November 22, 2019
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Joint Press Conference with New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern

PM Lee: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, ladies and gentlemen. Kia ora and good afternoon. I welcome the Prime Minister and your delegation to Singapore. Prime Minister was in Singapore 6 months ago for the ASEAN meetings, and I am very glad that she could visit us again so soon, especially since this is such a difficult time for New Zealand. I would like once again, on the record, to offer my deepest condolences to the bereaved friends and families of the victims of the Christchurch attacks. Singapore strongly condemns this atrocity. We stand in solidarity with New Zealand in the fight against terrorism. In fact, Prime Minister has flown here from Paris, where she and President Macron launched the Christchurch Call. This initiative reaffirms the importance of addressing threats posed by terrorism and violent extremism online, and it commits countries and online service providers to work together to tackle them. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for her leadership in rallying an effective international response to this serious issue. Singapore takes this problem very seriously. We will work with New Zealand, other countries and the online service providers, to tackle terrorism and violent extremism. Today marks an important milestone for our two countries. The Prime Minister and I have just signed a Joint Declaration to establish an Enhanced Partnership. This will boost cooperation in trade and economics; security and defence; science, technology and innovation; and also our people-to-people links. The negotiations started in April 2017, just over 2 years ago, so I am very pleased that we have reached a comprehensive and ambitious agreement quite quickly, and if I may say so, a weighty agreement as well, as you can see the documents. Indeed, Singapore and New Zealand are natural partners. There is much warmth, respect and fondness for each other. We share similar strategic perspectives on the region, such as the importance of ASEAN centrality and an open and inclusive regional architecture. We both believe in trade liberalisation and support an open, rules-based international trading system. The New Zealand-Singapore Free Trade Agreement which we signed in 2000 was Singapore’s first bilateral FTA and New Zealand’s second bilateral FTA. So we were path breakers. We were both initiators of the P4 FTA, together with Brunei and Chile. The P4 was the seed which eventually grew into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which both our countries have ratified and which is now in force. We are also currently working closely to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). So it is not surprising that our bilateral
ties are longstanding and multi-faceted. Singapore is one of New Zealand’s top trading partners and investors. We have strong research links too. For example, NUS, the NUH System and A*STAR are collaborating with the Liggins Institute of the University of Auckland on the world’s largest nutritional intervention study, a study of pregnant women to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes and improve the health of mothers and their babies. Our defence and security relations are substantial. We cooperate closely under the Five Power Defence Arrangements, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, and through peacekeeping operations. We deeply appreciate New Zealand’s support for SAF’s training at Waiouru. Our people are very familiar with each other – our armed forces, our servicemen, but also the public, because we have so many tourists visiting
one another. Last year, nearly 62,000 Singaporeans visited New Zealand, while about 138,000 New Zealand nationals visited Singapore. These numbers are bound to grow now that our citizens can use each other’s self-processing immigration facilities at our checkpoints. The Prime Minister and I also discussed regional and international developments, which there are many. I am happy that we had a meeting of minds on many of these issues. This is a region of growth and opportunity, with great potential to be realised. At the same time, it is a region troubled by difficult issues, including extremist terrorism, frictions between the major powers, and regional hot spots. As small countries, we cannot determine the course of events. But we will work with each other and with others to resolve problems through dialogue and peaceful means, and to build an open regional architecture which enables all countries to benefit from stability and security while competing and prospering peacefully together. Once again, I would like to thank Prime Minister Ardern for her support for the Enhanced Partnership, and for our fruitful and warm discussions. Prime Minister. PM Ardern: Thank you. [Applause] Thank you, Prime Minister Lee, for hosting us here today, and for the opportunity to officially mark the conclusion of what has been a genuine enhancement to the relationship that we already had, and it is an incredibly important relationship to us. I will repeat what I said again when we began our bilateral meeting. The condolences that we received from Singapore were swift, warm, and genuine, and greatly appreciated, after the 15th of March. But also the fact that your offer was one not just of support but very practical in offering any assistance that we may have needed, in an experience which was very new to us. So on behalf of the people of New Zealand, I say to you and the people of Singapore, thank you very much. It is a great pleasure to be here in Singapore for what is, technically, my first official visit, and to launch, with Prime Minister Lee, the New Zealand-Singapore Enhanced Partnership. As has been said, our countries have a warm and collaborative relationship, built on both close, historical ties, but also shared contemporary interests. Singapore is an incredibly important strategic partner for New Zealand. It is probably demonstrated by our positions – the first FTA that you signed with us, and only our second that we signed with you. We, of course, also share the much wider ambition to make sure that we collectively continue to promote an open, inclusive and a rules-based region, and it is only becoming more and more important. Singapore’s tremendous success offers enormous opportunities for New Zealanders, just as New Zealand’s success does for Singaporeans. We enjoy warm people-to-people ties, which I hope, through these agreements, will only continue. Particularly, as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, particularly enthusiastic about those ties increasing through arts and