The Khmer Times, 12 January 2016
Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam has wrapped up his four-day state visit to Cambodia this week with two agreements signed and other commitments to further enhance the relationship between the two countries and their people.
Singapore has played a significant role in Asean community building, particularly in narrowing the development gaps within Asean.
The enhanced partnership between Cambodia and Singapore will positively contribute to a united Asean community.
But diplomatic and political relations have been disturbed by differences on the South China Sea issue. In the past, some senior Singaporean diplomats accused Cambodia of being a client state of China and preventing Asean from reaching a consensus on the South China Sea.
Singapore has been under unprecedented pressure from China for its stand on the South China Sea.
Hong Kong authorities seized Terrex Infantry Carrier vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces November last year, which were being shipped back to Singapore after taking part in joint exercises with Taiwan.
Some believe this was China’s lesson for Singapore.
Singapore has been keen to further engage and tighten its comprehensive relationships with Cambodia and Laos, two close allies of China, to shore up Asean’s position in dealing with a more assertive China.
However, after the surprise thawing of ties between China and the Philippines, the situation in the South China Sea has seemed to cool down, at least for a while.
Such geopolitical changes are conducive for trust building between the direct claimants and other regional stakeholders.
Cambodia-Singapore relations were established on August 10, 1965. Cambodia was among the first countries to recognize Singapore’s independence after its separation from Malaysia in 1965.
After three decades of successful state building and nation building, Singapore became the rising star of Southeast Asia in the early 1990s.
Since 1992, about 13,000 Cambodian officials have attended training courses in Singapore. People-to-people ties have significantly strengthened and been nurtured over the decades.
Singapore is now one of Cambodia’s top five investors and top 10 trading partners.
A small city-state in Southeast Asia, Singapore has successfully built a modern country with effective and efficient state organs.
Now Singapore is the most advanced economy in Southeast Asia with a per capita income of more than $50,000, about 40 times higher than that of Cambodia.
Strong and clean public institutions, an innovation-driven private sector and a life-long learning society are the three main contributing factors to the success of Singapore.
Knowledge diplomacy, defined as the use of knowledge resources as a diplomatic means to persuade or convince others, constitutes the foundation of Singapore’s foreign policy and soft power projection.
The city-state has much to offer when it comes to knowledge and innovation, particularly in the education and healthcare sectors.
Singapore has one of the best education systems in the world, in which students’ performances rank among the top in international education tests in mathematics and science at both the primary and secondary levels.
In addition, Bloomberg ranked Singapore’s healthcare system as the most efficient healthcare system in the world in 2014, taking into consideration several factors such as life expectancy, the cost of healthcare as a percentage of GDP and total medical expenditure for each person.
Singapore also has great knowledge resources to share with her Asean member countries. Capacity building, knowledge sharing and people exchanges are needed to promote an inclusive and sustainable Asean community.
Education and healthcare are the two pillars of socio-economic development of any society. The level of public spending and investment in these two sectors defines the future direction of a country.
Speaking at a state banquet hosted by His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni, Mr.Tan said: “Technical cooperation and educational exchanges form another important pillar of cooperation between Singapore and Cambodia.
“Like Cambodia, Singapore believes that human resource development is an essential ingredient for growth.”
Singapore is going to further support Cambodia in the education and healthcare sectors.
Two sets of agreements were signed, including a memorandum of understanding between the Cambodian Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and Singapore’s Institute of Technology Education.
The other was between Cambodia’s Calmette Hospital and Singapore’s Tan Tock Seng Hospital.