Dr. Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affaires,
Dr. Intan Azura Mokhatar, Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio Group Representational Constituency,
Mr. Chong Kee Hiong, Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
meine Damen und Herren,
Guten Abend und einen herzlichen Dank an Sie alle, dass Sie in die German European School Singapore gekommen sind, um mit uns, der Singapurisch-Deutschen Industrie- und Handelskammer und der Deutschen Botschaft, den Tag der Deutschen Einheit zu feiern. Ein besonderer Dank geht an Sie, lieber Herrn Hufnagel als Vorsitzender des Schulvorstands und an Sie, lieber Herrn Zänglein als Direktor der GESS, dass Sie uns diesen beeindruckenden Neubau für diese Feier zur Verfügung gestellt haben. Wir wünschen der GESS – der GESS 2.0 - alles Gute!
Now for all of you who did not catch every single word of what I just said, there is Han-Song Hiltman somewhere amongst you, the Director of the Goethe Institute Singapore, including its German Language branch, who would love to help you out of your misery. I know from experience that he always carries a number of application forms with him.
On a more serious note, good evening and a warm welcome to all of you from my wife Christina and me. And a warm thank you, now in English, to Dr. Thomas Hufnagel, Chairman of the Board of the German European School Singapore, and to Christoph Zänglein, Director of the GESS. Both of you head an extraordinary school. Our largest school in Asia. Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Minister of Singapore, just recently inaugurated this impressive building together with State Secretary Andreas Michaelis from the German Foreign Office in Berlin. Many thanks for letting us this marvelous premises tonight to celebrate our Day of German Unity!
This 3 October is the 28th anniversary of the day when Germany was reunited, when the partition into two Germanies finally came to an end. I can still see, before my mind’s eye, pictures of the giant flag in black, red and gold being hoisted in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin in the afternoon of that memorable day, attended by then Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker and then Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Those of us old enough to remember these events will also remember that they were embedded into even more stupendous events on a European, even a global scale. The year 1990 meant freedom not just for East Germans, but for large numbers of other Europeans as well, who for the first time in decades were allowed freely to elect their own governments, to shape their own societies and their own States as they saw fit. Even outside Europe, old certainties were rocked, and change for the better suddenly seemed possible, even probable. It may have gone too far to proclaim the “end of history” but we certainly all were very optimistic that something decisive had taken place that had made this world a better, a freer and more peaceful place, and that henceforth States and peoples would deal with each other in a less confrontational and more cooperative manner. The future of multilateral organizations and institutions suddenly looked much brighter than before. The UN, the EU, ASEAN and others flourished in the 1990s and beyond.
Some of this hope has become true, some of our expectations have materialized. The European Union, for instance, in the years thereafter has continued on its path of building an ever more advanced institutional framework designed to allow Europe to tackle its challenges collectively and to make itself heard on the stage of international relations – where single States of moderate size, like my own country, are no longer or only barely heard otherwise.
But Europe has shown itself unable to meet all the expectations. Big economic or financial crises have been managed, and so has, until now and against all odds, by enlarge the issue of immigration. But we see that an increasing number of European citizens – that includes my own country but is not limited to it – are dissatisfied with what happens in and around Europe, and with what European and Member State political institutions are doing to manage these developments.
On a global scale, the years since 1990 have seen much increased activity by the United Nations. Both the Security Council and the General Assembly are much more active today than they were before the fall of the Iron Curtain. But they have not been able to prevent disasters like the Yugoslavian wars, the genocide in Rwanda, or the Rohingya crisis.
Multilateral trade seemed to receive a great boost when Russia and China joined the World Trade Organisation, a global body of rules, and a forum for the regulation of international trade, but more recently it has been called in question.
In the last two or three years the disillusion with a multilateral international order seems to have accelerated. Disputes are no longer about certain policies but more and more about the fundamentals of the world we have made for ourselves after 1990.
For us Europeans the most painful process in this regard is without doubt the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. You may call it naiv but I will remain hopeful until the deadline has arrived that the UK will change its mind and will continue to lend it’s enormous virtues and strengths to our Union again. Let us not forget, the European Union is first and foremost not a business club, and certainly not a Soviet like prison camp, but perhaps the biggest and most successful peace project the worl has seen since the end of World War II.
For many of us these developments are tremendously disquieting. Not only for us in Europe. Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, by the way the MoP for the constituency of this school, at the most recent United Nations’ General Assembly could not have been more correct in his analysis when he said,and I quote, “Multilateralism is at a crossroads and in fact is facing a significant threat.”