culture, but also education and tourism. Singapore is New Zealand’s 7th largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $5.2 billion. Today, New Zealand has more free trade agreements with Singapore than any other partner. Again, I think that says something about both of our values. Singapore is also one of our largest foreign investors and a significant source of tourists. In short, Singapore is a valuable and also a natural partner for us. Today’s announcement marks the result of significant work, but it also marks a significant step up in our relationship. And, I believe, will make sure that our partnership remains contemporary, and it is also acknowledging the changing economic dynamic that we are working within. It does mark the result of 3 years worth of work between Singapore and New Zealand, and delivers an important and substantive lift of our cooperation in trade, science, innovation, security, defence, civil service cooperation. I think it also demonstrate the value of taking an open and comprehensive, an engaged and rules-based approach, the ways countries can relate to each other. We talked a little bit about trying to exemplify that through the agreements we reached together. So amongst other elements, the Enhanced Partnership includes an upgrade of our Free Trade Agreement, the closer economic partnership, which smooths the way for New Zealand companies to capitalise on opportunities in Singapore, a science and technology and innovative arrangement that will link both countries’ science and innovation systems, that partnership is supported by funding for joint research which totals $57mil, stronger people-to-people ties in support of tourism and business and education, and that has been the very, very practical side of the arrangement. Ultimately though, I hope it demonstrates that New Zealand is open for business and welcomes Singaporean business and investments, and an exchange of people and ideas. I am confident that our relationship will continue to grow from strength to strength as two open, dynamic – if I can say that about ourselves – pragmatic, innovative countries and that we collectively I hope will continue to make a difference in our region and internationally, in our own small way. PM Lee: Thank you. Announcer: Thank you Prime Ministers. Now we will open the floor to the media. Deborah Wong from CNA: Hi, good morning Prime Ministers. This question is for the both of you. This Enhanced Partnership covers a broad range of initiatives from defence all the way to trade. With the ongoing US-China trade war, how much of this will mitigate slowing economic growth, seeing that both New Zealand and Singapore are small economies? On the defence front, how would this serve to inform New Zealand and Singapore’s responses in the face of terrorism? This is also in light of the recent attacks in Christchurch. Thank you. PM Lee: I think the impact of trade frictions between the major powers, particularly America and China, will be significant on us because we are small, we we are open and are heavily dependent on international trade. We both rely on free trade as well as a rules-based international order. The Enhanced Partnership will grow our bilateral trade, I hope, I am sure it will. In fact, the bilateral trade has been growing quite nicely. Last year it has gone up by 12%. But we have to recognise that both New Zealand and Singapore are small countries. Therefore, the relative part of our bilateral trade and our overall international trade is quite small. So it will be a very useful contribution but quantitatively, it will be a modest one. But I think more important than the quantitative contribution will be that the Enhanced Partnership shows that we are cooperating and we are promoting economic integration and trade at a time when these basic concepts are being questioned and in fact, under threat. I hope that it will encourage others to go forth and do similar things. I know many countries are looking for ways forward to ensure that they do not give up the hard won gains in terms of the prosperity, the mutual interdependence and therefore, mutual gains from the trade. This is one step in the right direction. In terms of defence and security, the Enhanced Partnership talks about several things, annualising the defence ministers meeting, establishing talks, Air Force to Air Force, a security and intelligence dialogue, cyber cooperation, professional exchanges. These will establish an ongoing set of links and inter-actions which will serve us well when we deal with terrorism. Because in terrorism, we are exchanging intelligence, we are exchanging perceptions, assessments of what is happening. We are exchanging techniques, know how, on how we can tackle terrorism, how we can deal with the threat of extremist and radical views. The regular exchanges will help us to do that better. PM Ardern: Thank you Prime Minster, I would absolutely agree. Particularly in a world where we are both observers and countries impacted by global trade tensions, it is now more important than ever, that we continue to model and demonstrate the benefits of free and open trading relationships, but also a rules based order, because there is no question that the knock on effects are significant when we see the erosion of that. I hope that by continuing to modernise our free trade agreements, as we have done here, we can demonstrate that we can keep pace. That we can make sure that our businesses benefit from countries that have been agile in making sure that their free trade agreements mirror the changing environment that they are working in, particularly around digital aspects of trade. So modelling that behaviour, I think is actually incredibly important for us, but also making sure that we continue to build resilience by being a trading nation that diversifies its trading partners and so the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has, I think, demonstrated its value and its worth for those who are party to it. Again, it is another way of endorsing the importance of a rules based order and rules based trade. Derek Cheng from New Zealand Herald: My question is around the Christchurch Call to Action, which aims to eliminate objectionable content online but also preserving free speech and an open secure internet. Singapore has just passed the law giving the government power to ban disinformation from online platforms. Canada, which also just signed the agreement in Paris, is considering fining social media platforms if they cannot stop fake news. So my question was to Prime Minister Arden, do you foresee the call to action is also looking at the issue of online fake news and disinformation? If not, what do you think of the law that has just been passed in Singapore? To