SINGAPORE, March 18 — Singapore President Halimah Yacob’s three-day state visit to Malaysia from Monday (March 20) will strengthen bilateral ties between the two neighbouring states which have a rich shared history and a close interdependence.
Halimah’s visit at the invitation of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah reaffirms both countries’ longstanding partnership at the highest level.
The Singapore president noted that her visit will build upon the progress made during Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s visit in January, where both sides signed three Government-to-Government agreements to promote collaboration in the digital and green economies as well as cybersecurity.
Halimah,68, said this to Bernama ahead of her visit in an interview through email facilitated by the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
In response to a question on how her visit could strengthen bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, the President stated that she will meet with the Agong and other important Malaysian officials during her stay to assess “our complete bilateral agenda, explore new areas of cooperation, and reiterate Singapore’s abiding interest to develop a stable, win-win partnership with Malaysia for the long-term.”
She also pointed to the digital and green economies as well as cybersecurity as agreed earlier by both sides as areas that can be developed and explored further to expand bilateral collaboration and cooperation.
“These are important new areas of shared interest for our two countries and will unlock new growth opportunities for businesses in Singapore and Malaysia, especially as digitalisation accelerates across all spheres of our lives, and countries the world over pursue sustainable development for our future generations,” she said.
Moreover, both countries already have strong business-to-business ties in a wide variety of fields, from infrastructure to telecommunications, from food security to healthcare, and from education to e-commerce.
“Our companies are keen to expand their investments in these areas,” she said.
To this end, she said during her visit, she will also be meeting Singapore and Malaysia business leaders from some of these sectors on what they can do together to support and facilitate their exciting projects and expansion plans in both countries.
Halimah also believes that the completion of the Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link Project connecting both sides by end-2026 will not only better facilitate the flow of goods and people and ease congestion at the Causeway but will also be a gamechanger and bind both countries even closer in a productive, symbiotic relationship.
On how Malaysia and Singapore have resolved amicably many issues that have cropped up over time, Halimah said she was glad that successive generations of Singaporean and Malaysian leaders have wisely found ways “for us to widen our areas of convergence and reduce our areas of divergence.”
These she said, “including isolating issues which are more appropriately resolved through third-party dispute settlement mechanisms.”
“This has been the mature way of dealing with our bilateral relationship, to constantly build and renew trust, honour prior agreements and understandings, and always look for new and mutually beneficial things we can do together,” she added.
Halimah also emphasised the need to build on the present high levels of trust and familiarity between the people at all levels and promote even larger exchanges, whether they for work or recreation. This is a critical step in fostering deeper understanding on both sides of the Causeway.
“I am heartened that since our borders fully reopened to each other in April 2022, there have been slightly more than one million Singaporeans who travel to Malaysia each month just via our land checkpoints,” she said.
In particular, she said more opportunities must be created for the youths to get to know each other and create shared experiences.
“There are many initiatives and platforms which help create opportunities for young Singaporeans and Malaysians – including our students, artists, and athletes – to interact,” she said.
Meanwhile, Halimah has been ranked 33 on the list of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims for 2023, according to the ranking compiled by the Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.
When asked about this achievement she noted that the ranking also cited her support for initiatives that help build a cohesive society and strengthen interfaith ties.
On her take on Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination including against women, her view is this: “It all stems from a lack of knowledge, understanding, and interaction, which leads to mischaracterisations about other communities.”
“To combat this, there is no substitute for sensitive, open, and sincere conversations in each society. This takes commitment, patience, and time” she said.
For Muslims in Singapore, Halimah noted that their ability to co-exist as good Muslims resides very well within their Singaporean identity.
The president who is also an advocate of gender equality said she is glad to see that there have been more conversations and efforts to empower women, more can be done to promote women’s development and recognise women’s contributions.
In Singapore, the president said the republic has articulated a set of 25 action plans in the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, in areas ranging from better support for caregivers to equal opportunities in the workplace.
For women to succeed, Halimah said a whole-of-society effort is needed to engender broader mindset shifts, such as breaking gender stereotypes and traditional expectations of roles that men and women play.
“I look forward to my engagement with a group of women leaders from across the political spectrum in Malaysia during my State Visit to hear their perspectives on how we can all play a part to further uplift girls and women in our societies,” she said.
On her inspiring life journey on how a Muslim girl from a poor family became a lawyer, politician, and Singapore’s president, Halimah said: “My father passed away when I was eight years old. My mother worked from morning to night at a nasi padang stall to raise us, and I used to help her after school. She taught me the values of resilience, hard work, and empathy.”
“My advice to fellow Muslims, including girls and women, is that you ought to discover and serve a cause larger than yourself and work hard to hone the skills needed to be effective at what you are passionate about.
“There is simply no shortcut to success. While we may all start off at different points and carry different weights, life is less a sprint and more a marathon. We must all try our best, every day, using whatever resources available to us,” said Halimah who graduated with a law degree from the National University of Singapore.