PM Lee meets Australian PM via video call, defence ministers sign bilateral treaty during meeting

They couldn't meet in person due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Julia Yeo | March 23, 2020, 10:30 AM

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met Australia's PM Scott Morrison on Mar. 23, 2020 for the fifth Singapore-Australia Leaders’ Meeting.

But instead of meeting in person, this took place over a video conference in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Business as usual for bilateral relations

This morning (Mar. 23), PM Lee and his ministers welcomed their Australian counterparts via video conference, waving and offering each other 'air handshakes' over the screens.

The two countries' leaders have met annually since the signing of the CSP.

In 2019, PM Lee hosted Morrison in Singapore, where they reaffirmed strong bilateral ties and discussed new areas for bilateral cooperation, and both agreed to work towards upgrading the MOU on Military Training and Training Area Development to a Treaty as soon as possible.

While PM Lee initially planned to fly to Canberra for the 5th Leaders' Meeting, the meeting was switched to a video conference owing to Australia's travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Australia has imposed a 14-day self-isolation for anyone arriving in the country. The restriction took effect last Sunday.

"Prime Minister Scott Morrison telephoned Prime Minister Lee over the weekend to discuss the visit in view of Australia’s travel restrictions on in-bound visitors," said MFA in a statement.

Both countries agreed to meet for a virtual summit instead, to proceed with the planned signings of important bilateral agreements.

"This demonstrates the conviction of both sides that it is important to continue with the business of government...even as we each deal with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic," the MFA statement read.

"In this digital age, government-to-government business can continue," PM Lee said during the virtual summit, as he greeted Morrison and other Australian counterparts.

Signed Treaty during meeting

During the meeting, PM Lee and Morrison witnessed the signing of the Treaty on Military Training and Training Area Development in Australia, signed by the defence ministers of both countries, Singapore's Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen and his Australian counterpart, Linda Reynolds.

The Treaty was upgraded from a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in 2016 under the CSP.

Under the Treaty, Singapore and Australia will jointly develop advanced training facilities in an expanded Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) and the new Greenvale Training Area (GVTA), both located in Queensland, Australia.

Next-generation training facilities, such as Combined Arms Air-Land Ranges and Urban Operations Live Firing facilities will be built within the expanded SWBTA and the new GVTA.

The upgrades are expected to be completed by 2024 and 2028 respectively.

Two MOUs signed

Two MOUs were signed during the online summit, one on Artificial Intelligence, and another on Data Innovation, under the Singapore-Australia Digital Economy Agreement (DEA).

Both MOUs were signed by Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information (MCI) S. Iswaran, and Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham.

The DEA will create an over-arching framework for deeper bilateral cooperation the digital economy, also facilitating seamless data flows and prohibit arbitrary data localisation.

Australia is the first country that Singapore is pursuing a bilateral DEA with.

A further seven MOUs have been pre-signed, mainly focusing on areas for cybersecurity cooperation and collaboration on food safety standards.

Top image collage via Julia Yeo, Ministry of Communications and Information