Foreign relations of Singapore

Foreign relations of Singapore

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Singapore maintains diplomatic relations with 175 countries[1] although it does not maintain a high commission or embassy in many of those countries. It is a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement.

Due to obvious geographical reasons, relations with Malaysia and Indonesia are most important. Historical baggage, including the traumatic separation from Malaysia, and Konfrontasi with Indonesia, have caused a siege mentality of sorts.[citation needed] Singapore enjoys good relations with the United Kingdom which shares ties in the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) along with Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. Good relations are also maintained with the United States; the US is perceived as a stabilizing force in the region to counterbalance the regional powers.

Singapore supports the concept of Southeast Asian regionalism and plays an active role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Singapore is a founding member. Singapore is also a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum which has its Secretariat in Singapore.

As part of its role in the United Nations, Singapore held a rotational seat on the UN Security Council from 2001-2002. It participated in UN peacekeeping/observer missions in Kuwait, Angola, Namibia, Cambodia, and East Timor.


Timeline of Singapore foreign relations

Foreign policy

Singapore’s leaders are realists; they perceive a Hobbesian world where might makes right.[2] The resultant siege mentality is due to Singapore’s geographical weaknesses, mistrust of Malaysia and Indonesia due to historical baggage, and from how she stands out as a "little red dot in a sea of green", as then-President Habibie of Indonesia put it.[3]

Singapore's first foreign minister was S. Rajaratnam, and her foreign policy still bears his imprimatur. Rajaratnam originally framed Singapore’s foreign policy, taking into account "the jungle of international politics", and was wary of foreign policy "on the basis of permanent enemies."[2] In 1966, S. Rajaratnam saw Singapore’s challenge as ensuring her sustained survival, peace, and prosperity in a region suffering from mutual jealousies, internal violence, economic disintegration and great power conflicts.[2]

In accordance with this worldview, Singapore’s foreign policy is aimed at maintaining friendly relations with all countries, especially Malaysia, Indonesia, and ASEAN, and ensuring that her actions do not exacerbate her neighbors’ insecurities.[2] In 1972, Rajaratnam envisioned the world being Singapore’s hinterland – integration into the world economy would ameliorate Singapore’s inherent lack of natural resources.

Thus, Rajaratnam believed that maintaining a balance of power, rather than becoming a de-facto vassal of some larger power, would provide Singapore with freedom to pursue an independent foreign policy. The interest in the Great Powers in Singapore would also deter the interference of regional powers.[2]

Trade agreements

See economy of Singapore: International trade agreements

International organizations


The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is based in Singapore. Singapore hosted the APEC forum in 2009. Meetings between Singapore Prime minister Lee Hsien Leong and President Barack Obama took place on 15 November 2009

Southeast and East Asia

Singapore maintains an embassy or High Commission in Brunei, Cambodia, People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea (South), Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Vietnam. North Korea has an embassy in Singapore maintained by Singaporeans.


Brunei and Singapore have a currency agreement that the currencies of both countries can be used in either of the two countries. The Brunei dollar and the Singapore dollar are maintained at parity.

In August 2005, Brunei's Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister, Prince Mohamed Bolkiah arrived in Singapore for a three-day visit during which the two countries signed an agreement to eliminate double taxation, paving the way for further bilateral trade and investment.[4]

The Royal Brunei Navy and the Republic of Singapore Navy conduct an annual Exercise Pelican signifying strong ties between the two navies.

North Korea

North Korea and Singapore have been trading partners since 2008. [5]

China, People's Republic of

On 3 October 1990, the People's Republic and Singapore established formal diplomatic relations. Since then, the two countries have had significantly an improved relationship. The governments of the two countries have tried to cooperate more closely in the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city.

On 19 September 2005, Vice Premier Wu Yi of the People's Republic of China arrived in Singapore for a three-day visit. She led a delegation of ministers and senior officials at the 2nd Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation between the PRC and Singapore.[6][7]

On 14 November 2010, Vice President Xi Jinping visited Singapore on a three day visit which affirmed Singapore's strong ties with China. His visit also commemorated with the 20th year anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[8]

Other examples of close ties between Singapore and China include Singapore helping China to build up its industries such as the Suzhou Industrial Park. Singaporeans have also donated generously in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Since 17 April 2011 Chinese and Singaporean diplomatic, official and official ordinary passport holders able to enjoy 30-day transit visa-free service for entering each others country. [9]

China, Republic of (Taiwan)

When Singapore established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1990, Singapore wanted to maintain its good relationship with Taiwan and it strongly bargained with China to maintain the close links. Eventually, China did not force Singapore to denounce the Republic of China and it allowed low-level visits between the two. Moreover, Taiwan's trade mission in Singapore was renamed from "Trade Mission of the Republic of China" to "Taipei Representative Office in Singapore." This did not mean, however, that Singapore switched its recognition from Taiwan to China because it had not maintained diplomatic relations with either government. [10] Moreover, Singaporean troops continue to train in Taiwan, an arrangement which has been in place since the 1970s. This is, however, a diplomatically delicate situation which has flared up occasionally.

