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									SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS GEORGE YEO
AT THE SECOND ASIA-MIDDLE EAST DIALOGUE (AMED II) AT
SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT, 5 APRIL 2008


Your Excellency Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit

Fellow Ministers

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentleman


          I am delighted to be back in Egypt to attend this second meeting of
the Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED). On behalf of the Singapore
delegation, I thank and congratulate Minister Aboul Gheit and the good
officers of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry for the excellent arrangements.
Singapore treasures its friendship with Egypt which goes back to the days of
President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The strong
support of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and
Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa of Bahrain in February 2004 convinced
Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong that the idea of AMED was worth
pursuing.


2         AMED has made good progress since our inaugural meeting in
Singapore in 2005. It is helping to revive the historical relationship between
two ancient regions once linked by the overland and maritime silk routes.
With the centre of gravity of the world economy returning to Asia in this
century, the connections between the Middle East and Asia will multiply in
the coming years. They will not only be economic but political and cultural as
well.


3         This re-encounter of Asia and the Middle East is of historic
significance. In a new age of globalisation, countries and regions once
belonging to different European empires are re-discovering one another. I
remember how the ice quickly broke once we got to know one another during
the first AMED meeting in Singapore. By the time we bade each other
farewell at a dinner in Singapore's Arab quarter, the sense of closeness and
camaraderie was felt by everybody.
4          At the Singapore meeting, we established three working groups
based on the three pillars of AMED as a first step forward. Among the
number of projects that have been started, let me highlight two. The
Economic Working Group co-chaired by Egypt and Thailand is working on
the standardisation of halal food certification across Asia and the Middle East.
Such standardisation would facilitate trade and investment in halal foodstuff,
an industry which is worth billions of dollars. The Social, Educational,
Scientific, Cultural, Environmental and Media (SESCEM) Working Group
co-chaired by Jordan and Singapore has established two Regional Training
Centres in Amman and Doha focusing on vocational training and public
administration respectively. Both training centres are up and running and
already conducting courses on a regular basis. These are simple but practical
projects which bring immediate benefits to our people.


5         Singapore will organise, specially for AMED members, three new
training courses on aviation security, port management and intellectual
property protection under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP).
Singapore will also organise an AMED Media Roundtable in 2009 bringing
together senior Asian and Middle Eastern editors for a discussion on how our
media organisations can work better together. For too long, we have depended
too much on the Western media for news about each other's regions. It will be
good for our editors and journalists to establish direct links with one another.
Since the first AMED meeting, we have invited groups of journalists from the
Middle East to visit Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia.


6          The interactions between Asia and the Middle East are growing
rapidly. It was significant that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia chose to make
his first overseas visit to four Asian countries in 2006 after ascending the
throne. This sent a clear signal of Asia's rising importance to the Middle East
which is increasingly reflected in the economic numbers. Propelled by the re-
emergence of China and India on the global stage, Asia has become the fastest
growing region in the world. Asia's energy needs have raised the prices of oil
and gas ushering in a new era of prosperity for hydrocarbon-rich countries.
Direct and portfolio investments by countries in the Middle East in Asia have
grown dramatically in recent years, including those by sovereign wealth funds.
Islamic finance and banking have become more important in Kuala Lumpur,
Singapore and Hong Kong.
7         The Middle East has also become a huge opportunity for Asian
companies. Trillions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure creating an
unprecedented construction boom. Some of the most remarkable cities of the
future are being built in the Gulf. In all sectors and professions, Asians are
contributing to this amazing transformation. Asian companies from Japan,
Korea, China, India and ASEAN are involved in all kinds of projects. South
Asians play a big role providing essential manpower from high-level
managers and professionals down to manual workers.


8          The Middle East has become more and more important to the
Singapore economy. From 2004 to 2007, our bilateral trade with the Middle
East shot up by over 50% to reach some US$35 billion last year. Two-way
trade and investment will receive a further boost when the recently-negotiated
GCC-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) comes into force. We hope
that this will be followed by a Free Trade Agreement between ASEAN and
the GCC. In fact, both the countries of ASEAN and the GCC have agreed to
hold the first meeting of Foreign Ministers this year.


