Singapore’s MP Highlights Partnership with Kazakhstan for Southeast Asia Engagement

ASTANA – Kazakhstan has a good partner in Singapore as the nation looks towards engaging with Southeast Asia, said Seah Kian Peng, speaker of the Parliament of Singapore in an interview with The Astana Times.

Seah Kian Peng, speaker of the Parliament of Singapore. Photo courtesy of the author.

Kazakhstan has strong and longstanding relations with Singapore that date back over three decades. There had been a dynamic exchange of bilateral visits culminating with the state visit of Singaporean then-President Halimah Yacob to Kazakhstan in May 2023.

“Singapore-Kazakhstan relations were built on the foundation of strong ties between our leaders. His Excellency President Tokayev knows Singapore well and has met many of our leaders over the years. He had served in Singapore as a diplomat in the 1970s and has first-hand experience of the Singapore story. Under his leadership, bilateral relations have grown from strength to strength,” said Seah.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev received Seah at Akorda last week where both sides reviewed ties and opportunities to develop relations, especially in the fields of economy and investment.

“I am optimistic that Singapore-Kazakhstan relations are moving in a positive trajectory. Bilateral trade and investment have increased by 46% and 173% respectively over the past year. The relationship between our political leaders is warm and strong. There are plans for more visits and exchanges at different levels,” said Seah.

“As Kazakhstan looks towards engaging Southeast Asia, it will have a good partner in Singapore. Similarly, we view Kazakhstan as a strong partner for Singapore in Central Asia. With mutual goodwill and trust, the bilateral relationship will strengthen in the years ahead,” he added.

Economic cooperation

Both countries bring together a wealth of experience in economic development and nation-building.

“Singapore’s growth has become a well-told story of economic survival and nation-building against all odds,” said Seah highlighting his country’s journey from a resource-scarce island state to one of the most developed, forward-thinking economies in the region.

“While Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country and has sizeable natural resources, there are lessons we can certainly learn from each other. For example, in the areas of building a national identity and promoting harmonious relations between ethnic and religious groups. I hope my visit will help strengthen bilateral as well as parliamentary ties between the two countries,” said Seah.

In trade relations, Seah described Kazakhstan as a “valued economic partner” to Singapore.

“Our trade relations are anchored by our Singapore-Kazakhstan Services and Investment (S&I) Agreement, which was signed during our then-President Halimah Yacob’s state visit to Kazakhstan last year. The S&I Agreement facilitates bilateral trade and investment by providing investment protection and improved market access for certain services sectors,” he said.

“Commercial interest into Kazakhstan have increased in recent years, and our Singapore companies have successfully ventured into Kazakhstan into a variety of sectors such as urban planning, logistics and connectivity, innovation, and start-up development,” added Seah.

Kazakhstan and Southeast Asia

Both countries are placing increasing importance on enhancing regional connectivity between Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

“Singapore and Kazakhstan share common interests in promoting regional stability and prosperity so that our countries can focus on socio-economic development and improve the well-being of its peoples. Kazakhstan can improve its connectivity with Southeast Asia and promote Kazakhstan, which has immense oil and gas and mineral resources as well as tourism potential,” he said.

Seah emphasized the importance of exchanging expertise and best practices in key fields such as green energy and food security.

“We should draw on each other’s strengths to promote cooperation bilaterally or regionally in new areas of growth such as green/renewable energy and food security amongst others. Kazakhstan could use Singapore as a gateway to Southeast Asia and ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations]. ASEAN had a combined GDP of $3.4 trillion in 2021 and is a large market of 680 million with a young demographic profile. ASEAN is on track to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030,” he said.

According to Seah, ASEAN remains committed to multilateralism and regional integration and has ramped up efforts on that front upgrading ASEAN-plus Free Trade Area (FTA) agreements with Australia and New Zealand, Canada, China and India.

“Singapore is glad to be working closely with our ASEAN partners to leverage emerging opportunities for sustainable and inclusive growth, especially in the digital economy and green economy. We welcome Kazakhstan’s engagement with the region to deepen cooperation in our digitalization and sustainability journey,” he said.

Cooperation in developing human capital

Seah also spoke about the cooperation between the two nations in human capital development.

“Singapore has cooperated well with Kazakhstan in developing its human resource capital over the decades. Thus far, more than 400 officials in Central Asia have benefited from training courses on governance, aviation and finance under the Singapore Cooperation Program. Earlier in April, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly organized the pilot training program titled Effective Governance and Building a Digitally Advanced Government to train officials from Central Asian countries,” said Seah.

According to him, this is a tangible result of the meeting between the two presidents last year. As part of the meeting, they also signed agreements in new areas of bilateral cooperation such as logistics, urban solutions, and business and economic cooperation.

Seah said Singapore was keen to expand relations with Kazakhstan in education.

“I see scope for both countries to develop and strengthen cooperation in education – the concept of which has been extended to create more porosity and diversity in educational pathways, to give students more opportunities to pursue their education suited to their needs and passions,” said Seah.

“With the advent of AI [artificial intelligence] and new technologies, we have to retrain our labor force to adapt to their changing work environment and embrace new concepts such as life-long learning and reskilling. We will be happy to share our experiences in remaking Singapore and building up our workforce to be relevant to the challenges of the new economy. There is no resource as valuable and integral to nation-building as human resource. We value our people and so continue to invest in their education and future,” he added.

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