A severe diplomatic row broke out between the PRC and Singapore when Lee Hsien Loong visited Taiwan a month before being sworn-in as the Prime Minister of Singapore on 12 August 2004.[11] Factions in the Taiwanese media took the opportunity to highlight and publicize his visit, although the Singapore government emphasized that it was a private visit by Lee to familiarize himself with the latest developments there.

When Singapore started building its military in the 1970s, the Republic of China on Taiwan was one of the few places to offer assistance by providing training areas to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for conducting military exercises. This assistance is valuable as Singapore is a land-scarce country consisting mainly of built-up areas. This arrangement continues today and is an important aspect of the relationship between Singapore and the ROC, although the two places do not conduct joint military exercise nor is there any official military alliance. SAF troops do not train together with Taiwanese soldiers and pays for the logistics and supplies consumed by the training troops.

On 22 March 2005, however, the Singaporean defence ministry had to quickly correct an erroneous report in the Liberty Times on a joint military exercise between Singapore and Taiwan,[12] This report caused the PRC government to demand an explanation. Singapore denied the report, while the ROC government refused to comment.

The PRC has continuously advocated the possibility of moving some or all of these military facilities to Hainan, although this may not be taken up due to sensitivities in diplomatic relations between Singapore and her largely Islamic neighbours.[13][14]


In August 2005, Singapore and Indonesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to expand aviation rights between the two countries.[15]

On 3 October 2005, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bali, just two days after the Bali bombings. They agreed to strengthen the fight against terrorism and also discussed cooperation in the fields of economy, trade and investment.[citation needed]

Relations with Indonesia are generally good, though current outstanding issues include the bans on the export of sand, and granite;[16] both of which, Singapore's construction industry is reliant on.


Singapore was formerly part of Malaysia but was separated in 1965 due to political differences and racial tension. There remains a high degree of economic and social inter-dependence between the two countries. For example, Singapore imports the vast majority of fresh meat and vegetables from Malaysia, and Malaysia supplies a large fraction of Singapore's fresh water according to two treaties. Many Malaysians work in Singapore, some living in Singapore as permanent residents, while many also commute from Johor Bahru daily. Bilateral relations are complex and have experienced many highs and lows over the last 40 years.


Singapore and Malaysia are both members of the Five Power Defence Arrangements. The two countries also routinely conduct joint military exercises to enhance bilateral ties and to heighten the professional interaction between the Singapore Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Army. In August 2005, the two countries concluded the 12th exercise of the series, Ex Semangat Bersatu 05 in Pahang.[17]


Singapore has several long-standing disputes with Malaysia over a number of issues:

Improved relationship

Relations between the two countries has improved in recent years, especially since the transition of leadership in both governments. These relations improved by leaps and bounds when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the post as Prime Minister. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the ex-Prime Minister, still raises claims regarding Singapore's intentions in a number of matters, such as land reclamation. In 26 April 2005, the two countries signed a settlement agreement concerning Singapore's land reclamation in and around the Straits of Johor.

Both countries exchanged many high-level visits in 2004 and 2005, including the visit to Singapore in 12 January 2004 by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who had just taken over from Mahathir bin Mohamad in October 2003.


Country Formal Relations Began Notes
 Belgium Singapore maintains an embassy in Belgium.
 Denmark Denmark has an embassy in United Square, Singapore.[18]

Singapore has one general consulate in Copenhagen, Denmark.[19]

 France * Singapore maintains an embassy in France.

Singapore and France maintain relatively strong relations[citation needed]. This was strengthened in March 1999 on the agreement of a "Joint declaration for a strengthened partnership" during Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s visit to France.

