, besides strengthening climate resilience and create new jobs in growth sectors.
Singapore and the UK will reaffirm their commitment to multilateral environment agreements global climate action goals, such as to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.Both nations will also contribute towards a sustainable economy by accelerating “regional sustainable infrastructure and investment” and developing the relevant talent pool and skillsets through a Green Skills Corridor.
The joint declaration on Saturday stated that the foreign ministries of Singapore and the UK will “regularly review” progress in the implementation of the Strategic Partnership to ensure that the cooperation continues to be “relevant and future ready”.