Fifty years ago today, Singapore became an independent state. As a 12-year-old, I was aware of the significance of Malaysia gaining a new neighbour and of our two countries settling our boundaries – both to continue independently on the adventure of independence, with all the opportunities and perils that developing nations faced in the 1960s.
Of course, we had a special interest in Singapore; history and geography bound us together. We have a Malay proverb for it: Sedangkan lidah lagi tergigit, or We are like tongue and teeth.
In other words, we were destined to be conjoined and need to cooperate, not compete.
Over the decades, we observed Singapore’s progress. And we too mourned the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew in March. His vision underpinned Singapore’s advances, and he was admired by friends and critics alike. South-east Asia lost a statesman when he died. His presence is missed during landmark celebrations, but his legacy is secure – it is the Singapore of today.
Malaysia and Singapore have had differences, but we have always achieved the most when we have worked pragmatically together – and we have much to be proud of.
In 1967, we were among the five founders of Asean, an organisation that has kept peace in the most ethnically and religiously diverse region on earth. We came together in the Five Power Defence Arrangement in 1971; we cooperated closely at the UN in the 1980s to ensure a settled future in Indochina; and today we are linked in so many ways.
Take trade cooperation, for instance. We are each other’s second largest trading partner after China. In 2014, Singapore was Malaysia’s second largest trading partner globally and the largest trading partner in Asean. Singapore was also the second largest source of foreign investment in Malaysia in 2014, and I am pleased that while Iskandar Malaysia and Penang have been the main focus of investment from Singapore, Singaporeans are now also beginning to look further afield, including Sabah and Sarawak.
In terms of tourism, the total number of visits to Malaysia from Singapore in 2014 was 13.9 million – an increase of 5.7 per cent from 2013. But we want even more of you to visit us, and this year, Tourism Malaysia is hoping we can attract 14.5 million guests from Singapore.
The changed approach between our two countries was emphasised soon after I became Prime Minister. The win-win solution of the Points of Agreement in 2010 – after a 20 year deadlock – was an example of how we chose to move forward in a spirit of mutual benefit, and put a longstanding stumbling block behind us.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and I agreed that our countries should not be encumbered by any issues associated with the past. The days when some considered agreement to be a form of weakness are gone. Our future is as partners. Indeed, recently there have even been suggestions that our two countries should formulate an Olympic bid together.
On a personal note, the new relationship between Malaysia and Singapore was underlined soon after I became Prime Minister. On a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens in May 2009, I was honoured to be told that a hybrid of the Dendrobium Ronald Imanuel and Dendrobium Jeffrey Tan orchids had been named the Dendrobium Najib Rosmah. The hybrid orchid is a symbol of the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore. It needs to be nurtured carefully- for then it will flourish.
I am pleased with the results of our closer relations, and look forward to achieving more. The construction of the High Speed Rail linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore will certainly transform the way Malaysians and Singaporeans interact with each other, facilitating travel between both capital cities, enhancing business linkages and improving people-to-people ties.
At this time of opportunity between our nations, I urge Singaporeans not to judge Malaysia by what you may read on social media, or by politically motivated statements from certain quarters running down our country.
I will ensure that Malaysia remains stable and safe – for guests and Malaysians alike.
The reality is that we share your aspirations for good governance; for a strong, inclusive and sustainable economy based on sound fundamentals; and for stability, harmony and diversity.
That is why we make good partners, and why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and I will continue to work closely to bring real benefits to all Malaysians and Singaporeans.
Fifty years ago, ties between our two nations were strained. Today, relations have never been better and the results speak for themselves. Happy 50th birthday, Singapore – Malaysia looks forward to toasting many future anniversaries with you.