 Germany * Singapore maintains an embassy in Germany.
 Greece See Foreign relations of Greece
 Holy See 1981 In 1986, Pope John Paul II made an official visit to Singapore.
 Hungary In July 2005, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsány made an official visit to Singapore.
 Italy Although Italy and Singapore maintain diplomatic relations, Singapore does not have an embassy in Rome. During a visit to Rome in 2007, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew stated that opening an embassy could be a challenge because trade and people flow between Italy and Singapore has not reached a significant level yet.[20]
 Romania 1967-05-30[21] See Romania–Singapore relations

Romania has an embassy in Singapore.[22] Singapore does not have any representation in Romania. In February 2002 the Romanian president Ion Iliescu made an official visit to Singapore. In March 2002 Romania and Singapore signed a double-taxation agreement to facilitate the cross-flow of trade, investment, financial activities and technical know-how between Singapore and Romania.[23] In November 2008, Singapore signed an open skies agreement (OSA) with Romania to allow greater flexibility on air services.[24]

In 2000, trade between Romania and Singapore was US$15.5 million, roughly balanced.[21] The Romanian market, with a relatively cheap and skilled labor force and advantageous tax laws, has been attractive to several Singapore companies who have established joint ventures in Romania. Forte, created in 1990 as a Romanian-Singapore joint venture for computer assembly, is an example.[25] (However, in 2006 Forte was acquired by Siemens.[26])

 Russia See Russia–Singapore relations
  • Singapore maintains an embassy in Russia.

Singapore and the Soviet Union (now Russia) entered into full diplomatic relations on 1 June 1968. The two nations engaged in trade and economic cooperation. After the start of Vladimir Putin's term, Singapore and Russia strengthened ties, participating in a number of regional meetings such as the ASEAN-Russia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Both Singapore and Russia are members of APEC.

 Serbia 1967
  • The Serbian Ambassador in Jakarta, Indonesia is also accredited to Singapore.
  • Singapore is represented in Serbia through its embassy in Paris, France.
 Ukraine 1992-05-31 See Singapore–Ukraine relations
  • Singapore recognized Ukraine’s independence on 2 January 1992.
  • Singapore is represented in Ukraine through its embassy in Moscow (Russia).[27]
  • Since December 2002, Ukraine has an embassy and an honorary consulate in Singapore.[28]
  • In 2007, the two countries commenced negotiations for a free trade agreement. In 2006, Ukraine was Singapore's 55th largest trading partner last year, with total trade amounting to S$774 million[29]
 United Kingdom See Singapore – United Kingdom relations.
  • Singapore maintains a High Commission in the United Kingdom.

Singapore engages with the United Kingdom on a wide range of international issues, reflecting their close historical ties. As members of the Commonwealth, diplomatic relations are at a governmental level, rather than between Heads of State. In defence, Singapore and the United Kingdom share ties in the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) along with Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

United States

Then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Ambassador to the U.S. Chan Heng Chee meet with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen during Lee's visit in 2000.

Singapore and the United States share a long-standing and strong relationship, particularly in defence, the economy, health and education. The government of Singapore believes that regional security, and by extension, Singapore's security will be affected if the United States loses its resolve in Iraq.[30]


Singapore and the US are defence partners; Singapore buys a large number of weapon systems from the US, and has close ties such as the F-16 detachment stationed at Luke Air Force Base. In return, the United States Navy is allowed to use Singaporean naval facilities, including the newly constructed Changi Naval Base designed with USN aircraft carriers in mind.[31][32] Under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 1990, the United States military is permitted to use Paya Lebar Airbase and Sembawang wharves; a US naval logistic unit was established in Singapore in 1992.[31]

The Regional Emerging Diseases Intervention Centre (REDI), opened on 24 May 2004, is a joint US-Singapore collaboration to promote cooperation in tackling emerging infectious diseases. The centre facilitates the exchange of information and expertise on surveillance; prevention and control of, and research on, communicable and non-communicable diseases; and on bioterrorism concerns.

In July 2005, during his official visit to the United States, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President George W. Bush signed a Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) to strengthen defence and security cooperation. The Prime Minister again visited in the United States in May 2007.[30]


In 2003, Singapore and the United States signed the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), which came into force in January 2004. This is the first free trade agreement into which U.S. entered with an East Asian country.


In 1994, relations with U.S. were hampered for a brief period by the caning incident of American teenager Michael P. Fay who was convicted in Singapore for vandalism.