Prime Minister Lee, do you support the principles behind the Christchurch Call to Action? Do you believe that this law Singapore has just passed is consistent with the principles of free speech and an open secure internet? PM Arden: The Christchurch Call to Action is narrowly defined for good reason. The experience that New Zealand had on 15 March was one that was designed to spread online. In that regard, it was successful. Although there was a relatively small number of people who viewed the livestreamed attack, it was shared on Facebook, for instance, 1.5 million times, or at least that was the number of times it was removed. On YouTube in the first 24 hours, it was uploaded at a rate of once per second. We felt a strong duty of care in the aftermath of 15 March 2019 to try and prevent that kind of situation ever happening again. Our starting point has been to target violent extremism and terrorism online. So the call is very focused on that. It talks about eliminating that content and also preventing that kind of content from proliferating. It does take us a step beyond that when it comes to countries’ obligations, though, because it does talk about ensuring the resilience of our communities and our societies against moving into violent extremism. But it is as a call, very much focused on that rather than what I hear the wider debate around misinformation and so on. PM Lee: I think we are tackling different aspects of a big problem. The Christchurch Call deals with extremist content. It may or may not be false, it may be true. The terrorist livestreamed his actions in Christchurch. It was not falsehood, it was true but it was bad, and you have to find ways to prevent that from being circulated. I do not see that as being against free speech. Our legislation is prevention of falsehood and misleading information online, online falsehoods and misinformation. It does not cover what the Christchurch shooter did. But it covers a serious problem when people put up something which is untrue and which can circulate very rapidly if it is not contradicted, rebutted, and demolished, and which can cause a lot of harm within hours if not minutes, and therefore requires an immediate response. That is how our legislation has been crafted. I do not see our legislation as being in any way restrictive of free speech. There are always rules on what you are allowed to do in terms of freedom of speech, because no free speech is absolute and the legislation we have passed does not prevent you from saying things. What it does is to say: if you want to say that, you put up a correction so that people will know the facts. If you disagree with that, you go to the court and there is a process and the court will decide whether this is a fact, whether this is true, whether it is misleading whether in fact, it is in the public interest that this be taken down or be corrected, and the court will decide. So I see this as practical arrangement, which will help us to tackle the problem. I am under no illusions that it will solve our problem because it is a very difficult problem to deal with. Even if we can put out corrections, the truth runs not so fast as the falsehoods. But we have to do this and it is a step in the right direction. Adrian Lim from Straits Times: Good afternoon Prime Ministers. There had been a long-time discussion for the Singapore Air Force to train and have a fighter detachment in New Zealand. However, this plan was scrapped earlier this year. So I would like to ask what plans are there, if any, to add more training areas or training arrangements between the two countries? PM: We have a very good defence relationship with New Zealand. We have had a long history of operational and training cooperation with joint exercises. We have gone on operational missions together, UN missions, peacekeeping, and defeat ISIS coalition, we are both participating. We have SAF training, particularly army training in Waiouru, in the training area. Many years ago, I participated in one of the first exercises in Waiouru, this was 1978. I have not been back since. PM Ardern: I think we have upgraded some of our equipment since then. PM Lee: But the Tongario volcano probably looks the same! PM Arden: Yes, yes! PM Lee: So that was a good experience for me and generations of SAF servicemen have had that experience since. We deeply appreciate New Zealand’s support for our training there and very warm reception we get, when we are there. We also appreciate New Zealand’s support for assessing the feasibility of a long term fighter training detachment at Ohakea. I think both sides after looking at the issues have mutually agreed not to proceed with the proposal. But we will continue to explore new opportunities to cooperate on defence and security. There will be many. PM Ardern: Agreed. We appreciated the
opportunity to go through that process Singapore.alongside But as the Prime Minister has said, regardless of our defence, connections and relationship remains one of our most significant in the region. I am only seeing that continuing. In fact I think today, with the agreement we have signed, the acknowledgement that actually some of the threats we face are dynamic and changing, and so the addition of cyber security dialogue, I think it is actually a really important additional element to that defence relationship. Announcer: Thank you. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have come to the end of the joint press conference. The Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern and Prime Minister Lee will now take their leave.

Robin Kshlerin



  1. T3H11 3LL1S Posted on May 26, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    History will go on to show that Jacinda Ardern is probably one of New Zealand's most dynamic forward thinking Prime Ministers in almost a hundred years since Michael Savage. This lady comes across as exuding Articulation and Intelligence on levels that not only capture the hearts and minds most New Zealanders, but other nations' citizens as well. Just when you think this lady is readable and predictable, she comes out and announces policies that leave all Naysayers standing and commenting not only falsely, but foolishly about matters of little concern to the larger voting public of New Zealand. Critics of New Zealand's Coalition Government are usually Conservative Media Commentators, which by the way is like saying—basically all people who judge performances on punitive worth and with some indifference to others that don't represent as being of skewed beneficence to Conservative New Zealand political aspirations and notions of society. That skewed beneficence being spoken of is that slowly erroding 42% voting block of National and ACT parties voters.