Senior Minister Chee Hong Tat,
Mr Charles Chong,
Mr Melving Yong,
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the third time that I have the duty and the honour to deliver a few words on the occasion of my country’s national day, the Day of German Unity, or more accurately, the anniversary of the day on which Germany was reunited.
This year we are celebrating in the new Kempinski Hotel. It is a splendid and dignified venue, and that would be reason enough for our choice, but there has been another thought at work, too. There are many Kempinski Hotels around the world, but one of the most famous is the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, right on Paris Square and the beginning of Unter den Linden, the famous thoroughfare. This famous hotel was one of interwar Berlin’s central landmarks, a meeting place for people from all over the world. Then, as Germany and Berlin were divided (and the hotel had burnt down a few weeks after the fighting had ended in 1945), the Hotel Adlon symbolized that nadir of the fortunes of Germany as well: the remains of Hotel Adlon were in that infamous security zone directly east of the Wall and the Brandenburg gate which was left a desert of ruins for decades after the war. After reunification fortunes changed once again, the Adlon Hotel was rebuilt and it is now, once again, one of the hospitality landmarks of Berlin. So: the name of the hotel in Singapore where we are celebrating tonight reminds us of the reasons we are celebrating. We are greatful for the Capitol Kempinski Hotel’s support.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On 3 October every year, we are celebrating the anniversary of the day when the two parts of Germany became one again peacefully, twenty-nine years ago tomorrow. But this event, momentous as it was, was merely the sequel to something even more spectacular: the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall on 9 November 30 years ago. Young people who were born after the end of the German Democratic (or rather, Communist) Republic, can hardly imagine what that meant – for the East Germans, who were finally free to speak their minds and to travel wherever their fancy took them, but also to the West Germans, at least for those who had known East Germany before the Wall came down. It was a time where, as a West German, you needed to apply for a visa just to visit East Germany. Even if you only wanted to cross East Germany in transit, you needed a visa, and you were warned not to leave the specified transit roads, not under any circumstances!
All of this came to a sudden end, and not just in Germany but elsewhere in central and Eastern Europe as well. The old communist regimes crumbled like a child’s sandcastle on the beach crumbles when the tide comes in. Developments, in Europe and elsewhere, became possible of which no-one would have dreamed before. Millions of people got, for the first time in their lives, a credible prospect of leaving poverty and misery behind and living decent lives. The threat of war – never realized but always there in the decade before – receded. There was a general feeling of optimism: the world seemed to get better. And there was a general feeling of at least relative safety: The international order was based on a system of rules, which –while far from perfect – were at least theoretically applicable to all – the strongest and the weakest alike.
When we look around today, the picture appears to be quite different. Optimism is waning, globalization has not only produced unprecedented wealth but also shown uglier aspects of its face, and there are those who have become impatient of multilateralism and try to do it their own way, on their own. Even within Europe – only 30 years after the fall of the wall - we see ourselves confronted again with efforts to undermine unity and draw up divides. Drawing up devides, where instead doubled efforts would be needed to globally make a difference, as a European Union in a world more and more governed by national and personal egoism.
This is a dangerous development, which must be countered. There are challenges today which we can only meet together. Whether it is climate change, the search for new ways to use the planet’s finite resources, safety from terrorism and crime, the preservation of privacy and civil rights in a digitalized world – none of these enormous challenges can be met by a single State, and be it ever so powerful. Moreover, a fight of everyone against everyone else, with no rules recognized, will only lead to oppression and exploitation of the weak by the strong.
We must therefore do everything in our power to preserve and protect a albeit modernized multilateral world. And we must do it together. The German and French foreign ministers have recently chaired a joint side event at the UN General Assembly in New York, calling for support of multilateralism. This clarion call has been echoed in New York by a number of other foreign ministers who joined the event, among them Dr Vivian Balakrishnan of Singapore. Thank you for that support, Singapore, and let us continue to stand together to protect the multilateral, rules-based international order!
Germany and Singapore are like-minded States in this struggle. And neither of them is standing alone, but they are both among friends: Germany in the European Union, Singapore in ASEAN.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have frequently talked at different occasions in the past of one of the most important mainstays of German-Singaporean relations: namely business and trade. Suffice it here to say that 1,800 German companies operate their affiliates in Singapore, active throughout the region. If we look at all EU countries, this number is more than 10,000. But this is not just business but connects closely to what I have said on multilateralism: It is precisely because they can act in a safe environment, governed by legal norms, that so many foreign businesses feel so much attracted to Singapore. This includes not only the domestic but also the regional and international environment. We will develop this environment further by the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement expected to come into force before the end of the year - and hopefully in not too long a future by a regional EU-ASEAN FTA the negotiations of which we would like to see taken up again already during Germany’s upcoming EU Presidency in the 2nd half of next year. Both agreements will generate enormous incentives for ever closer economic ties.
What we need on top of these efforts is a quantum leap by ASEAN and its members towards a more consolidated business market of their own. Progress here would not only propel business and trade between members of ASEAN themselves as well as between ASEAN and the EU, but it would in the end also significantly strengthen our common quest of a lively global multilateralism.
In caring for our bilateral trade and commerce, next to the German Embassy in Singapore it is the German-Singaporean Chamber of Commerce that has an important role to play. While it is for the Embassy to maintain close and reliable ties with the Government of Singapore, to report back to Berlin on developments about which German policymakers should know, and to explain German policies to Singaporeans, it is the task of the Chamber to maintain and extend ever further its business network, and to put this network and the Chamber’s own expertise and knowledge at the disposal of German businesses coming to South-East Asia, and to act as a multiple interface between German and Singaporean businesses. These tasks sometimes overlap, but for the most part they are complementary. It is therefore fitting and a tradition worth preserving that the reception on the Day of German Unity is held jointly by the Embassy and the Chamber. With that in mind I extend a very special welcome to the Chamber’s President, Dr. Claus Trenner, my co-host of tonight standing right in front of me here in the first row.
Ladies and gentlemen, time is running out – so just one last word about our cultural relations, by no means less important than our political or economic ones. There is tonight among us one who perfectly symbolizes the closeness of these relations, so I will take him pars pro toto: Kah Chun Wong, a young Singaporean conductor, highlighted by Prime Minister LEE Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally 2018 as a Singaporean who followed his own passion and broke new ground, educated both in Singapore and in Germany and now at the head of one of Germany’s great old symphony ensembles, the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra whose renommé he so profoundly enhances by his professionalism and talent. You will hear more from him, tonight, upcoming Saturday evening in the Botanic Garden and for certain in the years to come.
Thank you all for joining us tonight. Thank you to our sponsors, the names of which you will kindly take note of on the electronic billboards. Thank you to ‘Visit Berlin’, who has likewise contributed to tonight’s celebration. And a very special thanks to Meera Zeidler and Constantin Merz, the two students of the ever growing ‘German European School Singapore’ who are navigating us as Emcees through this evening.
May Singaporean-German relations flourish, and may we never tire to work together towards common goals, protecting common values and strong international institutions!
Enjoy a beautiful evening.
Following the National Anthem, I would like to propose a toast to the President of the Republic of Singapore, H. E. Halimah Yacob.