IN Diplomacy Annual Supplement
THE Republic of Singapore’s President Halimah binti Yacob’s made her first State Visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from Tuesday to Friday (Nov 5-8), at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The Singaporean President was the first ever leader from the island-nation in the history of diplomatic relations between both countries, to make a State Visit to the Kingdom.
During the course of her visit meetings were also scheduled separately with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence as also with several other senior Saudi leaders.
Madam Halimah’s tight schedule also included tours of historical, cultural and religious sites in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah. Also on the cards was an interaction with a business delegation (organised by the Singapore Business Federation and Enterprise Singapore) who was visiting Saudi Arabia in conjunction with the state visit. The President also got an opportunity to attend a reception where she met members of the Singaporean Diaspora in the Kingdom as well as students from Singapore there who were enrolled for higher studies.
The President was joined by her husband Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, along with high-level members of the government including Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs; Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon and Members of Parliament Foo Mee Har and Joan Pereira. The entourage accompanying Madame Halimah also included officials from the President’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Ministry for the Environment and Water Resources.
Kingdom’s Ambassador: Visit will Underpin Steadfast Track of Bilateral Relations
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the Republic of Singapore, H.E. Saad Saleh Al-Saleh, on the eve of her visit in an interview observed that: “The relations between the KSA and the Republic are witnessing growth and development in all fields. The continuous visits between the leaderships and officials of the two countries reflect their keenness to achieve progress in bilateral relations.”
Speaking of the great significance of President Halimah’s impending tour he pointed out that: “The visit also reflects the level of aspirations to enhance the excellent cooperation between the two countries in order to open new paths in various fields.”
“The visit of Her Excellency, who is set to meet the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and other Saudi High Officials, will pave the way for Singapore to contribute to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to achieve its development goals and create investment opportunities and mutual projects in the two countries, The Kingdom is witnessing a remarkable economic transformation as it diversifies its economy away from oil” according to the Ambassador.
5th November 2019 – Touch Down in Madinah
The Singaporean President who arrived in Madinah on November 5, 2019, was welcomed by the Governor of Madinah Region, Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (pictured left) and other officials at the Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport. The President, along with her husband and Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, and his wife, Madam Jumelah Ja’afar, were taken on a guided tour of thee Hejaz Railway Museum in Medinah. The museum tour was part of her week-long state visit to the Middle East which took in other historical, cultural and religious sites in Medinah, including Masjid Nabawi, Uhud Mountain, Qiblatayn Mosque and Quba Mosque. President Halimah took the opportunity to share her observations about how such the exhibits were useful reminders of Islamic history to people.
The President was scheduled to later travel to Riyadh, Jeddah and Makkah, before returning to Singapore on 8th November 2019.
6th November 2019 – President Halimah Honoured with Top Saudi Civilian Award
The Singaporean President called on The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, his majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz at the Al Yamamah Palace in Riyadh. President Halimah, who has been accorded the greatest courtesies by the Saudi government during her recent State Visit was conferred the country’s highest civilian honour when HH King Salman presented her with the King Abdul Aziz medal at a glittering ceremony at the palace in Riyadh. She is the first Singaporean to receive the award.
Madam Halimah said that receiving the King Abdulaziz Medal – the highest civilian honour in Saudi Arabia – was unexpected and she felt “deeply honoured”. She stressed that the award is not just about her, but reflects “how much esteem and respect the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has for Singapore, for what we stand for, our values, our efforts at progress and our ability to provide for the welfare of our people”.
During the course of the meeting both leaders dwelt upon the cooperation between the two countries and affirmed their desire to build on the strength of their longstanding bilateral relations with expanding cooperation between the two nations in various fields and matters of mutual interest. The talks also focused upon Singapore’s support for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 economic agenda and G20 Presidency in 2020. The President extended her thanks to King Salman for the honour of inviting Singapore to participate in the G20 meetings to be held in Saudi Arabia in 2020.
During her meeting with King Salman, President Halimah also used the opportunity to bring up the matter of the of the quota for Singaporeans allowed to perform the annual Haj pilgrimage. The Ministry of Haj and Umrah of Saudi Arabia, had last year increased the number of Singaporeans, making the pilgrimage, from 800 places in 2017 to 900 places.