9          We are fortunate that in developing closer ties between Asia and the
Middle East, there is little historical baggage. In fact, the more we know one
another, the more we appreciate the things we share in common.


10        As our two regions grow, there will be more opportunities for
cooperation. I would like to suggest three areas that AMED can focus on.
First, AMED can serve as a platform for Asia and the Middle East to share
knowledge about each other's development experiences. In the field of public
education, for example, many Middle Eastern countries are evaluating the
relevance of Asian models to their own needs. Singapore has recently
established a Middle East Institute to help us know the region better. We are
also promoting the teaching of the Arabic language.


11         Second, AMED can be a vehicle bringing Asia and the Middle East
together in new areas of partnership. An area of current interest is renewable
energy resources. Abu Dhabi's Masdar Initiative, the world's first attempt to
create a zero-carbon, zero-waste city, has attracted global attention. Similarly,
Singapore is working with China to develop an Eco-city in the Chinese city of
Tianjin, a project Qatar is participating in as a partner in the Singapore
consortium. There are many sectors where public institutions and private
companies can collaborate for mutual benefit. In Singapore, an Arab cultural
centre will be established to catalyse greater contact between Asia and the
Middle East. There is a substantial Arab community in Southeast Asia which
provides us a ready network. When I visited Yemen in May last year, the Vice
Governor of the Hadramaut who hosted me was the great great great grand-
nephew of one of Singapore's pioneers, Syed Omar Aljunied, who gave the
name to Singapore's oldest mosque and to indeed my own electoral
constituency.


12        Third, AMED can become a new partnership of Asian and Middle
Eastern countries working together to overcome trans-boundary challenges
like energy security, climate change, religious conflict, international terrorism,
maritime security and pandemics. These are issues that cannot be handled by
a single country or region. We must give some priority to inter-faith
understanding. Just a fortnight ago, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proposed
a new inter-faith dialogue that will bring together Islam, Christianity and
Judaism to promote inter-religious harmony. This is an idea that we strongly
support. The recent agreement between Muslim leaders led by Prince Ghazi
of Jordan and the Vatican to establish a permanent forum for Muslim-
Catholic dialogue is another positive development. The first meeting will be
held in Rome at the end of this year and the next will be held in a Muslim
country in 2010. I hope that Singapore, one day, can also be a venue for the
forum.


13         What AMED should try to bring about as a long-term goal is a
dense network of connections linking governments, companies, NGOs and
private individuals. More than ever before, we have a mutual stake in each
other's stability, prosperity and security. And, together, we can enhance the
prospects for peace and development for 60% of mankind.


14         A few years ago, a 9th century Arab dhow which sank 350 nautical
miles south of Singapore was salvaged. Carrying about 60,000 artifacts of
Chinese Tang Dynasty ceramics and a small collection of gold and silver
ornaments, the dhow was probably headed towards the Western Indian Ocean.
On many pieces, the motifs were either Buddhist or Islamic. Laboratory tests
showed that the wood used for the construction of the dhow came from the
Middle East and Africa except for some teak beams which originated from
India's Malabar coast. The wooden planks were stitched together in a pattern
identical to that used today for modern dhow construction in Oman. Scholars
believe that the 9th century dhow was probably built on the Omani coast. Last
year, to our great joy, Sultan Qaboos of Oman agreed to build a replica of the
dhow and present it to Singapore so that the Chinese Tang dynasty cargo can
be exhibited in its full glory. The symbolism is a beautiful one for us.


15         And, not far from Sharm El Sheikh, near Egypt's border with Sudan,
recent excavations at the archaeological site of Berenike showed that it was
once a thriving port, successively used by Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for
trade with Arabia, Persia, Africa, India and Southeast Asia. At least eleven
languages were used in Berenike including Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, Latin and
Sanskrit. When, once upon a time, camel caravans travelling through Central
Asia and Arab dhows sailing the Indian Ocean connected us, today, we have
jet aircraft, container ships, highways, railroads, pipelines and broadband. But
it is the same regions which are being re-connected, and descendants of the
same peoples all the way from the Pacific to the Atlantic meeting again,
trading and exchanging ideas. Our meeting today epitomises this exchange. I
look forward to a meaningful dialogue that will help build us all a better
future.

                                  . . . . .



MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
SINGAPORE
5 APRIL 2008

								
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