In September 2005, Singapore responded to the relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in U.S.. Four Singaporean CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 45 RSAF personnel from a training detachment based in Grand Prairie, Texas were sent to help in relief operations. They are operating out of Fort Polk in cooperation with the Texas Army National Guard.[33][34]

Rest of world

Country Formal Relations Began Notes
  • Singapore maintains a High Commission in Australia.[5]
  • In July 2003, Singapore and Australia signed the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement bringing closer economic ties.
  • On 23 August 2005, Singapore and Australia signed a memorandum of agreement to allow Singapore Armed Forces to train on the Shoalwater Bay Training Area till 2009.
  • Singapore and Australia hold a biennial Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Conference (SAJMC) when ministers from both countries meet to discuss trade, defence and security. Both countries also collaborate in development assistance projects under the Singapore-Australia Trilateral Cooperation Program (SATCP) since 1996.
 Canada See Foreign relations of Canada
 Egypt Singapore maintains an embassy in Egypt. There are also hundreds of Singaporean students studying in Egyptian Islamic seminaries.[35]
 India See India–Singapore relations

Singapore enjoys strong economic and military relations with India. Singapore's huge Indian population has played a decisive role in this strategic partnership. Singapore has strong military ties with India with both countries participating in several joint exercises. In late 2007, India agreed to a 5 year lease of the Kalaikunda airbase in West Bengal to Singapore for training of the latter's air force's F-16 fighter aircraft due to limited airspace in Singapore. This is the first New Delhi has ever leased out its military installations to foreign country on a long-term basis.[36] In August 2008, in another significant move, both countries signed another agreement permitting Singapore the use of Babina and Deolali firing ranges in Maharashtra for armour and artillery exercises. The agreement also provides for temporary detachment of Singapore Armed Forces personnel for a maximum period of eight weeks, up to twice a year.[37] Singapore has been vocal supporter of greater Indian participation in ASEAN and anti-piracy patrolling Strait of Malacca. Singapore is also one of India's largest trading partners in South East Asia.

 Iraq See Foreign relations of Iraq
 Israel See Israel–Singapore relations

Singapore and Israel enjoy very close bilateral relations. In 1965, Israel extended aid to newly-independent Singapore by sending a mission to help build Singapore's economic and defense policy. Israel's representation in Singapore was first formalized in 1968, and relations have since expanded, building strong economic ties and signing bilateral agreements, particularly in areas such as business, technology, healthcare, and defense.[38] Singapore and Israel also hold regular cultural exchanges, through the participation of Israeli arts and artists in Singapore's events, such as the Israeli Film Festival.[38] Despite the close relations, Israel's airline El Al does not fly to Singapore as such a route would have to pass through the airspace of Indonesia and Malaysia, and neither of the countries maintain relations with Israel.

 Mexico See Foreign relations of Mexico

Mexico has an embassy in Singapore.[39] Singapore has a consulate in Mexico.[40]

 Pakistan See Pakistan-Singapore relations

Diplomatic relations between the two countries are very cordial. Pakistan considers Singapore, "a sincere friend of Pakistan".[41] Singapore is also one of the largest investors in Pakistan.[42]

 New Zealand On 1 January 2001, New Zealand and Singapore entered into a Closer Economic Partnership (CEP) to improve relations and encourage trade and investment.
 South Africa Singapore maintains a High Commission in South Africa.

International humanitarian effort

International effort on anti-terrorism

During 15–17 August 2005, Singapore hosted a multi-national maritime interdiction exercise, codename Exercise Deep Sabre as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Launched at Changi Naval Base and conducted in the South China Sea, the exercise involves some 2,000 personnel from 13 countries.[45]

Singapore hosted the Regional Special Forces Counter-Terrorism Conference from 21–25 November 2005.

On 6 May 2004, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong delivered a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. titled "Beyond Madrid: Winning Against Terrorism", expressing Singapore's view on the global challenge against terrorism.[46]

International effort on anti-piracy

In August 2005, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore agreed to conduct joint anti-piracy patrols in the Malacca Strait to increase security in one of the world's busiest sealanes.[citation needed] Thailand later also joined in this effort.


