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Looking ahead to joint progress

Singapore and Germany enjoy good bilateral relations, and both focus on embracing the future.

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Mr Ulrich Sante said there is a high level of participation by German companies in Singapore, and strong cultural and scientific cooperation by institutions.

THE celebration of Oct 3 as German Day of Unity is significant because it marks the day in 1990 when more than 40 years of German partition ended, and Germans were reunited in a single state with families reunited and the hopes of a nation fulfilled again.

"Reunification had been the hope of the fathers of the Basic Law, our constitution, but it had become a very faint hope by the late 1980s. Then, suddenly, history woke up," said German Ambassador to Singapore, Ulrich Sante.

But he pointed out that it was not only the conclusion of an event, but also the beginning of another, much more important process: the integration of East and West Germany.

"This could not be done by a simple stroke of the pen, or by the raising of a flag in front of our parliament building, although I still remember that emotional moment; but it needed and it continues to need great efforts on the part of all sides to overcome the effects of 40 years of partition," said Mr Sante.

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Germany is also conscious of its position as a country at the centre of Europe, both politically and economically, and has always embraced the original concept of the European Union as the centrepiece of European unity.

"Helmut Kohl, who was Federal Chancellor at the time of reunification, made very sure that this reunification would take place in the safe framework of European unification, and this continues to be one of the centrepieces of German policy," emphasised Mr Sante.

He lamented the fact that the European Union (EU) has now come to be seen by many as an economic association and reiterated that this was not how its founders saw it in the early 1950s.

"Of course, rebuilding the economies of Europe after the war was important but it was at least as important to make sure that there would never be another war," Mr Sante pointed out.

He explained that the first European Community, established in 1951, was about coal and steel, mainly because these were, at the time, the key ingredients of the armaments industry; as such, it was important to put these sectors under a common authority so the essential elements of war were eliminated.

"So, the European Union, from the very beginning, was about politics, about peace, and we should never forget that today, when some are prone to belittle its political potential. If European countries survive in the modern world, they will do so together, jointly promoting their common values and interests," Mr Sante emphasised..

Turning now to Singapore, where the ambassador has been for just over two months, Mr Sante noted its forward-looking stance.

"What struck me about Singapore from the very first day I set foot on the island is its attitude towards the future. In Singapore you feel everywhere that the future is not some distant and uncertain event, but it happens - or at least it starts to happen - here and now," he said.

"Of course Singapore is right to adopt this attitude. The old rule that he who does not keep up with developments will be left behind applies with particular cruelty to small states," Mr Sante observed.

In particular, he was impressed with the open-mindedness of Singaporeans of all walks of life towards the future and its related issues such as digitalisation, modern urban development, issues of mobility, among others.

Mr Sante also acknowledged Singapore's important role in Asean, and its increasing prominence after taking over its chairmanship next year, while also being the chair of the Asean-EU Joint Cooperation Committee.

Comparing the two organisations, he noted that they are comparable in some ways. "Both consist of medium-sized or small states that are capable of surviving only if they pool their resources: economic, but also political resources. The EU has recognised the importance of Singapore in this matter, as is attested to by the Free Trade Agreement between the EU and the city-state, accompanied by an Agreement on Political Cooperation," Mr Sante said, expressing the hope that this would one day lead to organised free trade between the EU and Asean.

Much of this cooperation has been facilitated by the good bilateral relations between Singapore and Germany.

"They are, and have always been, good," said Mr Sante. "This is not surprising, as there are important and close commercial links between the two countries. Germany's economy is well known to be an export economy, and the preponderant role external trade plays in the economy of Singapore is equally well known."

"And, of course, both countries focus on the future: on digitalisation; on smart, environment-friendly and sustainable mobility; on equally sustainable modern cities, capable of offering their inhabitants a decent life despite increasing strains on resources; on automated processes, of production for instance, and so on. This is not only a technological challenge, or an economic necessity. It also means deep changes at the social level, as modern means of mass communication have amply demonstrated during the last 10 or 20 years. And this is likely only to be the beginning.

"One other thing politicians both in Germany and in Singapore have well understood: You do not only need the technology, you also need people to use it. And that means acquisition of skills. Hence, the priority given in both countries to education, both academic and vocational, and to cooperation in the scientific field," Mr Sante added.

For example, there have been inroads made in cooperation between the two countries in science and education. "Two years ago, we jointly started two programmes to strengthen the Singaporean-German cooperation in vocational training," Mr Sante said.

The "Poly goes UAS" aims at sending polytechnic graduates to Germany to study at a German university of applied science while at the same time working at a "Mittelstand" company, while "Poly goes SIT" is a scheme between the Singapore Institute of Technology and German companies in Singapore where students are provided with a broad range of academic and practical courses comparable with German dual education and has proved to be very popular both among the students and their potential employers.

"We have seen rising interest of Singaporean students and German companies in these programmes and we are looking into expanding them even further," he said.

Meanwhile, ties are also close in the scientific field, Mr Sante said, with more than 200 of the best German scientists working in Singapore on a wide array of projects such as smart mobility, future cities or innovations in biotechnology.

He pointed out that a few months ago, the Fraunhofer Singapore Research Centre was officially opened. This is the first Asian subsidiary of this renowned research institute, developing digital solutions and services that help companies and industries stay ahead of the competition.

In addition, German companies are committed to research and development. Siemens, for example, just opened its "digitalisation hub" in Singapore at the beginning of July.

Mr Sante summed up the many elements of Singapore-German cooperation by illustrating the high level of participation by German companies in the Singapore economy as well as the cultural and scientific cooperation by institutions.

"There are about 1,600 German companies present, one way or another, in Singapore that take part in the rapid evolution of this splendid country - there could be no clearer sign of mutual affection and compatibility than that. What those companies do on a day-to-day basis to foster our bilateral relations is remarkable, as is the work done by our cultural institutions and the scientific cooperation of German and Singaporean universities. In the end it's people-to-people contact that counts," he said.

"As the new German Ambassador to Singapore, I am looking forward to contributing to a further deepening of the already close ties between our countries," Mr Sante concluded.