The talks between the two leaders were also attended by the delegation accompanying the President as well as senior Saudi officials including Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar, Minister of State Prince Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdul Aziz, Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Minister of State Dr. Musaed Al-Aiban, Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan, and Saudi Ambassador to Singapore Saad Al-Saleh.
The monarch later hosted a celebratory luncheon at the Riyadh palace for the President Yacob and Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee.
Singapore-Saudi Arabia Ink MOU on Water and Environment
An MOU was signed with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture on Environmental Protection and Water Resource Management in Riyadh. This MOU builds on both the Kingdom’s and Singapore’s drive to tackle water scarcity and increase environmental resilience. The MOU heralds the move to strengthen the collaboration between the two nations in areas including water quality management, solid waste treatment and air pollution control. The MOU was signed by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and his Saudi counterpart, Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli, in Riyadh on 6th November 2019.
7th November 2019 – President Halimah in Discussions with Singapore Business Federation Delegates in Jeddah
On 7th November 2019 President Yacoub arrived in Jeddah where she received a warm welcome at the King Abdulaziz International Airport from His Royal Highness Prince Badr Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Governor of Makkah Governorate.
Later in the day President Halimah met with members of the Singapore Business Federation delegation, at the Park Hyatt Jeddah Hotel. The delegation was in Riyadh and Jeddah for the Overseas Market Workshop from 3 to 8 November 2019 which was organized jointly with Enterprise Singapore (ESG), and held in conjunction with Mdm Halimah Yacob’s State Visit to the country. The delegation comprised officials from IT and infrastructure sectors looking to explore opportunities brought about by the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative which was launched in 2016. Saudi Arabia represents the biggest market in the Middle Eastern region. Its GDP reached an all-time high of US$782.48 billion in 2018.
The business delegation of 30 business owners and C-suite personnel was led by Mr Shamsher Zaman, Singapore’s non-resident Ambassador to Jordan and also Chairman of SBF’s Middle East Business Group. Meetings had been scheduled with members of the Riyadh and Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, who have expertise in a range of smart technologies, including smart urban infrastructure design and engineering, energy-efficiency, data services and software development. Saudi Arabia was Singapore’s 19th largest trading partner in 2017, with bilateral trade amounting to S$13.8 billion. And among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Saudi Arabia is Singapore’s second-largest trading partner.
President Halimah Extended Rare Privilege to Perform Umrah at Ka’aaba in Makkah
It was indeed a rare honour accorded to President of the Republic of Singapore Halimah binti Yacob when she visited the Grand Mosque at Makkah on 7th November 2019. According to a report by the Saudi Arabian Press Agency several officials welcomed her on her arrival in the holy city. Photos shared on Facebook relayed images of the President and her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee performing Umrah at the holy site. President Halimah shared how she and her entourage were granted special access to two most sacred sites of Islam—the Holy Ka’aaba at Makkah and the Raudhah at Masjid Nabawi.
Presidential Kingdom Tour Ends with Positive Vibes and Cooperative Mood
Speaking to media during the wind-up of her hectic State Visit to Saudi Arabia President Halimah shared that the Kingdom, along with Kuwait, which she also visited on her week-long official tour of the Middles East, already has economic cooperation with Singapore in areas such as oil and gas, financial services as well as information and communications technology (ICT).
There has also been collaboration at the governmental level to create developmental opportunities, she added, citing the Memorandum of Understanding on environmental protection and water resources management that was signed with Saudi Arabia on Wednesday as one example.“Apart from that, between Saudi Arabia and us, there’s also a lot of interest in so many different areas, particularly now that Saudi Arabia has launched the Vision 2030,” said President Halimah.
She also shared that: “… King Salman (of Saudi Arabia) raised the idea of having a joint commission. He said we should have a joint commission in order to further our collaboration with each other, and I think that’s a useful idea which we can further explore.” President Halimah observed that the vibes she felt during the meetings were “extremely positive”, and the leaders of both countries looked at Singapore as a role model as the Republic has been “very successful” in its development efforts despite its small size.
It may be noted that Singapore is the only country outside the Gulf states which has signed a Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional bloc formed by six Arab states – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.