Singapore's President Halimah Yacob is in Kuala Lumpur for her first state visit to Malaysia at the invitation of Malaysia's King, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Abdullah Ahmad Shah.
Her visit reciprocates the Agong’s state visit to Singapore in October 2022.
In the morning of Mar. 21, Halimah was accorded a state welcome with a 21-gun salute at Malaysia's Istana Negara, the New Straits Times reported.
Also present at the ceremony were Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi and other ministers.
A tree planting ceremony was then held at the courtyard of the Istana.
A new orchid hybrid, the “Vanda Halimah Yacob Mohamed,” was also named in honour of Halimah and her husband, Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee.It was the first time such tree planting and orchid naming ceremonies have been incorporated into an official state visit by a foreign dignitary to Malaysia.
Mutually beneficial cooperation
Halimah and her husband were then hosted to a state banquet by the Agong and his wife, Queen Azizah.
“Today, our two countries enjoy substantive and mutually beneficial cooperation spanning the economic, security and people-to-people spheres,” Halimah said in her toast, according to the Straits Times (ST).
She noted that it has been 58 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Malaysia.
Halimah also remarked that she was heartened to hear about the high volume of Singaporeans travelling to Malaysia every month as April will mark one year since the reopening of borders after the pandemic.
She highlighted the “much-awaited” Johor Bahru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link which is expected to be ready by 2026, saying that “connectivity between two already-close neighbours will be further strengthened.”
In his toast, the Agong also called for more collaborations between both countries in areas like digital and green economies as well as food security.
Previously, agreements on partnerships in the digital sphere and the green economy were signed during Anwar's visit to Singapore in January 2023.
Important members of Asean
Halimah also commented on the increasingly volatile and challenging external environment, Bernama reported.
"Without a stable external environment, all of us in Asean will find it harder to transform our economies and improve the lives of our peoples", she said.
She expressed confidence in both countries' partnership in advancing national as well as Asean's interests.
The Agong reaffirmed this sentiment, saying that he strongly believed that “the strong bond of friendship among our peoples will continue to be an important factor forming the core of our bilateral relationship," ST reported.
He also said that Malaysia and Singapore must continue to work closely together to promote regional stability and security.
Their comments come amidst ongoing debate on the Myanmar question, while their views on Asean were also echoed by Indonesia's President Joko Widodo during his Singapore visit on Mar. 16.
Constructive and pragmatic partnership
After the state banquet, Halimah received a courtesy call from Anwar.
They reaffirmed the “strong commitment of both countries to work constructively and pragmatically together” amidst uncertain geopolitical developments.Halimah also expressed her confidence in Anwar’s leadership in strengthening bilateral cooperation.
They also the significant role that leaders play in promoting social unity in a post-pandemic world.
In a tweet thread, Anwar said they exchanged views on bilateral issues with a mutual interest.
Strong economic ties
Earlier on Monday (Mar. 20), Halimah kicked off her state visit on Mar. 20 by attending a reception with Singaporean and Malaysian leaders at St. Regis Kuala Lumpur.
She was pleased to learn of the numerous “exciting projects” between Singaporean and Malaysian companies that would “deepen our already strong economic links”.
In 2022, Singapore and Malaysia remained as each other’s second largest trading partner and bilateral trade had grown by 18.9 per cent to S$153 billion.
“Economic interdependence and partnership will remain a fundamental component of strong Singapore-Malaysia relations”, Halimah said in her speech.
She urged both economies to work closely together to promote sustainable development, spur technological breakthroughs and create jobs.
Halimah also met with the Singaporean community in Malaysia during the reception on Mar. 20.Highlighting the strong “people-to-people linkages” between Singapore and Malaysia, she encouraged both sides to “continue to promote vibrant educational exchanges at all levels”.
She urged the Singaporeans present to contribute their unique perspectives and remain “plugged in with developments at home”, such as through the Forward Singapore initiative launched by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong and his team in 2022.
Top image via MCI - Facebook/Halimah Yacob