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Speech by CS at Gala Dinner in Celebration of the Growing Friendship and Partnership between Hong Kong and Singapore (English only) (with photo)

     Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, at the Gala Dinner in Celebration of the Growing Friendship and Partnership between Hong Kong and Singapore today (July 24):

Minister (Hng Kiang) Lim (Minister for Trade & Industry, Singapore), Ambassador Chen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good evening. Welcome to tonight's gala dinner. We are here to celebrate the longstanding friendship, and the flourishing partnership, between Hong Kong and Singapore.  I am gratified to see this huge turnout tonight.  This is clearly a reflection of the diverse and multi-sectoral links that have been established between the two places over the decades. I would also like to express my gratitude to the representatives of the business communities from other ASEAN countries for coming over tonight.

     Friendship, partnership, co-operation - those are words that rarely appear in the headline stories that spotlight relations between our two economies.  If ours is a "Tale of Two Cities", to borrow a title from Mr Dickens, the media seems to view it largely as a tale of two endlessly competing cities.
     Over the years, Singapore and Hong Kong have been compared and contrasted, found winning, waning or wanting, in everything from our economic standing, quality of living and housing programme to the weather, not to mention the number of billionaires we call ours, the price of a Big Mac or the presence of a bike-sharing system.

     For someone who wants the best of both worlds, you may wish to buy your burger in Hong Kong, which is less expensive, and ride your bike amidst the green space in Singapore.  On that last point, I should add that we are indeed building extensive cycle tracks in the New Territories in Hong Kong and our Chief Executive has included plans for mountain bike trails in his Policy Address this year.  So, we are catching up!

     Yes, there may be just a little friendly competition between us.  But that only seems to stimulate innovation, and on both sides, whether with the economy, in finance, culture, education, fine dining or bike riding.

     Our default setting is cooperation.  And I'd say we're doing a bang-up job of it.  Trade between us climbed five per cent in 2014, continuing a long-term growth trend in our bilateral trade.  And, last year, Hong Kong became Singapore's fifth-largest trading partner.  Singapore is also Hong Kong's fifth-biggest trader.
     We invest in each other's economies as well, and in a significant way.  At the end of 2013, Singapore was the seventh-largest source of Hong Kong's inward direct investment, with an IDI stock exceeding US$29 billion.  Singapore was the eighth-largest destination of Hong Kongˇ¦s outward direct investment over the same period, our ODI stock worth more than US$10 billion.

     It's much the same in other areas.  Last year, we welcomed 738 000 visitors from Singapore, up 5.4 per cent over 2013 arrivals.  And Hong Kong was Singapore's eighth-largest visitor source in 2014, some 631 000 of us basking in the Singaporean sun and island hospitality.

     On a Government-to-Government level, our ties are strong.  In my former capacity as the Secretary for Development, I made almost annual visits to Singapore to learn about her latest developments on quality city and urban renewal.  As the Chief Secretary for Administration, this is my second official visit to Singapore.  And during the past three years, eight of my Principal Official colleagues had visited Singapore in their official capacity.  In Hong Kong, my colleagues and I regularly receive ministers, parliamentarians and officials from Singapore.  The permanent secretaries of our two governments even have a regular visit programme to exchange views on a wide range of policy areas.

     There are, to be sure, a great many individuals and organisations on both sides to thank for the growing cooperation we enjoy.  Allow me, this evening, to single out one, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (ETO) here in Singapore.

     Over the past two decades, the Singapore ETO, though modest in size and resources, has played a central role in enhancing bilateral relations between Hong Kong and Singapore, helping both cities boost their competitiveness in Asia.  Headed by Fong Ngai, our Singapore ETO has handled an extremely heavy load in the past four years, given our growing relationship with ASEAN and the numerous Principal Official visits to Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries.  Indeed, accompanied by Fong Ngai, I shall be visiting Brunei after Singapore on this trip.  

     Our Singapore ETO has also done much to boost our cultural relations.  This year's "Spotlight Hong Kong in Singapore Festival", which opened today and runs through the weekend, is just one example of the many cultural exchanges it has made possible.  A few minutes ago, we enjoyed a lively riff from the "Spotlight Hong Kong in Singapore Festival".  And there's more to follow from the festival later this evening.  My thanks to the Hong Kong Fringe Club and the Hong Kong Arts Festival for making tonight's entertainment possible.

