Interview with H.E. Eric Teo Boon Hee
H.E. Eric Teo Boon Hee visited Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital to support the medical staffs on August 11, 2020. (Photo: courtesy of the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore)
August is a month of anniversaries! On 9 August 2020, Singapore celebrated its 55th National Day. On 8 August 2020, Singapore and the ROK commemorated the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Over the last 45 years, the relationship between Singapore and the ROK has been characterised by very close cooperation and warm ties. Both sides have unceasingly continued to explore new avenues to work together, as we strive to bring bilateral relations to the next level.
From the establishment of the Korea-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (KSFTA) which entered into force in March 2006, both countries are now looking to conclude a new Digital Partnership Agreement as we embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution and prepare for a “new normal” post-COVID-19. Our two sides enjoy robust high-level engagements, most recently with President Moon Jae-in’s State Visit to Singapore in July 2018 as well as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Official Visit to Seoul in conjunction with the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in Busan in November 2019.
In July 2020, Singapore and the ROK also celebrated the launch of the K-Startup Centre in Singapore, the first in Southeast Asia and a culmination of an agreement signed during President Moon’s State Visit in 2018. An innovation and startup hub, Korean startups and SMEs can use the centre as a springboard to access both the Singapore and ASEAN markets. Singapore enterprises and investors will benefit from exchanges and possible co-development with these Korean companies, as well as access to tap into the Korean market. In a bid to embark on the road towards normalising business and people-to-people engagements, officials from both countries are discussing a Reciprocal Green Lane to ensure the flow of essential travellers even as we continue to learn to live with a post-COVID-19 “new normal”.
COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc globally affecting over 200 countries/regions, including the ROK and Singapore. To date, the world has over 22 million confirmed cases and 770,000 deaths. The numbers are still rising. The ROK’s COVID-19 containment strategy of swift action through widespread testing, contact tracing and rigorous treatment has won international praise. Through public-private cooperation and active civic participation, a sense of normalcy is returning, although the ROK government continues to warn the public against complacency given the appearance of another wave of infections recently. We must remain vigilant.
For Singapore, we have implemented an elevated set of safe distancing measures and are currently in Phase 2 (out of 3) of our “circuit breaker” measures intended to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in the community. As local infections have generally remained stable, community activities have gradually been resumed, including the re-opening of public facilities, cinemas, hotels and restaurants (though large-scale events and entertainment venues such as bars continue to be suspended). Migrant workers account for a large proportion (over 90 percent) of the confirmed cases in Singapore, and authorities have recently completed COVID-19 testing for all 300,000-plus migrant workers who resided in dormitories. The COVID-19 death rate in Singapore remains one of the lowest in the world at about 0.05%, and our hospitals are not overwhelmed. Singapore will continue to monitor the situation closely, with an aim to re-open our economy and society progressively in a calibrated way.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to make adjustments not only to our daily lives but also to the way we interact and conduct business with each other. Singaporeans and South Koreans understand the larger consequences if we let our guard down and become complacent with taking the necessary precautions to protect oneself and their loved ones. Our people continue to display resilience and adaptability in the face of the pandemic for which we still cannot see an end point to, until an effective vaccine is found.
Due to social distancing measures, the Embassy of Singapore decided to do the responsible thing and postponed the celebration of our 55th National Day as well as the 45th anniversary of Singapore-ROK diplomatic relations through in-person receptions. Instead, I took the opportunity to visit Daegu Metropolitan City and presented 200 appreciation gift packs to the medical staff at Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital. Daegu was previously the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the ROK and Dongsan Hospital was one of the key hospitals combating the outbreak earlier. These 200 sets of famous Singapore products were a small token of appreciation for the medical staff who fought against the infections in the ROK in the earlier months this year. They are a shining example of the brave and tireless efforts of healthcare workers across the ROK, and indeed the world, in combating the virus. Daegu has transformed itself from the epicentre of the outbreak to become a prime example of the ROK’s ability to overcome the virus.
Despite the inability to hold in-person receptions, the Embassy of Singapore decided to hold our annual National Day reception for Singaporeans and Friends online. The turnout was surprisingly good with Singaporeans as well as Friends in the ROK, Mongolia and even Singapore logging on to celebrate Singapore’s 55th birthday and enjoy an evening of fun and camaraderie. This was a clear demonstration that despite the realities of COVID-19, we can still come together to support one another and share the love for our country.
Last but not least, the Embassy of Singapore also supported the Singapore Tourism Board, which organised the Summer with Singapore (SUMMSING) Food Festival in the ROK from 17 to 30 August, 2020. Due to COVID-19, Korean tourists, who rank Singapore as one of their top travel destinations, cannot travel to Singapore to saviour its delicious cuisine. So, the SUMMSING Food Festival brought the mouth-watering delicacies directly to Koreans instead, until they could travel overseas again!
As the world continues to grapple with the global COVID-19 pandemic, we should not lose hope and instead seek out new ways to adapt, just as we have demonstrated these past few months. The Embassy of Singapore in the ROK stands ready to continue working closely with our Korean partners as we address the challenges and explore the opportunities brought about by the outbreak. We look forward to celebrating many more years of strong bilateral relations and close bonds between our two countries!