SINGAPORE: The issue of good governance has become a more pressing challenge, and nations all over the world, including Singapore and Thailand, must adapt to the changing operating environment, said Foreign Minister K Shanmugam.
He noted that social media has altered the way people interact with states and governments, and it is also easier now for people to organise themselves, raise funds and make their voices heard.
Mr Shanmugam made the point on Thursday when he co—officiated the 11th Coordinating Meeting of the Thailand—Singapore Civil Service Exchange Programme with his Thai counterpart.
The theme for this year’s meeting was "Good Governance in an Increasingly Complex World".
Mr Shanmugam said the theme arose from a conversation between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra in December 2011.
Mr Shanmugam said Thailand and Singapore are very old friends, and that the bilateral ties are underpinned by shared political, strategic and economic interests.
He added: "These exchanges form the foundation of our people—to—people ties. Our people know each other well. Thai food has long been a favourite cuisine in Singapore, while Thailand remains a popular holiday destination for many Singaporeans.
"Our students have also developed a better understanding of each other’s countries, cultures and traditions through our school—twinning programmes and student exchanges."
Echoing Mr Shanmugam’s point was Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who said that the Singapore—Thailand bilateral ties are special.
He added: "First, it is free from any historical baggage, which allows us to sustain and further build on our cooperation without impediments.
"Second, it is based on a common vision of looking beyond our bilateral ties by making (the) best use of our bilateral cooperation to support the broader regional interest of an ASEAN community."
In 2011, bilateral trade totalled S$31.9 billion. Singapore was Thailand’s fifth largest trading partner, while Thailand was Singapore’s tenth largest trading partner.
Thailand is also an important investment destination for Singapore companies. Many familiar Singapore brands, such as BreadTalk, UOB and Charles & Keith have established a presence in Thailand.
Singapore investments in Thailand grew by 31 per cent to 25.2 billion baht (S$1 billion), making Singapore the second largest foreign investor in Thailand in 2011, after Japan.
Both foreign ministers also commented on the latest development in the South China Sea dispute —— the decision of the Philippines to initiate an arbitration action against China.
They emphasised that all parties should pursue peaceful means to settle the dispute.
Mr Surapong said he expects the matter to be discussed during the next Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) between ASEAN and China in March.
"In this regard, Thailand as the country coordinator will carry out close consultation with all parties concerned. So I have instructed my Permanent Secretary as SOM leader to pursue this consultation with China, the Philippines and other parties concerned," he added.
Mr Shanmugam stressed Singapore’s position on the matter.
He said: "Every country in ASEAN decides on its own national policies —— what are in its own interests —— and decides whether it is voting records in the United Nations or specific issues, and ASEAN doesn’t seek to control national decisions.
"That’s why you have to distinguish between a specific decision by any particular country and an ASEAN decision. ASEAN’s decision has been set out in the six—point principles."
On the Philippine decision, he said: "It’s a Filipino decision and I am sure they have looked up where their national interests are. I can’t comment because I am not privy enough to the facts and basis to which the claim is made. I am sure they have studied it.
"In broad terms, ASEAN’s position which Singapore has also put forward is that we should all avoid heightening tensions. We should try and deal with this in a way that reduces tensions in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and avoid taking provocative actions."
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