Remarks by Deputy Minister Sue van der Merwe at the Farewell Function in Honour of the Departing High Commissioner of Singapore, His Excellency Mr Winston Choo, Villa Sterne, Pretoria, 12 September 2005

Your Excellency, High Commissioner Choo and Mrs Choo
Excellencies and Colleagues
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is always a sad occasion when we have to bid farewell to those who we have come to know and with whom we have becomes friends. The diplomatic life is one characterised by this making of new friends and the inevitable sad farewells. Although High Commissioner Choo was non-resident in this country during his tour of duty, he has always kept the strong bonds of friendship between our two countries alive and active.

As you know, formal diplomatic relations were established between the Government of South Africa and the Government of the Republic of Singapore in 1992. The relations between the two countries are based on many factors, key amongst them being their historical experience of being formerly colonised territories as well as shared membership of international organisations, including amongst others, the Commonwealth; NAM; IOR-ARC as well as a common commitment to the AASROC process.

We have great admiration for your country, which immediately after independence set out on the path of establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with within its own region. Largely focused on developing your economy within the context of your own region, your country took major steps to invest in the region and by 1996 you were the top foreign investor in Malaysia, the second largest in Vietnam, and third in Indonesia and the Philippines. So it would appear from an early stage of your history, that you considered regional co-operation as the spark to trigger your development.

We share similar values to yours regarding our region and continent as the key anchor of both our foreign policy and economic revival. We believe we have much to learn from your experience.

Furthermore, in the same way that in the nineteen sixties you identified the availability of people to work, coupled with education reform as key resources to be leveraged for your development, we regard our people, including those in the Diaspora as our major asset. As part of our African Agenda and drive towards the rebirth of Africa, we want to use the combined talents of our people in all spheres to realise our dream of the African Renaissance. In this regard, we value the support that Singapore has provided, not only to our country, but to many others on the continent, through your educational exchange programmes to contribute to this capacity building initiative.

Your Excellency,

I am sure you will agree with me that our relations at a government level have been growing from strength to strength as demonstrated by the high level visits and exchanges between our two countries since the establishment of formal relations. In 1997 former President Mandela visited your country and delivered a lecture, wherein he stated:

It is in this spirit ladies and gentlemen, that we have come to your shores and to South East Asia. We are driven by a deep desire to rekindle old relations. We yearn to rebuild what was destroyed. We seek to forge strong multilateral ties amongst our nations under the new and more favourable conditions of freedom, technological advance and peace.

We also had a visit to our shores by your Foreign Minister, His Excellency Professor Jayakumar during the NAM Summit, which we hosted in 1998.

Furthermore, in April this year, President Mbeki paid a state visit to your country, and during that visit, the two countries signed an MOU on Economic, Scientific and Technical Co-operation, a framework agreement from which other more detailed and technical agreements will follow.

All these two-way exchanges demonstrate the commitment we have to our relationship with Singapore. We need to encourage more people-to-people contact, because it is at this level that the practical manifestation of the initiatives undertaken by our governments will play themselves out.

I would also like to mention that during Mr Choo's tenure, trade between South Africa and the Republic of Singapore has grown substantially. Singapore is currently South Africa's third biggest partner in South East Asia with total trade of about R4,5 billion in 2004. It is pleasing to note that Singapore's business community is actively pursuing more partnerships with their South African counterparts. South African products are making significant inroads into the Singapore market, especially wine, chemicals and motorcars.

Your Excellency, I would also like to congratulate you for your contribution to this burgeoning relationship between South Africa and Singapore. The growing trade statistics from R3.1billion in 2000 to 4.5billion in 2004 is a testimony to your contribution to our growing bilateral relations.

We will always keep you and Mrs. Choo in our thoughts and you the best of luck in his new assignment and we look forward to receiving your successor.

Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in a toast to His Excellency, High Commissioner Choo!

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