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Germany to focus on Indo-Pacific

New ambassador sees Singapore as key partner of the recently launched initiatives of his country.

"The policy guidelines' aim is to strengthen our ties and to further expand in particular in the areas of multilateralism, climate change mitigation, human rights, rules-based free trade, connectivity, digital transformation and security policy." Dr Norbert Riedel, Germany's ambassador to Singapore.

AS Germany marks 30 years of its unification on Oct 3, which is its national day, the country, in a significant step going forward, will be shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific region. For the first time, the Federal Government last month adopted major policy guidelines to focus on the Indo-Pacific region, which envision Germany, Europe and Asia together shaping the 21st century.

Singapore, being in the centre of the Indo-Pacific and Asean, a 10-nation grouping with a 600-million plus population, stands to benefit from this new orientation as Europe's largest economic and industrial nation seeks to step up its engagement with the Indo-Pacific in many fields.

Already, Germany has decided to base in Singapore its proposed Regional German Information Centre that will help to promote the dissemination of fact-based information.

Germany's new ambassador to Singapore, Dr Norbert Riedel, who arrived here in late August, tells The Business Times in his first interview here that he expects to be busy in his new assignment, building further on the already strong bilateral relations that exist between the two countries as he sees Singapore as a key partner of the newly launched initiatives of his country.

"Much of my agenda will be defined by the policy guidelines on the Indo-Pacific region recently adopted by the Federal Government. These embed existing initiatives into a strategic context and underscore that this region is a priority for German foreign policy. Their aim is to strengthen our ties and to further expand in particular in the areas of multilateralism, climate change mitigation, human rights, rules-based free trade, connectivity, digital transformation and in particular, security policy," says Dr Riedel.

"Located in the centre of the Indo-Pacific region, Singapore remains a main partner of the newly launched initiatives. To give you some concrete examples, we seek opportunities for cooperating on key technologies and advocate for the responsible use of these technologies, an expanded cyber-security cooperation, and our aim to set up a Regional German Information Centre that will help to promote the dissemination of fact-based information."

Adds Dr Riedel: "By intensifying our cooperation, we are strengthening the idea of a multipolar world in which no country has to decide between poles of power. More than anywhere else, it is in this region where the international order of tomorrow will be shaped. We want to help shape that order together - it is our firm conviction that this order needs to be based on rules and international cooperation and not 'might before right'.

"Stability in the region is of vital importance to us in economic terms too: our nations both depend directly on the freedom of trade and that of shipping routes, many of which pass through the Indo-Pacific region. This also applies to us as Europeans, which is why we are working with our EU partners to bring forward a European strategy and Asean-EU cooperation as well."

In fact, the already decades-long Singapore-German bilateral ties got a significant boost with the heads of state of Singapore and Germany visiting each other in the past three years. Singapore President Halimah Yacob made the first ever state visit by a Singapore head of state to Germany in December last year. Germany's Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Singapore three years ago in November 2017, making the first ever state visit by a German head of state to Singapore.

Looking back on 30 years of German Unity, Dr Riedel says: "Only a generation ago, Germans, on 3 October 1990, celebrated the reunification of their country - since then our national day. On the night when the Berlin Wall fell, Germans wept tears of joy. In contrast, Lee Kuan Yew wept tears of sadness when Singapore was born out of separation.

"However different these starting points for our nations might have been, I believe we also share a joint spirit derived from these moments of state-formation. Singaporeans put their heart and soul into making their nation succeed.

"On the other hand, Germans joined forces after the fall of the Iron Curtain to finally let what belonged together grow as one, as former Chancellor Willy Brandt put it. This shared experience of reinventing ourselves and emerging stronger creates a bond in our collective memories that makes it easier for us to face global challenges jointly."

Asked to give his first impressions of Singapore after having arrived here and how he would describe the state of German-Singapore bilateral relations, Dr Riedel says: "When tackling the challenges of our time - and above all the ongoing pandemic - our two countries can build on excellent bilateral relations. We share the vision of a multilateral and open world where transboundary threats are dealt within the established framework of rules and norms. We believe in international cooperation and the amenities of free trade."

The presence of nearly 2,000 German companies which provide about 45,000 jobs in Singapore is the backbone of the strong bilateral relations. Besides the R&D activities of many of these German companies here, academic links between Germany and Singapore are also strong. as can be seen from the close to 90 partnerships between the universities of the two countries. Student exchange is warming up once again as the German Embassy here has resumed issuing visas since July. More than 5,000 people are learning German on a regular basis every year in Singapore.

"Covid-19 has put all these exchanges to a most severe test. I am confident however, that we will weather this storm together, but it is particularly the personal encounters that are essential for us to forge even closer ties," says the German envoy.

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