Let us look back for a moment and remember the enormous turn for the better Europe and the world have taken following the end of the Cold War and let us recall the fundamental principles which have led us in forming the post-Cold War world. These principles are: first of all, multilateralism, that is, global governance by institutions in which all members, big and small, have their say and are heard with what they have to say. Secondly, an international order based on rules. This does not mean that there could be no disagreement on what these rules are saying on any particular question. But it does mean that disputes are not decided automatically in favour of those who are stronger and more inclined to violence or threats. Disputes are decided according to rules which are the same for all, and by preference by dispute settlement mechanisms which have been previously set up and equipped with the tools necessary to fulfil their task. Thirdly, liberalism. By this I do not mean that anything goes, or that individual freedom need not take into account other people’s freedom, or the safety of the State whose task it is, after all, to protect all that. But it does mean that limitations on what people may say or do need a justification, and that these limitations are legitimate only as long as that justification is valid, as they can be shown to be clearly necessary for the greater good.
In short: Not all is well with the still very young 21st century. The scale and transboundary nature of current challenges demand more cohesion and cooperation. It is therefore all the more important that States and regions which subscribe to the principles I have just outlined stand together. Or to cite once more Dr. Balakrishnan at the recent UN General Assembly: “There is a strong case to be made for doubling down on multilateralism, rather than retracting from it. ”It is this, and not the idea of getting rich quick that is at the very basis of organizations like the EU or ASEAN. And it is this that the EU and ASEAN have in common, despite thousands of miles of distance between them. We need to join our efforts in defending the multilateral way to solve the world’s problems, the multilateral way to regulate international trade, the multilateral way to define the rules which govern the rights and obligations of States. The EU and ASEAN are natural allies in this quest. It is therefore high time in our eyes to lift the relations between the EU and ASEAN to a more strategic level.
This does not mean that bilateral relations have become unimportant. Not at all. The relations between Germany and Singapore have been excellent from the beginning in 1965 to the present day, and will, I am sure, remain excellent in the future, both economically and politically. All to many things do we have in common. The State visit by Federal President Steinmeier last November, and the visit to Berlin and Hamburg by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are only the two single most important and most visible of a long row of official visits in both directions. We are very grateful for Singapore’s support in the election of Germany as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2018-19. And as for the field of culture, I need only remind you of last month’s concert in the Botanic Gardens: Beethoven came to Singapore! Or should I say: Singaporean conductor Kah Chun WONG, came back to Singapore bringing Beethoven with him to more than 6.000 who joined us in Singapore’s iconic UNESCO heritage site that evening?
These bilateral relations form an important part and should be seen in the wider context of a sustained multilateral effort on both sides. Today’s Business Times tells the story in more detail.
Ladies and Gentlemen, to conclude: this effort is not just a task for today. It will also be a task for the proper inhabitants of the building in which we are today celebrating the German National Day. It is our children who will have to live in the world which we will pass on to them, and it is they who will have to continue carrying the torch. It is therefore no coincidence but, on the contrary, totally appropriate that we celebrate today’s anniversary of German reunification in the new campus of the German European School Singapore, the famous GESS, uniting children of over 60 nationalities under one roof. It is here that our children are learning what they will need to find their way in tomorrow’s digitalized world, and it is here they are catching and carrying forward the spirit necessary to maintain the principles I have spoken about. The GESS – and countless other schools – teach our children openness towards everybody, tolerance of others and of other’s views, and a preparedness to understand and allow, if not share them. Plus of course – a little more prosaically – the skills necessary for interaction across the borders, such as languages. Where GESS and other schools have laid the ground, universities, international businesses, world-wide travel continue the education. The struggle to create a world safe and at peace is a struggle not won once and for all. It has to be taken up every day again, and on some days with a greater urgency.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my wife and I congratulate the German European School Singapore and its management and sponsors for having had that vision, that trust, that strength and that tenacity to set this project of a completely new school - GESS 2.0 - into motion and to finish it in the time for this school year.
Thank you all for celebrating the Day of German Unity with us tonight. Thanks to Stefan Adam and the whole team from our Embassy for having organized it. Thanks to Jessica Shaughnessy and Leopold Schraudolf our MC’s. Thanks to our many sponsors for having given us that financial flexibility without which this celebration would not have been possible.
Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy the evening!