     Beyond Singapore, our ETO's central mandate is to strengthen relations between Hong Kong and the Association of South East Asian Nations.  I'm pleased to note that it's doing a fine job of that too.  Collectively, ASEAN has been Hong Kong's second-largest trading partner for the past five years.  Over the past ten years, our bilateral trade has grown nearly eight per cent a year, on average.  Last year, our merchandise trade exceeded US$106 billion; that's an increase of nearly ten per cent, year-on-year.

     Reflecting the significance of this relationship, more than 70 bilateral agreements or arrangements have been signed between Hong Kong and the economies of ASEAN.  They cover a great variety of areas, from cultural cooperation and air services, to avoidance of double taxation, civil service training and education.

     The latter includes the Singapore-Hong Kong Exchange programme, an annual exchange between secondary schools in Hong Kong and Singapore.  Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a farewell ceremony for Hong Kong students and teachers, who spent two weeks here in Singapore enjoying a variety of cultural and academic offerings.  I can tell you they were not in a hurry to leave Singapore at all.  Since the programme was launched 15 years ago, some 1 600  students from Singapore and Hong Kong have taken part.  I'd say that's cooperation at its best.   After all, investing in our next generation is a goal we both share and broadening our young people's exposure is an effective means to help them face future challenges in a globalised era.

     And there's more of that now, thanks to our Singapore ETO.   Last year, it established the ASEAN Internship for University Students of Hong Kong Scheme.  The programme offers Hong Kong university students internships in ASEAN. Last year, some 90 students participated.  This year, student intake has doubled with about 200 Hong Kong university students taking up internships in eight ASEAN countries.  I should add that some two-thirds of them have chosen Singapore.  The internship will only expand as Hong Kong's ties with ASEAN continue to prosper and, indeed, proliferate.  

     As you know, we are in the midst of negotiating for a free-trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN.  In fact, the fourth round of such negotiations concluded only yesterday.  My thanks to Singapore for hosting the negotiations, which took place over four days.  I understand that the talks were fruitful, and I look forward to a successful conclusion in the coming year.
     Singapore and Hong Kong are, of course, strong supporters of liberalisation in trade and economic integration in general.  I  have no doubt that a Hong Kong-ASEAN FTA will take Hong Kong-Singaporean relations to new heights of cooperation.

     Looking ahead, as the global economic gravity shifts to the East, both Hong Kong and Singapore, as two of the leading developed economies in the region, will certainly have important roles to play in promoting regional development.  The Hong Kong-ASEAN FTA is just one of the many platforms on which Singapore and Hong Kong can cooperate with each other.  China, our motherland, has been actively promoting the "Belt and Road" initiative as well as the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to support infrastructure development in the region.  Both Hong Kong and Singapore are located along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.  With China emerging as the world's second largest economy and a key player in regional development, both Hong Kong and Singapore will surely benefit from the opportunities arising from these initiatives.  And on this aspect of further cooperation, I concur entirely with the remarks of Singapore's former Foreign Minister Mr George Yeo, who is now working and living in Hong Kong.  In a recent media interview in Hong Kong, he expressed with confidence that a Maritime Silk Road will weave Hong Kong and Singapore ever closer together and this will bring benefit to all.  

     Ladies and gentlemen, for two decades now, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Singapore has made notable contributions to Hong Kong-Singapore relations and to Hong Kong-ASEAN ties.  The good work continues, so do the rewards.  This encouraging achievement could not have been possible without the full support of the Singapore Government, our Chinese Embassy and the many business, cultural and educational institutions here.  I take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Minister Lim, Ambassador Chen and distinguished guests representing our many partnering organisations.  As  Singapore will be celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence on 9 August, I also would like to take this opportunity to convey on behalf of the HKSAR Government our heartfelt congratulations and our best wishes to the people of Singapore.  Back in Hong Kong, the Singapore Consulate-General will be hosting a grand celebration dinner and both the Chief Executive and I will attend to share the joy of Singaporeˇ¦s achievements over half a century.

     I am sure there are more to celebrate as we aspire for and work towards stronger relationship between our people, our businesses and our governments.  Meanwhile, let's have a warm and enjoyable evening to commemorate this important occasion.

     Thank you very much.

Ends/Friday, July 24, 2015
Issued at HKT 20:18


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