In addition to embassies or High Commissions, Singapore maintains consulates or honorary consulates in Austria, Bangledesh, Canada, Chile, People's Republic of China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland (Permanent Mission in Geneva), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United States, and Vietnam.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Singapore Missions Worldwide". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. 2007-03-31. 
  2. ^ a b c d e B. Desker and M. N. M. Osman (2006). S Rajaratnam on Singapore: from ideas to reality. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing. ISBN 9812704574. 
  3. ^ "President unhappy with Singapore, says AWSJ". The Straits Times. 5 August 1998. 
  4. ^ "Singapore, Brunei sign Avoidance of Double Taxation pact". Channel NewsAsia. 2005-08-19. 
  5. ^ a b c Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Singapore) (PDF). Have a Good Trip. pp. 28–36. 
  6. ^ "Official Visit of Vice Premier Wu Yi of the State Council of the People's Republic of China,19–21 September 2005" (press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. 2005-09-14. 
  7. ^ Dominique Loh (2005-09-14). "Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi to lead delegation to Singapore". Channel NewsAsia. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "China-Singapore visa-free agreement to take effect in April," People's Daily, 7 April 2011.
  10. ^ Lee Tai Ho. 2001. “The Lion and the Dragon: A View on Singapore-China relations,” in: Journal of Contemporary China, 10:28, pp. 415-425.
  11. ^ "China warns officials against future visits to Taiwan" (reprint). Agence France Presse. 2004-08-26. 
  12. ^ "Singapore denies reports of joint military exercise with Taiwan" (reprint). Agence France Presse. 2005-03-22. 
  13. ^ Barry Wain (2004-08-05). "A David-and-Goliath tussle" (reprint). Far Eastern Economic Review. 
  14. ^ "Country Profile - Taiwan" (reprint). Library of Congress. March 2005. 
  15. ^ Asha Popatlal (2005-08-08). "Singapore and Indonesia sign MOU to expand air links". Channel NewsAsia. 
  16. ^ "Indonesia may ban granite exports". ANTARA News. 2007-03-12. 
  17. ^ Johnson Choo (2005-08-21). "Singapore, Malaysia conclude 12th bilateral military exercise in Pahang". Channel NewsAsia. 
  18. ^ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark: Singapore
  19. ^ Singapore Embassy in Denmark
  20. ^ Dominique Low (2007-05-17). "Italian PM asks Singapore to set up embassy in Rome". Channel NewsAsia. 
  21. ^ a b "Romanian president arrives in Singapore, 20 February". Rompres. 20 February 2002. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  22. ^ Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: direction of the Romanian embassy in Singapore
  23. ^ "Romania to sign tax agreement with Singapore". AP Worldstream. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  24. ^ "osa signed between Romania and singapore". 28 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  25. ^ "ROMANIA COUNTRY COMMERCIAL GUIDE FY2002 - NETWORKS MARKET". U. S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  26. ^ "FORTE BUSINESS SERVICES S.R.L.". Siemens. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  27. ^ Singaporian embassy in Moscow (also accredited to Ukraine)
  28. ^ Ukrainian embassy in Singapore (new version)
  29. ^ Ukraine, Singapore begin FTA negotiations
  30. ^ a b May Wong (2007-05-05). "SE Asian security affected if US loses resolve in Iraq: Singapore". Channel NewsAsia. 
  31. ^ a b "Background Notes - Singapore". United States Department of State. October 2003. Archived from the original on 18 March 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2007. 
  32. ^ "Our Bases". Republic of Singapore Navy. Retrieved 3 April 2007. [dead link]
  33. ^ "RSAF Deployment to Assist in Hurricane Katrina Relief Operations". MINDEF. 2005-09-02. Retrieved 19 April 2007. 
  34. ^ "RSAF Chinook helicopters help in US hurricane relief operations". Channel NewsAsia. 2005-09-02. 
  35. ^ 95 Singaporeans return from Egypt: MFA, Straits Times, 3 Feb 2011
  36. ^ Indian express: Deal inked, Singapore to use Bengal airbase for F-16 training
  37. ^ Indian Express: After Kalaikunda, Singapore to train at Indian Army firing ranges
  38. ^ a b "Bilateral Relations: Historical Overview" (Press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel. 
  39. ^ Embassy of Mexico in Singapore
  40. ^ Singapore Consulate
  41. ^ PR NO. 318 PRESS RELEASE, Islamabad; 26 June 2009
  42. ^ Pakistan Singapore Trade volume
  43. ^ "Statement by Permanent Representative of Singapore to the United Nations in Geneva Mr Burhan Gafoor at the Ministerial Meeting on Humanitarian Assistance to Tsunami Affected Communities in Geneva on 11 January 2005" (press release). Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. 2005-01-11. 
  44. ^ "PM Lee sends condolences to Pakistan, India over earthquake". Channel NewsAsia. 2005-10-09. 
  45. ^ "Singapore hosts multi-national anti-WMD maritime exercise". Channel NewsAsia. 2005-08-15. 
  46. ^ "Beyond Madrid: Winning Against Terrorism" (transcript). Council on Foreign Relations. 2004-05-06. 

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